Aging, Mortality, and TMS Pain When a good friend’s mother, Avis Carlson, turned eighty in 1977 she wrote a book, In the Fullness of Time, because she said books on aging were being written by those no older than fifty. She wanted to write about aging from a senior citizen’s experience and perspective. Her insights into aging and mortality are just as meaningful today as they were then, perhaps even more-so. From time to time, I am going to post excerpts from the book, now out of print but available in inexpensive used copies from amazon.com books and other online used book sellers such as Alibris. From Chapter One, “The Minuses of Old Age” : My mother’s mother was a delicately boned little Kentuckian who was never meant for the Kansas frontier on which she spent her adult life (in the 1800s). She had been asthmatic from childhood, in a time when even the word ‘allergic’ was unknown, much less all the drugs and immunologic therapies available to today’s sufferers. Because she was so often sick, she was very thin, and because her asthma seemed be worse outdoors (she lived on a farm), her skin was very pale. One day, when I was perhaps six or seven years old, I happened to notice her hands. They were, I know now, the hands of a sick, prematurely aged woman. On an impulse, I put my plump, brown, and probably dirty hand up beside hers. The contrast has stayed with me. “Grandma,” I asked in what was no doubt a very small, “Will my hands ever look like yours?” “Yes,” she replied, “I think in time they will probably look like mine.” The shock was overwhelming. I looked at her two hands and tried to imagine what it would be like to carry around such old-looking objects. Then I looked at her face and noticed for the first time that her gray hair was very thin, that her forehead had deep horizontal lines, that her cheeks were sunken, that, because she had neglected to put in her “false teeth,” her mouth was a small depression in her face. “You mean, I’m going to get old some day?” I asked in the carefully casual way of a child who has something important on his mind. “Yes, Avis, if you live long enough, you will some day be old.” It happened that the rather recent death of my grandfather, her husband, had given me my first introduction to death for human beings. As a farm child I had known, of course, that pets and animals die, but that people also died had somehow failed to soak in on me. So my next question was really important. “You mean, I have to die someday?” By this time she undoubtedly wished me home with my mother, but she did not flinch. “Yes, Honey, you will someday die and go to live with God. Like your grandfather.” That was really too much. I got out of there in a hurry and, so far as I can remember, never again engaged an adult in that sort of conversation. In fact, I locked the question of impending old age and death so tightly within myself that I forgot the whole episode until recently when I began to write about growing old. But it no doubt expressed itself every tome my forty- or fifty- or sixty-year-old self quailed on observing a new sign of oncoming old age. (As still happens!) Avis wrote that hardly any writers from Homer to W.H. Auden have found anything desirable writing about aging and dying. Cicero and Marcus Aurelius and the Chinese sages did. But she said, “The popular picture of an aged person has been of a doddering, dimwitted, absurdly opinionated creature beset with aches and pains. Who wouldn’t be badly put off by the idea that he is inevitably coming to that? Especially when he knows (or thinks he does), that even this gloomy picture of his coming state does not tell the whole story, which is that with every passing week he will be ‘more so,’ until finally, in the famous words of Shakespeare, he enters the Seventh Age: ‘Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’” Avis said that children have so much bounce and so much openness to all that is crowding in upon them, they rarely give more than fleeting attention to what is happening to their grandparents. In fact, they may not even notice it unless they happen to have an experience like mine with my grandmother. Adolescents have too many personal problems, too many ravening anxieties, to think much about what likes at the far end of what to them seems like limitless time. They simply lack the emotional energy to imagine themselves as an elderly thirty, les alone seventy-five. But by thirty, says Avis, most people have begun to have at least occasional intimations, nor of immortality, but of most earthly mortality. By this time, if grandparent and great-aunts or uncles are still around, they are old, and the thirty-year-old cannot avoid knowing that it will eventually happen to him. Aging, like dying, is something a person can get good at not thinking about. Throughout all the busy, harried middle years, when people are holding jobs, bringing up families, shouldering community responsibilities and otherwise doing the world’s work, the dread of what lies ahead becomes keener, if and when they allow themselves to think about it. But accepted or unaccepted, by age forty-five the intimations are usually a fact of life. The first gray hairs have appeared, and children have begun to leave home. Bifocals have probably had to be accepted or are least are on the horizon. Women find themselves beleaguered by hot flashes and kindred hormonal discomforts. Most men find their hairline slipping badly. Waistlines have begun to be a problem for both sexes, and doctors have taken to dreary discussions of diet and exercise. “By fifty,” says Avis, “it becomes more difficult for us to ignore what is relentlessly going on, however slowly. A practiced person can do pretty well at ignoring it, but even he has moments of seeing. He may take the commonsense tack that aging is a natural process and who is he to try to beat the game? If he has the income, he may elect to fight the process.” He may try face-lifts or other cosmetic surgery. In the 1950s, a report from Rio de Janeiro said that 20 percent of the face-lifts being done in that city were performed on men. Hair transplants were even more common. Avis says in her 1977 book that yoga classes were “attracting both men and women who hope to keep their joints usable or to limber up those that have already stiffened. Diet books in never-ending procession become best-sellers, and cholesterol has become a dirty word.” “Old age,” writes Avis, “actually is a hard thing to face and as such needs to be treated like any other fearsome thing that haunts and frightens: brought out into the open, looked at in the face, talked about freely, laughed at, if possible.” That’s all for now, but I will post more in hopes that information from Avis Carlson in the twin subjects of aging and dying can help us all. She did not know about TMS and how repressed emotions can cause us pain, so I will add thoughts on that when appropriate. I’m 83 now, and not in pain anymore, so I too have some words to say on the twin subjects. If you have thoughts on the twin subjects you would like to share on the TMS.org/forum, please do. If you have healed or are working on healing from pain related to these subjects, please reply to this posting. Thanks and happy aging. Now I’m going to give my dog Annie dinner and have a salad and then watch a movie. If a funny one isn’t on television, I’ll play one from my DVD collection. After all this heavy thinking, I need some laughs. You may, too!