23 May, 2009

Sage Advice

advice of an elder

Spent this rainy afternoon listening to poetry. Being in a melancholy state of mind, I tended towards poems of adieu (here, here, and here). Which got me thinking about the life stories of various women friends of mine. Even though I believe in the power of literature and poetry to bring comfort into my life, I remember more clearly those words spoken in the company of friends. Here is the advice three of my elder friends told me about saying adieu:

When Jean realised she was growing old, she began volunteering at the local hospice. She thought a closer proximity to death and dying would help her to become familiarized with all of its various facets. After a few years, she told me, “We don’t have any choice about what we die from, nor do we really have any say about how long it will take or how much pain we will suffer. The only thing I know for certain is all of our personal attributes, whether those of strength or weakness, will accompany us right to the end. So, we shouldn’t waste any time; grasp every trail in our lives as an opportunity to exercise fearlessness and wonder.”

Kirsten spent her whole adult life with chronic back pain after an accident in her early twenties. As she was nearing her ninetieth birthday she said, “Each morning when I wake, I thank the gods for this blessing of another day. There is pain and there is suffering. There are also many pitiful indignities. But, most of all, there is this marvellous never-ceasing will to live, which is a constant companion along the way.”

Agi is a wise woman, a reflective contemplative being. She decided to study phycology when she turned 60, at the onset of her husband’s Alzheimer. She completed her studies when she was 65 and continued to care for her husband in their home until he died years later. Now she is acting as a consultant for other elders in similar situation to hers. One of the many wise pieces of advice she gave me was, “People who say they have no fear of dying, usually are not telling the truth. For the fear of dying is just the shadow side of our will to live. As we yearn deeply to live, we also fear to die. It’s as simple as that.”

I don’t know whether these words taken out of the context of our conversations might diminish their beauty. I hope not.


  1. Am I dishonest when I say I have no fear of death? I think Aji may have reached the heart of the matter. I do not fear what comes after death but I do not want to die yet. Only extreme illness will make me desire death. So, in a way, I do fear death; not the dying, but the dying before I am ready.

  2. Definitely food for thought. I fear the things I'll miss when I die: mainly watching my daughter's life fully materialize. Plus I fear aging--getting athritis and not being able to knit, or getting bad eyesight or losing my tastebuds.