Somehow, turning 45 (which happened just this past December) triggered what I can only call a “mid-life fear of death crisis.”
For anyone who is just joining us here now, it probably won’t surprise you to learn I blogged quite a bit about this issue last year.
While I have continued to ponder and reflect on my oddly cantankerous relationship with the reality of my own death, I haven’t blogged about it for awhile now.
I think this is because I haven’t really come across anything new to re-open the topic for discussion. Until now.
A few months ago, when my regular weekly issue of Time magazine arrived, there was a long section in it about “longevity.”
While most of it was focused on answering questions about how to prolong life, why the healthiest folks aren’t always the longest-life winners, and what species of beings tend to live longest, sandwiched in between all that was a topic about how old people are less scared of dying.
Because, apparently, they are.
According to Time and a University of Colorado research professor named Thomas Pyszczynski (who I suspect would win the prize for “most consonants in a last name”), old people actually feel more satisfaction and less anxiety when contemplating their own death.
They also take bad news better – as in the “sorry old sport but there’s nothing more we can do” kind of news.
Leeds, England psychology professor Steve Taylor says this is because old people stop trying to take ownership of everything in their lives.
In other words, they stop stockpiling their possessions and relationships and accomplishments. They stop putting their initials on everything and start releasing at least some of it in a sort of “paying it forward” legacy kind of way.
Professor Taylor describes it as moving from an “ownership” to a “long-term lease” mentality, which is an analogy I really like. Let’s say an older person has done or acquired some neat experiences and possessions. Instead of clinging to them like they are life, the older person shifts to see them as part of a legacy that can be passed on and cared for by the next generation.
How lovely. Moving. Breath-taking, really.
But then there are also those older people who struggle against death, and a professor named Sheldon Solomon at Skidmore College says these folks have trouble reconciling how their life has actually proceeded with how they dreamed or hoped or strived for it to succeed.
For these folks, Solomon states, death is quite fearful indeed.
The Time article itself is much more focused on how aging can ease death fears, which I appreciated, especially since I am not one of the people who is discontent with how my life has proceeded to date.
I am actually quite delighted with my journey and my overall progress. My bucket list, while still well populated, is not what you would call over-crowded.
I could live a really long time. Or I could go today. I have absolutely no way of knowing when it is my time until that day arrives (at which point I would hope I do actually figure it out – at least enough to do what one of my mentors, Byron Katie, suggests, which is to “enjoy the heck out of my final day!”).
But knowing that the aging process, which in itself seems to carry with it much uncertainty and certainly plenty of reasons to potentially feel fearful or at least anxious, actually can help to ease my fear of death….well, for today, that is very good news indeed!
Today’s Takeaway: How do you feel about death? Do you find your fears increase, decrease or remain the same as each new birthday passes? What – if anything – helps you feel calmer about the whole “everyone dies” thing?