Me My Elder Meme
Misunderstanding Medicare Part D

Fear of Death

category_bug_journal2.gif Two of the reasons that I

  • always tell my real age
  • stopped coloring my gray hair
  • refuse to consider Botox, cosmetic surgery, etc.

…is that to do otherwise is a lie and as such, they are ageist acts by trying to convince others that one is younger than is so.

But there is a third, more important reason: I want to experience this phase of life - getting old, aging, becoming the oldest generation, facing death – as completely and genuinely as I experienced childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

Unless I am honest – with myself and everyone else – about all aspects of my age, I will not know what is real and what is not. If I tell you that I am 55 instead of 65, you will respond to me differently. 55 is still of working age; 65 is still considered traditional retirement age even if the law now says people cannot be forced to retire. Age 55 would put me in different social and cultural categories where, in reality, I no longer am.

If I returned to coloring my hair, it would undoubtedly shave a few years off my appearance, but not so many that it would matter much and it is much easier to be done with the chemicals, time and money.

And as to medical intervention, I’ve never seen any person who had “work done” who has either fooled us or aged well. Look at Michael Douglas these days. And Joan Rivers. And a host of others. Fright masks. But that is only the reverse vanity reason not to do it. For me, the real reason is that I am curious about what nature has in store for me as the years pass.

The multi-billion-dollar anti-aging industry and the additional multi-billion-dollar cosmetic business – medical, pharmaceutical and “cosmeceutical” – prove that I’m mostly on my own in wanting to get to my grave in the way nature devises.

And here is the reason, rarely spoken, that I’m alone out here in this youth-centric wilderness getting old au naturel: everyone is afraid to die.

It doesn’t matter how religious you are or what your holy books say about what comes next - no one knows. Is it 72 virgins? Is there a real hell? Or heaven? Or do we face oblivion? It is the great unknown and we all wonder, when on rare occasions we allow ourselves to do so, if all this life is for nought and if maybe we do not survive after death as ourselves.

We fear not being. And that fear – the most primal of fears - is built into our DNA. It keeps us from wandering out into traffic and from jumping off tall buildings. It keeps us safe long enough to get our kids raised and pass the baton the next generation. The difficulty is that even after we have individually guaranteed the continuation of the species, the fear continues.

“They” say mankind is the only species that knows of its own future annihilation. I’m not convinced that’s true, but even if it is, that knowledge of our doom is what gives life both its importance and its poignancy.

But instead of creating a philosophy of living that includes the truth of our cosmic dilemma (or, if religion does so, living it as though it mattered), most people have made it taboo to speak of death in ordinary conversation even though it is the central problem of life. Have you ever tried? Even your friends will say, “oh, don’t be morbid” and change the subject.

We have cleaned up and excluded all signs of death from our lives. Most loved ones die in antiseptic hospitals. Many family members don’t visit because, they say, they can’t face the death of their loved one. I never believe that. What they can’t face is being reminded of their own future death, and they have not the courage to show up anyway to hold the hand of the person, in the last days and hours of life, they say they love.

And once the loved one is dead, the body is sent to a funeral home to be cleaned and dressed by strangers. With all the pretense it is hard to know, nowadays, that Aunt Mary died. Maybe she just didn’t feel like showing up for Thanksgiving this year.

It is as though, in banning death from life and particularly in creating perpetual youth through surgical and other means, people believe they will fool the grim reaper into thinking it is not their turn when he comes for them.

Elders who look their years remind younger people they too will die. It is the genesis of all ageism and age discrimination: younger people and people pretending to be younger than they are don’t want old ones around to remind them of their own mortality.

But, no matter how many lies you tell about your age, no matter how much Botox you pump into yourself or how many nips and tucks you have done, you will get old, you will also look old and you will die. Trying to fight it and denying it will not change it.

It is better, I think, to pay attention to the changes the later years bring – to see them, feel them, think about them and to talk about them and the mystery of life. Of course getting old is sad. It is leading up to saying goodbye for good and that always hurts. But I think – or, at least, I hope – that in doing it my way, facing age and all that it means as directly and openly as possible, I will be as ready to leave life behind, when the time comes, as my mother was. A few days before she died, she said to me:

“Don’t be sad, Ronni. I’ve lived a good, full life and I’m ready to go now.”

Comments

Ronni,
Having borne witness to dear friends and my father dying - one friend literally died (took her last breath) in my arms, I know the importance of this subject deep in my heart. I love this post you have written. It is so important for us to think about this stage of our lives. Yes indeed, death is a part of living. It sits on our shoulders and affects what we do and who we are. A friend of mine used to say, "Fear, the final frontier," and I think that's true. It *is* unknown and fills us all with fear. But having looked it in the face of others dear to me, I, like you want to: "pay attention to the changes the later years bring – to see them, feel them, think about them and to talk about them and the mystery of life. Of course getting old is sad. It is leading up to saying goodbye for good and that always hurts. But I think – or, at least, I hope – that in doing it my way, facing age and all that it means as directly and openly as possible," I, too, will be ready to leave life behind in peace.

Thank you for starting this conversation.

People do seem to spend a lot of this life in denial of its end which is, after all, a complete waste.
Last weekend, for the very first time, the lady cutting my hair remarked that I was graying and asked if I wanted to color it... and here I'd been wondering if it was ever going to turn.

Although I agree with most of this post, I don't think vanity is the province solely of people afraid of death. Vanity pervades all ages. We spend just as much time and money trying to get rid of zits in our teen years as we do worrying over wrinkles in our midlife.

I've often thought that the ease Americans embrace plastic surgery is the result of a generation of kids growing up with dental braces. Neither I nor my siblings had braces, nor any of our children. But in the current generation it's practically considered child abuse not to straighten your child's teeth and many of my peers have gotten braces as adults.

Straightening your teeth is as much of a lie as lifting your sags...in my mind, more so because it hides an undesirable trait in a potential mate that can be passed on to children.

Where do we draw the line? Must lines be drawn? Should we tell our youngers to embrace acne as a badge of honor in their adolescence? People are vain creatures at all ages, some more than others.

Dear Ronni,

The first time I read your blog, months ago, I felt that you speak for me. This post certainly does that. I don't have all the words you do, but I feel the same way. My friends are offended that I call my blog fat, old artist. I am certainly fat, and old, 72 years, but sometimes I question whether I am still an artist. Of course, that's not the offensive part for my friends.

I worked until I was 69, colored my hair and kept my age a secret. When they finally laid me off I felt like I had been unchained. I really liked the work. What bothered me was keeping such a large part of myself under wraps. I had to keep quiet about my political views, also, but that didn't disturb me as much as the lie about my age. So keep going, Ronni. You do us all a great service.

I, too, "...want to experience this phase of life - getting old, aging, becoming the oldest generation, facing death – as completely and genuinely as I experienced childhood, adolescence and adulthood."

I share your perspective that "Elders who look their years remind younger people they too will die," that this, perhaps unconscious perception well may be for many or most "... the genesis of all ageism and age discrimination: younger people and people pretending to be younger than they are don’t want old ones around to remind them of their own mortality."

I, too, want to thank you for starting this conversation which is long overdue. I hope this continues to be a topic of discussion that crosses generational lines in the time ahead.

BTW from my experience with youth, I think "zits" skin effects and dental braces -- seeing the effects from lack of dentition corrections on the vital eating function of older adults -- all too often have minor to significant medical implications, quite outside the cosmetic arena.

Good thoughts. I don't really fear dying right now because I already feel I got more years than many are given, I finished what I had felt I was here to do (not to say there might not be more ahead), but the process of dying can be really tough as I have also seen it up close. I fear losing faculties, being weak, a lot of pain, out of control and those can all be part of dying-- but not always.

On the hair coloring part, I didn't quit coloring my hair for any noble reasons such as experiencing aging more fully although I do think part of being old is being open to the experience and not in denial of it. I quit coloring because I am letting it grow longer, and I thought dyed and very long hair did not go together when you add in old. For me, old, gray-haired lady did go together and hence I started down that road.

I have never felt dyed hair fools anybody anyway.I know gray hair is equated with 'old' but dyed hair and a face that looks older always shows itself up. I think it can work through a person's fifties but there just comes a time that it's obvious and then what was the point?

Somebody I read, but can't recall where, said gray is the new blond. I am not sure about that (more like we are kidding ourselves again), but it is lighter around the face and dye (if the colors aren't well chosen) can be very harsh on faces that benefit from something softer around them.

This was a great post. I am guilty of coloring my hair, but at 48 I saw myself with gray hair recently and I didn't like it. Eventually I will give it up. I plan no plastic surgery, however.

It's good to be able to talk/joke about death. I remember when my father was getting nearer and nearer to it and my husband and I were to go on a planned trip. I told him, "Daddy, don't you go anywhere till I get back (all the while pointing my finger at him). We both were amused by this. We knew what was possible and that I dearly loved him. There was an intimacy about being able to touch on the subject and he would from time to time. It was painful but good and we both approached the event better prepared. I was still surprised in a way when it happened. Well, you are because you can't know the "when", can you?

Just another point.
Fear death? Hell, I'm terrified of surgery!! When you read the stories of what can happen, you've got to be just plain nuts to go under the knife for just about anything let alone elective surgery ON YOUR FACE!

Ronni, I appreciate your sentiment and opinion on the subject of aging gracefully and naturally but I do not agree with some of your conclusions. I see nothing wrong with trying to look my best and if that means coloring my hair and wearing subtle makeup then that is my personal way of aging gracefully.

We all have to make peace with death or leaving the stage at the end of the final act of life. To me, in any stage of life, trying my best to stay healthy, look my best and maintain a positive outlook and a healthy sense of humor have always been important and I don't intend to stop just because I am 77 years old.

"Different strokes for different folks" :)

Here I am just back from my mindlessly elder job, feet up because my legs are so swollen for standing in one place for eight days, to say sexism is still alive out there. Several of my teaching friends are considered less than with their age showing. Even artists appear far more marketable with chins and colored hair.

Me? I use my grey and wrinkles to advantage as I play grandmother instead of security guard. I get better compliance, faster response, and can get away with more as I use my wrinkles as a tool. Who ever imagined I would be doing this for a job. Not me. Nor my best friend from High School who now owns a security firm in another part of the country.

Hear, hear! I'm soon to be 57, have never colored my hair and wear it quite long, usually in a bun on top of my head, but sometimes braided under my bicycle helmet. The bun makes me real easy to find in a crowd!

Surgery, never, unless medically absolutely necessary.

I *own* old. Somebody's gotta do it. Its a public service. I figure a big smile and no nonsense eye contact is way better than a facelift. Make-up? Mmm, sometimes, for special occasions or a performance, but usually not. If anyone is audacious enough to comment, I just tell 'em that I'm reluctant to unleash this much enhanced good looks on the world every day. I have to take it easy on people. That usually works!

Thanks, I really enjoy your blog.

Ronni, I so enjoyed this conversation. Your commenters have so many reasons for dying or not dying "their hair" (that is, just to avoid any confusion). I'm not dying my hair, or getting botox, because I'm on budgeted time and I want to sift out the people that care about me whether I'm white-haired or bald. The one's that will always love who I am even if my top lip folds up into my nostrils. I have to do this because I just don't have enough time left to craft and read blogs, and write, and sew, and reflect, and socialize as much as I need and want to. But I'm really glad you wrote this. When I think about dying, as I sometimes do, these are comforting words, even if they don't guarantee everlasting life. The words in this post are healing.

Ronni, I think you hit the nail on the head about the fear of death. I know I fear death.

I do dye my hair and am not ready to stop that any time soon. I don't like the chemicals though and mostly use henna.

On the covering up your age thing - at my cousin's funeral recently I caught up with some people I haven't seen in a while and I told one of them I was 40. Her reaction was that she was a bit shocked I came straight out with it. Oh well, I said, there's no point in lying about it. Now that I am 40 I'm damn proud of it..

I also think Michael Douglas etc look bloody awful and they're not kidding anyone except perhaps themselves.

I've thought some more about the deeper thoughts you've presented here beyond "The multi-billion-dollar anti-aging industry and the additional multi-billion-dollar cosmetic business – medical, pharmaceutical and “cosmeceutical”..." I think we've just willingly allowed ourselves to embrace these marketers promotions partially as a way of avoiding confronting that we are aging, thus we can think less of the inevitable -- that's not to say we should dwell on the topic of death and dying, or even that we're always consciously aware that are actions are really efforts to circumvent or avoid those topics.

I didn't read anything in what you wrote saying that we shouldn't look our best, but though I didn't agree with the analogies, Stevens questions about where, or if, lines should be drawn are what we probably each consider.

I see the value of what you've written here as being to bring all these ideas into our conscious awareness for self-examination on more than just a concrete superficial level about makeup, hair dying. Our collective goal as a society should be on "...creating a philosophy of living..." not just trying to live younger -- a philosophy that allows us to comfortably embrace and talk about death and dying.

Perhaps, one of my mother's gifts to me was her willingness to engage in this conversation with me while she was yet somewhat healthy. Either of us could bring up the subject and we did as feelings, thoughts, ideas came to us. We didn't just sit down, discuss it at length in one session and then we were finished. The exchange took place over a long period of time in instances of varying duration, ending only as she went into a coma. I kept right on talking to her even past her last breath and her hand becoming cold in mine.

I believe strongly that you have pinpointed thoughts and ideas well worth contemplation and more open discussion and hope the dialogue doesn't end here.

I've been dyeing my hair since I
was in my 50's and don't plan to stop any time soon.

Many "girls" I know go to the hairdressers once a week, I only go once a month, just for a hair cut and color. After about three weeks I start to lose the color, the color fades and my face looks faded too. I feel and look so much better after I have my hair done.

And then there is the social aspect of being in a shop, hearing and seeing what goes on, always good for a laugh!

The mistake many women make is, they color their hair either too black or too red.

What I don't do is have my nails and toe nails done. That's a big thing here in Florida. There is a salon on practically every corner.

For me, it's worth the time and
money to keep covering those roots!

I recently looked at photos taken with my new grandchild and got quite a shock to see how different I look. The funny thing about aging is that I do not feel any different and it is hard to realize people react to me in a different way, relative to my age.

What you wrote about people avoiding the subject of death is so true. Our culture does not feel comfortable with death. When an elderly person passes away, it is the most normal thing in the world. It is a shame people shy away from death and hesitate to visit loved ones in nursing homes.

I was lucky enough to have my mother die here at home. She left when I was out of the room, unfortunately.

I am glad you have started this exploration into the topic of death and hope you will continue.

Ronni, thanks so much for this post, which I wished I had written myself. It's how I philosophically feel, but it is hard to move into old age in a culture that disappears its women, especially. Men are cut a lot more slack.

I'll admit that I do dye my hair, and will probably keep on dying it until I can't get to the hairdressers anymore. That's a bit of vanity I admit to, but, my face is deeply creased now, my arms, hands and neck look my 69 years, and my body is soft, doughy. My features are no longer sharp, but I love to see natural beauty in the aging. Like you, I am appalled with most of the surgical work I see and I am aging gracefully. Even if I had the money, I wouldn't opt for that route.

I do post a SoulCollage card at Sacred Ordinary today dually called Feminine Reflections--and then Scrutiny. I do regret that I was so harsh on myself when I was beautiful--I honestly never realized it. And, though I am "enlightened" about aging, I have a hard time looking in the mirror for any prolonged period.

I have many, many opinions on the American way of death--including making the bodies look like they are all walking the Red Carpet at the Academy Awards. Garish! My spiritual director recommended "dancing with death" many long years ago because it's hard to fear something you've become familiar with. Americans shun death--and it is going to happen. I used to pooh-pooh the rituals of death--the funerals, rosaries, burials, wakes, etc. And now I realize how important all these things are for the living to properly mourn. My family and friends who have not even been memorialized are the people I mourn the most. There was no closure. I hope you'll expand on this topic.

I referred a few friends to your site today--the best of the best for all of us who are aging.

I don't dye and I very much don't want to die. I have great sympathy with all you say here, Ronni, though I can't help disliking the transitional process from apprentice old bat to the full article.

Philip Larkin's great poem "Aubade" will be familiar to many - it deals powerfully well with the fear of death. If you don't know it, a link is here.

Some thoughts on your wonderful article, Ronni. First: In trying to look younger I find it to be a waste of time and money. I am reminded of what Hermione Gingold once said. She was at a Premiere of her movie and when she looked up at a TV monitor that was focused on her face she said, "Why struggle?". My sentiments, exactly. If I am clean and well groomed I feel presentable. I am old and to pretend otherwise would just be fooling myself and I do enough of that on other issues. Second: On death. My friends, who range in age from 72 to 90, have discussed the subject freely and, unless we are fooling ourselves (see above) we no longer fear death. Some of us believe in a Heaven, some think it's like turning out a light and there is no "us" anymore, but whatever we believe, we are ready. By the time you have reached your 80's you have probably already done everything meaningful that you wanted to do in life (or, if not, you are too infirm to do more now) so what's the point in getting weaker, tireder, and more dependent on others. I believe that the closer you come to facing the inevitable the more you welcome it. I do not fear death, but am mortally afraid of a stroke. There are things worse than death.

Ronni, I too really appreciate your thoughts on aging. As an employed R.N., I "face death" daily on a more than occasional basis. I feel I am not in denial of death as I lost two members of my immediate family to untimely deaths, and a couple years ago lost my father, whose death was timely. However, perhaps because of the myth I created to cope with the loss of my son and partner, I feel it is beholden upon me to "live for the three of us." Consequently, I remarried, had my teeth straightened, my hair colored, and my face lifted--and could not feel better for it. I never deny I am 62 (rather, I'm proud of it); however, I do not feel as I once imagined 62 would feel. I work at a physical job with women half my age with no problem keeping up. I am grateful for my genes and am motivated to live a lifestyle which will keep me as youthful as I can until the day I expire. And as much as I am not yet ready for it, I do recognize that I (hopefully) will one day feel the ravages of old age and welcome death.

So, as "Chancy" says, "different strokes for different folks."

I loved this post, Ronni. Please remember that you're not really "...alone out here in this youth-centric wilderness getting old au naturel." It just feels like that at times. In fact, there are lots of us doing it. Our numbers are growing and growing -- and will continue to do so I believe. Not just because of the changing demographics but also because the pendulum is gradually swinging away from artificiality in all aspects of our lives and towards a new respect for Nature and a new embrace of all things natural. Which includes death.
Sure there are times that one feels very much in the minority. But, wonderful and affirming as it is to gather together in large, like-minded groups and celebrate being old, (like we do each year at Crones Counsel), it is also important to be out there in the youth-centric mainstream, standing out from the crowd, making a statement. And you do that really well. You and this blog are beacons, guiding people home.
Yes, each of us who takes delight in getting old naturally is functioning as a 'memento mori' - an important reminder of the inescapable fact of mortality. This culture badly needs those reminders. Nobody can really live a contented life while in a permanent state of denial.
I found a dead bird on our porch once and instead of burying it I left it where it was. Over the days and weeks and months I watched it gradually disintegrate until in the end it was just a little heap of dust that blew away in the wind. Those fragments, I knew, would eventually be recycled into new life. It was a profound and strangely comforting experience.

Thanks Ronni. I think that people are more afraid (at a certain age) to die not having passed on what they've 'gotten' and not having made a difference. I strongly agree with you that the issue is one of denial of aging and death (not the same as lying in my view). In Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rimpoche suggest that this fear of dying is because we don't know who we are. As for the cosmetics, I just love folks as they are and include their idiocyncries --- if they feel better, why not? I, like you intend to experience the process of aging and death to the fullest, but not the process given me by the culture and then rationalize it as 'natural'...I want to live and die on my terms, creating as much possibility at the end as I had at the beginning.

Ronni, thank you for starting this post.. and, Darlene, thank you, thank you for confirming what I have long suspected: that our attitudes toward death change as we age. When I hear people in their 30s and 40s lament how sad it is to see "old people die," I always wonder, "How do the old people feel about that?" Don't the important things ALL evolve as we age? I know that I felt differently about marriage at 20 than I did at 40, and not the same again at 60; I know that my relationship to "God" has changed, too, maybe from that of child to parent, becoming now more of a partnership, if that makes any sense. I'm not ready to quit dyeing my hair the color it really is (I mean, who's to say I'm really gray, when I was born -- and have always been -- a redhead?) I don't want plastic surgery because I don't want to cut myself, but I'm happy to find an affordable wrinkle cream that works (kinda). I'm not fond of age spots, I admit it (does everyone need to know I was too foolish in the sun?) I'm hoping that -- like many things -- as we age in stages, so do we accept the stages of aging... and as we peer more closely at death, so do we see it differently. Right, Darlene?

Ronni, you're the greatest!
Death is just another door opening that I can't see until I get there - same as birth...didn't know what to expect when that door opened. As for color, cut, rinse and repeat - ugh, who has the time! Life is entirely too interesting as I age to waste attempting to 'regain my youth'. I wouldn't go back down that road again for 100 more years. Why? Aging takes me forward on the path. To all of us 'old broads with our own minds and attitudes' - Rock On!

Dear Ronnie,

A profound and wonderful post Ronni, thank you so much for your insight and truthfulness.

Melinda

First off, I would like to say that I'm only 17. I have an extreme fear of death that I believe precedes my age. I'm not sure what triggered the phobia but it's something that has proven to be incredibly hard to shake.

I did a search, and came up with this article. Although I cannot relate to the experience of the aging process, this article helped me. The composure you seem to have about your aging, and ultimately your death gives me hope that eventually I can learn to accept my demise and not let it constantly interrupt my days. I feel almost as though I'm just waiting to die, living my life in fear too many hours of the day.

Also it amazes me how the it's only the body that ages. Some people don't take elders seriously, and think of them as steadily becoming more incompetent. You could have told me you were 25 writing this and I wouldn't have thought otherwise. Your mind, thoughts, ect. do not seem too different than my own, just with much added wisdom from years of experience. The soul never feels old. I wanted to thank you for this post.

I have read your articles, you and my husband Paris have the same outlook on life and living. The reason I am writing you is for your help. As i said your outlook is the same as Paris' and I know if a stranger asked for his help he would do all that he could possibly do for that person. In reference to Death of Cosmetics. There is not many companies that cater to mature women (50+) like our company does. Carol Joyce Cosmetics was founded by Carol Joyce Wycoff in 1948 and still uses the same formulas to date. I have been using the products since 1954. I purchased the company in 1986 when Carol Joyce decided to retire. The favor I am asking you, is to go to my website and choose what-ever skincare you would be interested in and I will send it to you as a Gift just for your personnel opinion of our products. You will not regret using our skincare.
I can be reached at 925-679-8777.

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