Bill and I were sitting on the patio, watching the light fade, and talking about recent nightmares.
The night before, we’d both had similar, horrible dreams. Bill dreamed he was homeless, scared, and foraging for food. I dreamed my house fell off the side of a hill, crashing and rolling into splinters. In dream symbology, this probably relates to a sense of insecurity. It’s probably because our family and friends have had some setbacks lately, and we’re rattled.
Bill was facing a birthday, and admitted he’s been more aware lately of mortality. We’re the only animal that knows we’re going to die. How do you deal with that? At least we have each other to talk to, and we enjoyed the back and forth. At the conclusion, I had an idea that gave me comfort:
I wondered if, being in our sixties, we’re still transiting to a more peaceful stage.
Maybe we’re still too young to feel the calmness about death that seems to be typical of many older people. A recent Time magazine had an article with the question “Why are old people less scared of dying?” There are various theories, ranging from the practical (after decades of drama and suffering, older people choose to employ their energies on something more positive) to the physiological (the way your brain changes, like having a chill amygdala later in life). Research tell us that old people “have less anxiety and sadness and more overall satisfaction,” per Thomas Pyszczynski, professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.
“A lot of our fear of death is about losing the things we’ve built up,” says Steve Taylor, a psychologist and author (Out of Darkness). “But elderly people let go of their attachment to these things, and in the process they let go of some of their fear.”
Bill and I agreed we’re less worried about dying now that our kids are independent. Maybe that’s a factor, too, in diminishing anxiety. But I think there’s more to it.
When I look at all my mother has gone through, the deaths of so many friends and loved ones, the loss of mobility and access, the loneliness and fears, I think I’d be nuts. But she’s thriving. She has found a new gear. At 90, she’s so powerful.
We pay lip service to elder wisdom, but maybe we underestimate them. I suspect they develop new ways of knowing. New perspectives, new grace.
I said to Bill, maybe we’re in the last throes of anguish over it, and after we process this stage, we’ll reach the sanguine phase. The place of the the old people, where treasuring the now is so much more satisfying than agonizing over the future. “That would be a relief,” he said.
In other words, we’re still too young.
It gets better.