My year of being old

Photo of eclipse of the sun

Is old age a kind of eclipse? Can I bear that analogy?

bootcamp2015-small 2(Republished from 2016)  In which I look ahead to the final task in my year of being old: coming to terms with death and dying. Yeeouch.


So, I’m putting myself through a DIY boot camp for the bonus years, achieving one goal every month. I’m booting myself into action, establishing habits that are likely to preserve me—and my brain and my family and the national budget—in the best possible state while I live.

The final task is what it’s all about: I must come to terms with old age and dying. Whew, big ask, huh?

In one sense, the whole year is dedicated to precisely that unprecise and probably impossible goal. However, I’ll be forced to focus strongly on death for an entire day shortly, when I attend this workshop:

Life, Death and Transformation

One of my sisters told me about a Tibetan meditation on death, when for almost an hour she visualised herself dying in a remote place like a desert, and then vividly experiencing the gradual decay of her body. This sort of guided meditation, I expect, will be part of the workshop I attend.

My sister said that ever since that day she has never worried about whether she looks old or young. She still looks marvellous, but it seems she just let go of that understandable desire to look younger. I too would like to become less attached to my anachronistic self-image as a younger woman.

Why am I booting myself into such a morbid experience?

Well, it’s clear that most of us have highly successful mechanisms for denying, downgrading, dumping and downright rejecting death. We’re not going to die, oh no! And we’re not ever going to be old like that pathetic person over there who can barely walk or see, oh no!

Possibly the human capacity to blank out the end of life is a healthy thing. I don’t know. But that capacity is sustained by self-deception and bizarre thought patterns, which (to me) are not so pretty.

I would like to try another possibility: knowing deep in my bones that I will die one day, maybe tonight, maybe in 25 years, maybe sometime in between. I would like to be able to accept that fact, to understand what death involves, to feel the honest grief and loss, and somehow to be OK about the entire incomprehensible terrible wonderful bundle of life and death.

That’s what I’m expecting from a workshop on Life, Death and Transformation.

It’s hard work letting go

Of course this day will be hard work in every sense. Such understanding cannot be delivered on a plate. If it was easy, we would all think like Buddhist nuns and monks, I suppose. Or at least we would think rationally about our own life cycle instead of subconsciously regarding ourselves as exempt from the processes of dying and death.

With any learning, the more effort you make, the greater the rewards. And this is a different kind of knowledge.

Must I write any more about my year of being old?

I’m a writer, doh! But I hope that after this year, I’ll stop brooding on the topic and revert to being myself — not defined by age, exempt from internal ageism. Whether I write anything more, ever, about my boot camp feels more and more improbable. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been very, very real to me.

This was all about death. But I feel that I have again been writing into life.


15 thoughts on “My year of being old

  1. Robyn Haynes says:

    Have your thoughts changed since you wrote this post Rachel?

    1. Not substantially, Robyn. One private at-home meditation gave me a virtual experience of dying … and I grieved in anticipation … and then it passed. I have stopped brooding on the experience of being old, and I have not reached a state of wisdom. Nevertheless I feel that my life has been enriched by a wider understanding of of our steps towards death, if not a deeper one. There’s still time!

      1. Robyn Haynes says:

        Thank you for sharing Rachel. I’m eternally curious about how others think about their death. I’ve been honoured to have shared the experience of passing. Three loved ones. I read widely on the subject of dying, spirituality and what others think may happen after death; our purpose for living etc. I’ve come to the conclusion that I will focus on living. Nevertheless, I’m enriched by the experience.

  2. My interest began when I was about eight years old and is still strong. I’m interested that with your knowledge and such emotional experiences, it’s life you embrace. For most of us, it’s the only possible way, perhaps. Thank you so much, Robyn.

  3. joared says:

    Death to me has always been a known process of life just as aging has been. I don’t mean this to sound like a flippant response, but to me, death just is. I’ll just keep living until I don’t. I am curious about the life force — that energy once it leaves the body — but maybe it simply is no more. The mystery is that there is no mystery.

    1. I would love to be as relaxed as you are about the phenomenon of death. It’s good to know that this is possible. Thank you!

  4. Glynis Jolly says:

    The thought of death has never scared me. For some unexplainable reason, it just seems like a new adventure to me. This is not because I am religious because I am not. However, I do believe there is something after this thing we live in now. This is not to say I have a death wish either. Life is always changing so it is always a new experience, even when it gets boring.

    1. Your attitude is marvellously refreshing, including your acceptance that the reason is indeed unexplainable. I that in itself is a lovely mystery and reminds me that sometimes it’s best to stop pushing and let things be. Thank you!

  5. cedar51 says:

    Recently, I was innocently talking to some people I know only from being locals, I was idly unwrapping some glad wrap from some biscuits when the man said “oh my goodness are you alright, you’ve got such bad shakes…”

    I looked down at my hands & realised I rarely reveal my problems with my rather wonky hands…I basically replied “oh that old nugget, had them silly hands since I was born, it’s hereditary…” he looked a bit more carefully, I had them steady on the package by then and said “so when you die, they will stop!”

    I was quite taken aback, but I suspect they will stop their silliness when I’ve stopped breathing…but for now, I have “them” and I work around their respective problems (yes, the keyboard moves its letters about but my right hand knows exactly where the back spacer is…on auto).

  6. Wow, what an encounter! Disconcerting, I bet — but clearly you handled it well, as you do all the everyday repercussions of this problem. Now I come to think of it, all our problems stop when we die. I’ll bear that in mind.

  7. Your post is fascinating, as are the comments here. I’ve had a few ‘near-death’ experiences, and since then, have had little fear of dying. My fear/sadness is in knowing how much I’ll miss the people I love. But. from my experiences, I also believe that what’s to come is of great joy and lightness.
    My dad gave me the gift of dying in my presence. It was a powerful, incredible event. I miss him every day, but I also feel his presence every day. All unexplainable, and I’m okay with that now.

    1. Those near-death experiences must have brought you a transforming acceptance—what a blessing that knowledge must be. Like you I can hardly bear the thought of leaving my loved ones, and I can hardly bear the idea of leaving this amazing and beautiful life. My solution is not to think those thoughts: very mature of me, no? I share your luck in being present at your father’s death. My father’s death was rather sweet and joyful, which was reassuring in the extreme.

  8. Hi Rachel
    I was very interested when I read the title of your story. I had been thinking about putting some thoughts down about my struggle with aging. Death is another topic completely, for me I hope ,wish, pray I will pass in my sleep. I find it odd when people say their loved ones just passed while they were in a normal sleep cycle…I mean they obviously had no pain or seizure of any kind to disturb their partner..they just didn’t wake up the next morning. When we get old I guess it’s a likely scenario. I haven’t come to terms with aging or death Rachel, but I find myself contemplating both and how I can be at peace with both.
    My hubby always says ” we live and we die ” there is no mystery there for him, but he adds we get one shot at life so make the most of it”….He as at peace with it all..
    It’s a conversation we should have Rachel as we perhaps need to make plans around death long before it happens and that would make things easier on those we leave behind….funerals need organising and are often not discussed and loved ones have more on their plate aside from mourning their loss.
    I need to attend a workshop on ageing, life and death…it could go pear shaped though and scare the living daylights out of me and the rest of my days could be total anxiety. Living in denial sometimes saves confronting issues we just don’t want to think about…
    Great story Rachel, you sure have me very interested in your thoughts, I have hit a point where I want to be at peace with coping with illness, aging, death, for those who are it must be comforting.
    Hugs from
    Annie in Australia 🌴🌞🌊❤

    1. Hello Annie. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings and thoughts about this huge topic looming at the edge of our everyday lives. We look normal, we do normal things … but now and then this monster rears its head. I envy your husband and those of my friends who feel similarly; I would love to be at peace with the facts of ageing, life and death. To paraphrase Shakespeare: Some are born wise, some achieve wisdom, and some have wisdom thrust upon them. I expect to have wisdom thrust upon me in the years that come! However, I must say that doing my peculiar personal “boot camp for the bonus years” has helped me considerably — even though I have not achieved wisdom, I feel satisfied that I’ve done what I can, and that I’m on the right path. So if you feel attracted to doing a workshop on ageing, life, and death, and find one with people you trust (including, for example, a palliative care expert and a meditation teacher) I imagine that you would be ripe to gain a lot. Knowledge is power. Very best wishes for this brave work you are doing.

    2. PS The next post is about a workshop I went to. It was less intense than I expected but worthwhile. There’s no quick fix for this angst…

%d bloggers like this: