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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

I Don’t Want to Live Forever

So now there’s a chance we can extend longevity to 120. Yay, right? Not necessarily. Many midlife people, myself included, don’t want to see that happen. I think it would make an elder person go nuts. It would me, anyway.

Let’s consider the challenge of keeping up with your profession. How much information can you learn, discard, learn, discard, learn, discard in middle-age and beyond? And even if you can learn it, after fifteen or twenty new campaigns, do you even care to? You’ve seen change after change in your corporate setting, much of it brought about by new people refusing to learn from history. If your brain absorbs sixty, seventy years of information, might there be a point where, like an old draft horse, you simply refuse to haul that load one more step?

What about technology? Born in a time of party lines and carbon paper, you’ve mastered the tech revolution, with all your new passwords and tech support and wireless and ether and RAM. Do you really want to be around when they start doing microchip implants under the skin? I don’t want to be sitting out on the patio of an evening, wondering if that bug I just swatted was a mosquito or a miniaturized drone.

Now consider the emotional challenges we face during a long lifetime.

Migrant mother

What if you started out here? photo by Dorothea Lange

When I was researching Dakota Blues, I drove around rural North Dakota and saw many crumbling homesteads from a time when there were no roads, stores, or neighbors within miles. The parents would produce a dozen kids, because half of them would die before adulthood. Drought killed crops. Locusts ate the paint off farm tools. Cattle starved. I imagined the woman of the house looking up from her labors and thinking of her family still in Germany, whom she would probably never see again. Then I pictured her, years later, as a very old woman standing by a grave in ND, and I wondered how she handled being the only one who remembered sailing from a dock in Hamburg. Assuming this woman was born in 1900, do you really see her thriving through 2020?

When you look at it organically, death might be as much a relief at the end of a life as sleep is at the end of a day.

My Mom sometimes laments being “so old” (she’s 88), and I try to cheer her up with some positives: after many years of seeing your kids slaving away at careers, they’re enjoying retirement – and you’re getting more visits than ever. Your grandkids are having adorable babies which you can cuddle and hug. A great-grandson just graduated from Marine Corps boot camp. Life is long. That’s a privilege.

But there’s a price. You may be the oldest person around. Nobody remembers what it was like back then. You’ve been widowed for how many years? You miss your parents, who’ve been gone half your life.

For all the good, longevity comes with an accumulation of sorrow. You might manage it for thirty, forty years. Then what? You can rejuvenate your face and maybe even, eventually, your blood cells, but what of your heart and soul?

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77 Comments

  1. That was very thought provoking. Thanks very much…

    Reply
  2. The older I get the more I see the attraction of a “Soylent Green” choice for ‘checking out’. Seriously. The look of bliss on Edward G. Robinson’s face as he dozed off into the ethers has stuck with me all these years. Thought-provoking, to be sure. Thanks for the great read, Lynne.

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    • Mindy, I never saw that movie but I remember how shocked everybody was back when it came out. Might need to see if it’s available anywhere. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. My mother is 91, in great health mentally and physically, still living on her own, still driving and shopping and still working. She has precious few people left in her life from her generation, no one to talk to share common memories. She often feels daunted by the emotional challenges of being old and often, very lonely and sorrowful for those she misses and for all those people she’s seen dying off ahead of her. She recently read an article similar to the one you referenced about how longevity can be extended and told me that she doesn’t want that for herself. I can well understand.

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    • Gretchen, I think it must take a great deal of courage to be in the situation our moms are. I don’t know how I would cope in their situation…I guess I would try to distract myself with enjoyable activities as much as possible. Nights would be tough. Thank God for this aspect of technology: we’ll always have the Internet, and thus companionship, if/when we get to that stage.

      Reply
  4. Barbara Carlson

     /  August 16, 2013

    Lynne, I recently found your blog….I so enjoy it! Thank you for getting me thinking!

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  5. My mother passed away last summer at 87. She was physically broken, lonely, and in bad financial shape. Yet she clung to everything in life. It must have been a real struggle for her to keep her mind in a future. If she could have stayed around 33 more years, she would have. It would not have been pleasant. If we are going to live to 120 then we need to start thinking about that when we are 20 and living a lifestyle that ensures better health in the end.

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    • Wow, DOD, that’s a twist on the usual story. Was she happy in spite of everything? If so I’d like to know how she did it.

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      • My mother was a Pentecostal Christian who relied on her faith more and more as her situation became more dire. She was still afraid. Very afraid. She talked a good game but when the time came she just couldn’t get past the fear. She was in such bad shape that prolonging her life would have been cruel. I did not share her religious fervor and it was a big divide between us. Essentially I lost my mother 40 years ago when she got so extreme.

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        • If I’m reading you right, it sounds as if she was more afraid of dying than hanging around, in pain and unhappy. People are complicated.

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        • I am so sorry for the pain your mother felt as she grew older and faced death, especially since she claimed Christianity. Christians are supposed to have faith in something greater, stronger, longer than whatever is happening here on this planet. Everyone dies, as I tell my grandchildren who ask if I am going to live forever. No, I am not going to live forever, and the way I feel at 76, sometimes I am very glad of that. I don’t know what is on the other side, but I know WHO is on the other side and that makes a great deal of difference. I might add that my parents were also Christian, they had faith, but I am afraid they had more faith in themselves and what they could do for God than they did in a God they professed to believe in, and what He could do for them. I am not afraid to die. I just do not want to die a tragic death. I hate to skin myself all up on the way out. 🙂

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  6. I so agree! I pride myself on my work ethic and keeping up with technology for my job (plus various freelance jobs). I do draw the line in a few places, but I’m in there each and every day and I say I’ll work until I face-plant on the keyboard. However, I have this huge fear of becoming debilitated and dependent, i.e. Alzheimer’s or cancer. I’ve made a pact with myself that if I see that coming I’ll drive my red convertible into the nearest abutment.

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  7. I think the problem is that people want longer life, but longer YOUNG life. Giving ourselves more years when can’t function as well and have slowed down doesn’t seem that appealing. But if we could extend the life during our 20’s and 30’s? Give ourselves 2 more decades at our max potential? I know a lot of people who have wanted multiple dreams, but couldn’t follow them all, because they chose one path and that dominated their lives. If they could pursue a second dream, have the time to do it, and still retain their mental and physical capacities? That might be different.

    As a scifi writer, I always try and tweak things based on age, because it doesn’t have to follow the same “Earth/human” rules. This was an intriguing post, both as a human myself, and as a scifi writer. Thanks Lynne!

    Reply
    • Christa, I love your perspective – really fresh thinking. But here’s something that would be a problem for me: I’m 59, and as I look back at how I was when I was in my 20s and 30s, I’d never want to go back there mentally. I would like to have the body and physiology I had 20 years ago, though. Maybe if we could be 45 for about 20 years; now that would rock. PS Sorry I didn’t see this sooner. I think I spent all day putting together a YouTube video. Thanks for coming by.

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      • Yes, I think I meant physically, not mentally. Or maybe you could PICK the decade you’d want to repeat? That could be interesting…

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  8. Amen sista! The anthem of our generation “I hope I die before I get old”

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    • We also said “How terribly sad to be 70” and “Will you still need me when I’m 64”. How our parents must have hated us.

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  9. Great topic and perspective, Lynn. We talked about this yesterday after hearing the oldest man ever turned 126.
    My partner and I both said we definitely don’t want to live that long. We’re active, in good health, and enjoy life. But at 58, I have aches and pains every day. I can’t imagine how I’d feel 50+ years from now.

    Another significant consideration is having enough financial resources to live the life we’re used to. My guess is the majority of people won’t have enough savings to sustain them in retirement. I think this will be a major issue in our lifetime.

    My Mom – a vibrant artist and soul – bravely faced death at 72 after years of health problems. She passed gracefully knowing peace was her solace.

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    • I’m sorry for the loss of your mother. She sounds like a model for us. And at 59, I’m creaking more and more, no matter how active or fit I am. My husband, who was a car guy all his life, says we’ve got about 150K miles on us, and that it’s logical our tranny might start to slip. Not anything to get all frantic about. Lastly, the finances – absolutely! If we’re going to live to see 120, we’re no going to be able to retire until we’re a hundred. Dang.

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  10. Wonderful post; an important discussion.

    I still feel I want to live forever but with a caveat. What’s the sense if I can’t see to read anymore, my hearing is gone, or my health is in the toilet? I’m greedy. I want to see my grandchildren with babies. I want to read everything everywhere. I want to study music and it will take time to play piano well.

    I’m smart enough to know you don’t get everything you want, but I’m not smart enough to give up the dream. I can’t see any way of leaving this world except kicking and screaming that I’m not ready.

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    • That’s the weird thing, Tess. I decided long ago I’d be happy to die if it made more sense than living. I just needed my kids to get to the stage where they’d be independent, before I felt I could comfortably let go. Well, they made it, but now I have grandkids. Since there’s never a good point, I guess I’ll have to stick around.

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  11. Another vitally important topic, Lynne. I particularly relate to Exclusively Cats comment that, “… I have this huge fear of becoming debilitated and dependent, i.e. Alzheimer’s or cancer. I’ve made a pact with myself that if I see that coming I’ll drive my red convertible into the nearest abutment.”

    My husband and I have talked about this often. Neither of us wants to subject the other to the grueling work involved in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Both of us are terrified of assisted living or “memory care” facilities, especially after seeing the Frontline report about a chain of such facilities in the Seattle area. We have an exit strategy, and it’s far less messy than driving into an abutment. The next step is to see an attorney about documenting our wishes.

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  12. Longevity could be a wonderful thing. The changes we would be part of. If we also had health, wealth, foremost friends and family to enjoy it with us. Longevity without health, friends and family and a way to support ourselves in the manner we are accustomed to would not be a thing of beauty. I am not afraid to die but I am afraid to die in pain and agony. Of course; we do not know what the future will bring all those things may be possible.

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    • Yes, they may; but I’ve already lost friends and family – some have died and some are changed irreparably from who they were because of illness or sorrow. If none of that happened, I would like to live forever. But it’s already too late.

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  13. My takeaway from the article on living to 120 was that it is based on advances in medicine, understanding of diet, etc. meaning those 120 years would be in good health. That still leaves the issue of mental and emotional fatigue. I related to your point about becoming worn out with reinvention of the wheel at work, because new people don’t want to learn from corporate history. My solution has been to change careers multiple times in my nearly 70 years, with a new one set to begin within a week of my 70th birthday (upcoming in October). That way, the mind is kept young and fresh with new learning, while the emotions (ego?) are happy that I continue to be appreciated for what I can contribute.

    Reply
    • Mental and emotional fatigue, exactly the right way to put it, Chelawriter. Wish I’d said that. Because that’s my point. And re your very admirable changing of careers, that’ll help keep your brain young, but you’ll still have to catch your breath every now and then when some kid asks you why you say “dial” a phone number? Or “CC this to everybody”? And the thing about losing your loved ones. Fatigue requires sleep for repair. Let’s just hope there’s an awakening after the Big Sleep.

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  14. Well said, Lynne, and oh so thought provoking. To survive to the century mark must truly be like living in another country or on a different planet. No one around can understand or appreciated who you are and where you come from.

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    • Pat, many years ago I was in a clothing store and the cash register made a sound like the Helms Truck. I mentioned it to the girl and she was blank. Of course, the Truck didn’t go all over the US so even if she’d been my age she might have looked blank like that. But it was my first time feeling like that alien.

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  15. Shelley Molnar

     /  August 17, 2013

    I wonder how a woman born in 1913, when life expectancy was 55, would respond if she were asked whether she would want to live to age 70?

    Two of the fastest, strongest riders on a recent bike trip in Europe were 80 year old Ralph and his young (70 year old ) girlfriend, Dorothy. On many trips that I have taken recently, I am among the youngest, and I’m 64. It is heartening to see people at what I once considered advanced ages in great physical and mental shape.

    I think health and adequate financial resources are key…plus a desire and willingness to continue to build and nourish relationships throughout life.

    But, having said all that–I have a hard time imagining life to 120. My goal is 96. Why that number? Beats me…I just have an unexplainable fondness for it.

    Reply
  16. Joan Searcy

     /  August 17, 2013

    Excellent essay and I so agree. My father was hit while riding his bicycle at the age of 82 — he lived for a few hours and died. He was vigorous, independent, full of life. Even though his death was unexpected and so devastating to all of us — his family, we felt it was a gift from God to take him so swiftly without suffering and without losing his vitality and independence and joy of living. I’d like to go like that, but of course, it is up to the Lord, not me.

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    • Joan, I’m sorry for the loss of your dad, but yes, it is the way most of us would like to die: suddenly, while doing what we enjoy. My own dad died of a massive stroke which he’d worked hard to earn, eating and drinking with wild abandon throughout his 83 years. We more pinch-mouthed members of the family begged him to take better care of his health, but if I knew I could die that fast, I’d order an extra side of bacon.

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  17. What a thought-provoking topic, Lynne. At 90+, my mom has lived a good life, enjoys her family and relative good health. She tells us frequently that she does not want to live into her 100’s. The love of her life as well as most of her friends are gone and I totally understand while her body is here, her “heart and soul” are pining. As long as I remain healthy, I wouldn’t mind living into my 90’s but beyond that seems like a stretch. Until then, it’s live each day to the fullest and cherish your health and family and friends while you still have them,

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    • Wow, Kathy, you said it perfectly. A person is well and happy, but jeez, that other stuff has to weigh. you. down. If I were her, or my own mother, I’d probably see some of my day as “trying to distract myself from the truth.” No way to live, but what can you do?

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  18. My husband and I are in ministry and are always around elderly people (we live on the N.D. and S.D. border). I’m always amazed at the people who want to live no matter what — elderly people who have lost everybody and everything. Yet, they still want to live! And others who have not lost as much seem content to stop medical treatment when they are around 80 and die. It depends on the person. I was reminded, after reading your article, of the fiction book, “Interview with the Vampire,” by Ann Rice. The vampires in her story lived forever, of course, but the protagonist vampire, Louis, noticed that none of them elected to live beyond about 400 years, because they didn’t want to keep up with the fashions, technology and culture. They could only re-invent themselves so many times before electing to, in their old-fashioned outfits that they’d long since stopped updating,, walk into the sea and drown themselves. I don’t know how I’ll feel when I’m elderly.

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    • Ellie, you make me want to read the Rice book. See, even vampires understand immortality ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. And how interesting what you said about some people wanting to live in spite of everything. I suppose there are as many perspectives on that as on every other aspect of life. BTW, you say you’re in ministry and live in the mid-Dakotas. Have you read Kathleen Norris’ Dakota?

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  19. You’ve posed an excellent question, which some of us will be lucky enough to struggle with. I’ve watched relatives get to a point where they no longer have a strong will to live. Sometimes it’s failing health. Sometimes it’s loneliness — the sense that nobody knows, shares or cares about the essence of their life experience. I can imagine getting to a place of despair and losing all expectation of pleasure or joy — a place of letting go. But if science extends life for most of us while preserving our health and vitality, the physical and emotional loss will be delayed proportionately. You’re imagining the future through the eyes of today’s 90 year old. 120 could become the new 90, and 90 the new 60.

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    • True, Rick, but how do you feel about working until you’re 90 or 100?

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      • riscorick

         /  August 18, 2013

        I haven’t worked in the traditional sense since I sold my business 11 years ago. I don’t miss the grind, but I miss work. So I have messed around with a variety of attempts to find new creative, productive and remunerative activities in which to invest my considerable energy and enthusiasm.

        What I see around me is a transformation of work. I’m not sure what it means, other than the revision of what we now assume to be the limitations of age and location.

        It seems to me that physical and mental vitality are the basic prerequisites for a sustained appetite for living. If science adds a decade or two of that to the average lifespan, most of us will thrive on it. We’ll have even more time to refine and apply the wisdom we now begin to glimpse around age 65 or 70.

        The economics of longer lifespans might be problematic, but I expect we’ll sort it out. (I told you I was an optimist.)

        Reply
        • Rick, I love your comment. I haven’t worked in the traditional sense for over ten years, but I’ve been crazy busy building my writing career. I speak, write, blog, and do lots of other things (like partnering with different businesses for our mutual benefit.) I’ve been blessed to be healthy for the most part; but you are so right that vitality is required to have an appetite. It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy in action. I’m glad you’re out there, being optimistic. Best wishes!

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  20. Fascinating topic and something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to recently as I contemplate my own life and mounting losses. I love your last thought: (to paraphrase) “…what of rejuvenating your heart and soul?” No pill or diet can help with that.

    But there’s something else. If the technology to help people live well into a second century becomes widely available, can you imagine the strain that would put on the planet? And if people can live this long, productively, what happens when fertility can be extended – surely that’s just a matter of time. Resources are limited. The population is currently over 7 billion. Suppose everyone wants to live be 120.

    Personally,living that long holds no appeal for me. I believe there’s much more to life than this and I look forward to shedding my mortal coil and starting the next adventure.

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    • Margaret, I have also thought about the logic of a given lifespan…the impact on the earth, etc. It seems very organic to age and die, and give up our place to young people who will themselves follow the program. I have a harder time with the “next adventure” aspect of it, since I don’t have any kind of faith or belief in an afterlife, but I’m still bound and determined to enjoy my days up until the end and die with gratitude, come what may after that. Thanks for coming by.

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  21. Parvat

     /  August 19, 2013

    I have often thought about this issue and I like your rhetorical question about how do we rejuvenate our soul and spirit.I am not old but I feel old because of losing all of my family.I too want to die with gratitude and it is getting harder.

    Reply
    • Oh, Parvat. I’m so sorry. You are not alone, if that helps a little. Maybe gratitude is too much to ask – maybe just to feel as if you did your best. I once read an essay by a woman scientist, a highly educated woman, about how she views her life through the lens of being an atheist. (I found her viewpoint interesting because she saw things without the clutter of a deity.) She answered that she felt a sense of duty to use her life thusly: to have fun and be of service. In that way she felt she was expressing her gratitude sufficiently to the undefined cosmos. I think it’s a high enough bar.

      Reply
  22. Wonderful sharing and so thought provoking. As a ‘single’ woman of 61 with no children I live alone but am not lonely as I am very involved in my work and life. However, I do wonder what will happen down the road. Those “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” commercials used to seem so sad and funny…and now they are ME! It is all very surrealistic, to be sure. I am thinking that communal living would be an interesting solution so that at least, if I choked on a sandwich, someone would be there to thump me on the back!

    Reply
    • Mindy, I would live communally…it might not be in the same house but at the very least, I would live in a 55+ apartment where I could step outside my door and see friends every day. But communal living sounds so good, I’m going to write a novel about it. Just fascinating.

      Reply
      • I would love to read your book, Lynne! As I become more involved in social networking around my book I am finding so many interesting boomers with wonderful stories and ideas to relate. My book is about dating online in my 60’s and how different that is from dating in the 1960’s! Right now I am reading a community living book titled, “My House Our House”, which is the story of 3 women who decide to live together yet separate. Since, historically, women live longer than men it only makes sense to combine resources and talents. But I am also very territorial and know my limitations so perhaps a cottage in an enclave would be best. Fun stuff, to be sure.

        Reply
  23. Lynne, this comment is unrelated to this post but related to your REVIEW OF PLAINSONG BY KENT HARUF. Loved your review. On point. 5 out of 5 stars. One of my all time favorite books. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  24. Debra

     /  August 21, 2013

    At age 60 I have lost too many loved ones to want to think about. Now we are watching a BIL sink into a-typical Parkinson’s at the age of 64. He was diagnosed about 4 years ago, and is now in memory care. I agree with many who want health and financial security if we are given a longer road. If I faced a future like my BIL I would slip quietly off the boat into the lake as it cruised up the river and spare myself and my family the fate of this cruel end. What complicates this is – is this being brave or selfish? I hope I don’t have to find out!

    Reply
    • Debra, to your question at the end: I hope you don’t have to find out either, but if I had to take that boat ride myself, I’d make sure my loved ones had some sense of why I’d done it, how I wanted to spare them, that I was happy with my decision and there was no other option. So they could see it as the heroic decision/sacrifice it was. Selfish? Not a chance.

      Reply
  25. Lynne, I’m glad I chanced upon your blog through Time Goes By. And for this particular post because it’s so coincidental to something I’m very interested in, aging. In fact, I’m a fellow Kindle author and one of my books is “The Woman Who Lived To Be 150.” Thirty years older than the prediction you quoted. (Of course, it is somewhat of a fantasy but why she lives so long is, I hope, credibly done.) I must confess I am almost the age of your mother, will be 88 my next birthday in January but so far am in good shape. I am writing all the time and have eight books so far on Kindle. I looked at yours and am going to read the sample pages. I am no longer on WordPress but on Blogspot and here is the link to my blog: http://www.marymacsbooktique.blogspot.com. I hope that works; if not, if you care to visit, you could just put in the name of the blog. I’ll be back to visit you..

    Reply
    • Mary: hail, fellow writer! I wish I could say I have eight books. Congrats for that. I’ll check out your blog, and about that age thing, if you’re cranking out books, you’ve got a pretty good deal going. Looking forward to your future visits.

      Reply
  26. That’s all very true but everybody who is 60 or 70 isn’t the same as the others. Some are healthy have a zest for life and are still very much with the quality of life.

    Reply
  27. I saw your comment at Martha Goudey’s and came by to see your blog. It’s an compelling discussion, for sure. My mother died at 93 two years ago, and I was her primary caretaker for about 15 years. She was able to stay in her own place until nearly the end, despite a whole list of little medical adventures, but the tiredness you speak of was what finally did her in.

    Honestly, I think she starved herself until she became so weak she simply couldn’t go on any longer. About five weeks before her death, she collapsed at home, and from that point on it was all hospitals and extended care and so on. It wasn’t awful, and I think for her it was a great relief. She felt the burden she was placing on me, all of her friends were gone, and my dad had died 30 years earlier. Her own mother had died when she was 16, and she started being a grownup at that point, taking care of her siblings. She was very tired, and often said, “I just want to die”.

    I don’t know what I want, actually. I’m 66, not well enough off to be able to afford any kind of care facility, and in fact am still working. I’ll probably have to work until I’m 75, which will make me the oldest boat varnisher in the area, I should think. But I’m healthy as can be, and can’t imagine not being able to just keep going. One of these days reality’s going to catch up with me, and I suppose I ought to do some thinking about that before it does.

    Great post, great discussion and comments.

    Reply
    • Shore, your comment humbles me. Fifteen years! And you’re so sanguine about it. What a daughter. But then your mom. What a strong person. I only wish I could be as strong as her at the end. Back to you. Freud – that discredited old bastard – said something I feel is 100% true: work is life. My hair’s on fire; I wish I could relax, just sit on the patio and read magazines all day, listen to the pace of the neighborhood, the birds, the lawn mowers. But I’ve tied myself to my own mast and I’ll go down with my ship. You, maybe, too. Good to know you’re out there. Hang in. Stop by again.

      Reply
  28. As you know, I read this with great interest and when I started to write a comment, it turned into a post. Then I forgot to comment. 😉
    My husband’s parents made a pact early in their marriage to end their lives together on their 42nd anniversary. After his dad had some strokes, they did just that, taking their sailboat into California’s Monterey Bay, and sinking it, with them on it.
    When my husband first told me what they did (in 1980) I was mad. But over the years of taking care of mom I changed my tune. Watching her was an agonizing experience even though she lived with as much grace and dignity as she could muster during that last decade to 101 (nearly 102).
    None wanted to live to 120. They just made different decisions.
    Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

    Reply
  29. This is interesting. My son just wrote a 1-page short story about this topic based on a dream he had about our family:
    http://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/1kxhld/the_passing_life_center_and_crematorium/

    Reply
  30. My son’s story is called The Passing Life and Crematory.

    Reply
  31. I”m late to this conversation, but wow! it’s a good one! I’ve read most of the comments, but not quite all. I’ll come back for that, because it was fascinating to read everyone’s thoughts and perspectives, and I want to read them all.

    I have to say my immediate thought was how very sad that advancing years seems to spawn despair and a sense of hopelessness and fear. About ten years ago, in my early 50’s I watched my parents journey through their last days, one dying at 89, the other at 97 and the thing that struck me then was exactly that. They couldn’t figure out how to live without “doing” something. I vowed then, that I would try to figure out a better way to die so that I don’t have to die in despair. I have been wrestling with my own version of this issues and at sixty two I now see things very differently. I have never felt more at peace with life than I do now, and while the numbers say otherwise I feel like my life is just beginning. I’ve begun to think of the first half of life as “boot camp” for the good stuff. What we are missing in our western culture and perspective is the big picture. Is life really about “doing”? Is it about thinking, planning, executing? For me, I now see it as a process of being and becoming, of transformation and personal and spiritual growth which is more of an inward journey than an outward one. Sure, we will live in the world, enjoying all that it has to offer until we can no longer do so, but perhaps what we are meant to do in our last years, no matter how long they last, is to do exactly what people like Erikson, Kubler-Ross, Dr. Estes and others have been saying for years, go inward. Aging is a transformative process that, when we choose to embrace, rather than fear, deny or avoid it, we are gifted with the ability to offer wisdom and perspective to a world that has grown mad with doing.

    No one looks forward to living in pain and losing one’s faculties, but it’s just another change that we can choose to embrace or fear. I want to live in this place of transformative aging until I die and I want to resist falling into the trap of fear or despair to the best of my ability. If it is 70 years or 170, I don’t think I will have learned or experienced everything there is to learn or experience and I will be sorry to see this journey end, but I plan to leap, to the best of my ability, into the next world, whatever it is.

    I’m sorry for the protracted post. You pushed my button! I loved your post and all the conversation it elicited.

    Reply
    • Hi Dorothy, I’m going to feature you as my guest blogger this Friday. I’m sure your words will resonate with my followers. Hope you’ll come by and respond to our visitors. I’ve attached a pdf of the post. Of course the formatting is outta whack in the pdf – your pic, for ex., will be to the left, and a tad smaller; also your words will appear as a block quote. But the text is accurate, so let me know if you want to change anything. thanks for helping me out. I’ve been slammed by a grandbaby-borne virus this week and didn’t have the energy to create a stimulating post. Have a great week. Lynne

      Reply
  32. Judy

     /  September 27, 2013

    My father passed away this past July at the age of 82. My mom passed the previous June. Dad was blind, unable to walk, and had hearing in one ear. His dementia was escalated due to his other disabilities. BUT, my dad never complained. Our talks were always positive and uplifting. One day, my dad said to me, “be happy, don’t live in the past.” To make each day a little brighter, I would use very descriptive words when talking about the weather or gardens. He had a talking watch so he knew the time and the date. I made sure he ate what he wanted and we tried to laugh everyday. Working with his care provides was a learning experience. I had to make sure they knew to tell him who they were and what they were going to do to him (change, shave, etc.)–after all, not seeing who is with you & what they are going to do can be scary. I asked them not to fill his glass to the top so he could grab it without spilling. We learned to put food on his plate & tell him what was at the hours of the clock (corn at 6:00, etc.) I also had them put soup in a mug so he could drink it and fold his sandwich in half (without cutting) so the insides didn’t fall out). My dad taught me so much during his final years; and most importantly, that we can enjoy each day–no matter our disabilities.

    Reply
    • Judy, I’m sorry for your loss. My dad died in July 2008 and sometimes it’s overwhelming to know I’ll never see him again!!! But how beautiful that you were able to help him the way you did. You must have lived nearby…true? Were you able to see him fairly often?

      Reply
  33. DD

     /  October 11, 2013

    Hello Lynne,

    I just left my internist’s office and told her about my mother who is 100 years old. I go over to her house (where my sister cares for her) and watch old movies with her, cut her hair, paint her fingernails fiery red, and occasionally drink a light beer. My internist just told me about an 86 year old patient of hers who used to complain all the time about how much pain she was in – it was constant, she said. Then she met a man her age and they have fallen in love, and my doctor laughed and said that now the woman positively GLOWS when she comes in, laughs and jokes with everyone, and never mentions any pain.

    Isn’t that amazing? I understand, though, because after being divorced for 25 years, I recently remarried and have an active sex life at 68 years old – mostly due to my decision to get on natural bio-identical hormones – they make you real frisky! Life sure is funny – my husband is the same age, and we are so happy.

    Reply
    • DD, this is beautiful. I think sometimes we get deprived when we’re older. We have to learn to live without love, or without other companionship. We do it, because it’s the way of the world. Sometimes there’s no choice. But to hear your story and about the 86-year-old, that just confirms how much we need each other. Thanks for writing.

      Reply
  1. Uncommon courage | Connecting Points
  2. The New Work of Age: Deep Thinking | Any Shiny Thing
  3. Do You Want to Live Forever? | Aging Abundantly | Women Over Fifty | Empty Nesters | Caregivers | Aging Gracefully

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  • Lynne Spreen

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    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

    View all my reviews

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