Sjolander Road Fellowship

Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

aging gracefully and dying well



It should be recognized by most that within our culture the inevitability of aging and dying is considered a tragedy of the first order. People in the U.S. for the most part enter into their senior years kicking and screaming against the latter stage of life. The oft used expression: "old age isn't for sissies" sums up the experience of aging for many. With that kind of thinking, the last years of life devolve into a litany of complaints about failing health, loss of independence, and a general feeling of uselessness. It is not a pretty picture.


As I entered the senior years myself, I see first hand how your mindset and attitudes change when you embrace the idea of aging and dying as something to be delayed and avoided at all costs. When our perception of the future goes from positive to negative, the consequences, mentally, emotionally, and physically are starkly negative.


As I note the way our society views and reacts to aging and dying, I have to ponder whether our attitude about these inevitabilities are shared by all cultures, especially those which have not been so influenced by Christian Orthodoxy. Christian theology claims to prepare a person to face and deal with their own demise by promising a better hereafter. That is the claim, but I am not too sure that real life experience supports that claim. Unavoidably, a theology which promotes a fear of God's displeasure, which is ultimately made known after death, does not make dying easier. In fact, it does just the opposite; it instills a sense of paranoia, the idea that, in reality, God is out to get me.


Part of the issue with Christianity's theology is the fact that it teaches that physical death is a mistake, not a part of God's plan for mankind. Man was never supposed to age, suffer, and die. That was purportedly caused by an outside influence which foiled God's original scheme for mankind. Such a story reinforces the feeling that death is not something we were designed to experience as part of God's ultimate purpose in our being born in the first place. Instead, in this scenario, death is a punishment, inflicted by God, and not a developmental step in accordance with a divine plan. To accept death as a punishment, which then possibly leads to an even worse punishment, can never lend any sense of peace to the aging process. Culturally, we see this death avoidance played out in the many medical efforts to prolong physical life well beyond the point of meaningful living.


So what do other cultures believe and teach about aging and dying? How do they enter the senior years, perhaps with a more constructive mindset? Are there any lessons we westerners could  take away in order to revamp our own aging/dying viewpoint? Is it possible to relish old age and use it to pass on wisdom to the next generation instead of pessimism and paranoia? As seniors, are we content to be perceived as a drag on our society? Or are we willing to step back, re-consider, and re-claim a useful role in our society, that of mentor, wisdom seeker, moderating influence, and role model. If so, maybe future generations will be able to age gracefully and die content, which is the way, I believe, God intended.