Facing death: Life on Life’s Terms

 

 

autumn-832334__180Another friend died this week. We all die. But we don’t want to face it until we have to. We don’t like to think about the “D” word.

 

What does it mean to “face death, anyway?” I made a will in my 40s, I have a burial plot, a living trust, a living will, long-term care insurance, sufficient funds to take care of myself. I have downsized to a small single story, low maintenance house near friends, family and excellent health care. I’ve talked to the kids about my end-of-life wishes I’ve even made a half-hearted stab at planning my funeral. That should do it, right?

Not exactly.

In Psychological Reflections, C.S. Jung says, “ The second half of life does not signify ascent, unfolding, increase, exuberance, but death since the end is now its goal. The negation of life’s fulfillment is synonymous with the refusal to accept its ending. Both mean not wanting to live, and not wanting to live is identical with not wanting to die. Both make one curve. “ (1)

Hard to hear. Especially in a society where youth is venerated and age discounted. Where we are inundated with products and services to “reverse the aging process,” both physically and mentally. Where “ascent and increase” are assumed to be lifelong.
And yet we die. We all die.
The great world religions offer hope and guidance for the passage. But increasingly in our materialistic culture, we have opted for our own belief systems that lead to a dead end. Literally. The payoff is that I get to live my life pretty much as I want without worrying too much about the consequences. And if that is what I believe, don’t I need to believe in constant increase,  unfolding, and ascent? Should’t I grab out of life all I can before it’s too late? Shouldn’t I make sure I’m first in line? Shouldn’t I camouflage any sign of aging ?
Except that we don’t continually ascend.  We don’t get stronger, more sexy, more “productive.“ We age. In spite of the best exercise programs, health spas, regenerating creams and mental gymnastics; we age, slowly and irreversibly. “Active retirement homes,” the current euphemism for nursing homes, are filled  with forgotten  parents, uncles, aunts, even children, while their relatives are busy acquiring and increasing, unknowingly and inevitably charting their own paths to the same fate.
I think this compulsion to hang on to our younger selves is what Jung meant when he said “not wanting to live is identical with not wanting to die. ” Because we “don’t want to die” we try to live as we have in the past, even though we know this behavior is futile, mostly unattractive, sometimes dangerous. We know there is a better way. As the number of people over 65 continues to rise dramatically, so does the attention to aging by the media, press, and social media. There is no shortage of information on aging.  And the messages almost universally follow the theme that life can be rewarding after 65. But not without work. And not without confronting the reality. Not without admitting to our inner selves that we are indeed on the downside of the curve. And speaking for myself, not without a strong faith.
There is a difference between maintaining health and self-delusion. I might want to consider a seniors class at the “Y” instead of skydiving or rock climbing. I need more rest these days, but that’s no excuse for avoiding exercise. Keeping my mind active is not just a hedge against mental deterioration; it makes me a more interesting, vibrant person. Becoming discouraged does not justify defeatism or anger. Asking for help does not make me a failure.
I don’t know how to do this. And I know it’s not easy. But every day is a day when I learn something new about the process. A day when one friend dies, and another celebrates 10 years cancer-free. When one friend is diagnosed with Alzheimers and another completes a degree program, long deferred. When one friend loses her sight and another discovers her dormant artistic talent. Each of us has a different path. Today I am blessed with good health, but I have no idea what lies ahead. Death is inevitable, but I have choices that will maximize my ability to engage and contribute as long as I squarely face life on life’s terms. And if I can accept that simple but challenging fact, I can choose to live every day to the fullest with hope for the future.

1. Rohr, Richard (2010-12-27). Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent (Kindle Location 1268). St. Anthony Messenger Press. Kindle Edition.

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