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Death anxiety or decline anxiety: Either way, life is still good

I recently attended a symposium on aging at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and one of the speakers was Kevin Aho, PhD, a professor of philosophy. The premise of his talk was that “death anxiety” is at the root of age discrimination as well as our own personal angst about aging. As I looked around the room, I thought “decline anxiety” seemed like a better term to describe the challenges of aging. Yes, death is always lurking in the background, but decline is a daily, lived experienced.

How do we grapple with age decline? This is something I think about a lot because of my work around aging and because I’m currently living it.

How do we deal with the play of gravity on our face staring back at us in the mirror, the expanding waistline, the declining muscle mass and bone density?

Add to that the life changing illnesses that start to surface for many at this time of life.

In his talk, Aho said, “I challenge the view that aging is about decline and suggest that life is not diminished but enhanced when we are honest and accepting of ourselves as beings who are aging and dying.” Or said differently by the late Thich Nhat Hanh, “We have to nourish our insight into impermanence every day. If we do, we will live more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more.”

To help make sense of aging, we all look for things that inspire us or help us grapple with whatever part of aging is challenging. Everyone’s approach is different. But what helps me is seeking out sources of inspiration in books, blogs, poetry, podcasts, films, and writing about aging. I’ve listed just a few resources below you might enjoy.

Another source of inspiration is my mom. Last week we celebrated her 89th birthday. When everyone left, we were sitting at the table talking about what it’s like to be 89. She said,

“I’m still thoroughly enjoying life and in some ways, I feel more myself than at any other time in my life.”

So, here’s to the ongoing process of making peace with aging and recognizing that our older adult years can be a very rich time indeed.


Inspirational resources


Modern Elder Academy is an organization dedicated to helping people navigate midlife and beyond. It has some great resources; some are free online, and others are in person and quite pricey, but scholarships are available. One of the founders, Chip Conley, writes a daily blog I enjoy called Wisdom Well.


I facilitate a book club that reads books related to aging. Our current book list includes:

· Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old? The Path of Purposeful Aging, by Richard

Leider & David Shapiro (2021)

· Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? A Memoir, by Roz Chast (2014)

· Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf (2015)

· Keep Sharp. Build a Better Brain at Any Age, by Sanjay Gupta (2021)

· Being Mortal. Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande (2014).

Other books I’ve enjoyed:

· Left on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life, Delia Ephron

· Nomadland, Jessica Brudner

· The Beauty of Dusk, Frank Bruni

· Long Life, Mary Oliver

· Even the Terrible Thing Seem Beautiful to Me Now, Mary Schmich

Poetry - There so much accessible poetry and prose about aging:

· When Death Comes, Mary Oliver;

· The Facts of Life, Pádraig Ó Tuama;

· The Buddhist Five Remembrances, Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation

TED Talks

· Let’s End Ageism, Ashton Applewhite


· Philomena, 2013

· Belfast, 2021

· Waking Ned Devine, 1998

· Our Souls at Night, 2017

· Nomadland, 2020

· The Father, 2020

· The Wife, 2017

· The World’s Fastest Indian, 2005



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