Joy in the age of loss

Coping with the deaths of friends and family members and the inescapable knowledge that time is limited for remaining peers is among the great emotional challenges of aging. “It sucks, period,” said Dorree Lynn, a 77-year-old psychologist in Charleston, S.C., who recently lost two close colleagues.  “It starts in your 60s and gets worse.”  Not everyone can overcome it, but those who are resilient enough to navigate this dance with mortality well can find wisdom and everyday joy made sweeter by the depletion of time.

There’s no doubt that many elders let their social world contract. “They sort of shrink into a box,” said Thelma Reese, an 85-year-old Philadelphian who has written books about aging. Scientific evidence that isolation and loneliness are harmful, both physically and emotionally, is mounting. “Being by yourself with the shades drawn and not interacting with other people can be deadly,” said Stephen Scheinthal, a geriatric psychiatrist who is chair of psychiatry at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine.

And yet research also shows that, as a group, older people in decent health score higher on measures of happiness than young and middle-aged adults. (Scores sometimes dip a bit as infirmities increase.) This is true even though deaths are not the only losses the aged face.  Many have also lost their independence and professional prestige.  Friends and family members have moved away or cut ties.

– The Inquirer

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