I’m very healthy and spry at 48, but I think about death all the time. Not in a morbid way, but rather in an energizing way. I remind myself that life is finite, time is measured, and the likelihood of doing many of the things I dream of depends on prioritizing how to make the most of the next 30 years. Why 30? My 53-year-old husband and I could live to be centenarians, and I hope we do, but, realistically, I’d rather bank on accomplishing as much as possible prior to 80.
I began thinking more concretely about the timeline of life a few years ago, when I was first assigned to write Old News, the newsletter for the U of M’s Center on Aging. This writing involves interviewing extraordinary older individuals about their lives. I speak with people whose passion, enthusiasm, and joy have persisted through incredible adversity, from paralyzing car accidents to the violent death of a child. The happiest older adults seem to share certain traits: They are uncompromising in taking care of their bodies and minds by staying active, involved, and curious; they never stop working to improve the world; and they make the most of their lives by acknowledging that we aren’t here forever.
By accepting instead of denying death, we give ourselves the chance to live more fully. As Mary Oliver says in her gorgeous poem, “When Death Comes,” I don’t want, when it is all over, to “wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. . . . I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
- Jeannine Ouellette, Minneapolis