Tag: dying

A Life Review

A Life Review

Fleurs - Jean Claude Papeix
Fleurs – Jean Claude Papeix

When my mother was in her nineties, she became obsessed with telling me stories of her life. I heard about people, places and experiences that she had never shared with me, or perhaps anyone, before. I understood her need to go back and revisit her life in light of Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development. The last stage, “Ego Integrity vs. Despair”, he considered the stage when an individual developed the virtue of wisdom. He contended that during this stage an individual reflects on his or her life and makes a determination as to whether or not it was of value. Their conclusion leads them either to despair and to the belief that their life was wasted or to the conclusion that life was meaningful and of value to society. 

Mom often repeated the same story again and again, almost word for word, as if she had been rehearsing it for a lifetime, but needed to share it one more time, to make it “right”, or make sense of it somehow. It was clear to me that she was struggling to reach a place of acceptance and affirmation. Many times she ended her stories with the wrap up, “It’s been a good life”.  I worried whether or not she actually believed this affirmation as she was so prone to despair throughout her life. 

Now, as the years add up for me, I have already begun to see this process taking place. I am thirty years younger than she was at the time. Had she been thinking about these things for some time, but had never been able to quite resolve the conflict?  Or did I start the process early? Or perhaps, is there another way to look at it.

Carl Jung’s second task in his Seven Tasks of Aging is a “Life Review”. Life tasks seem to arise on cue in most individuals, but we still have the choice as to whether or not we accept the challenge. We decided when and how to step into, and engage, the process in order to be prepared for the next step the task must be taken on.  We learn from a life review as we wrestle with our mistakes, our regrets and disappointments and realign ourselves with our beliefs and our values. Perhaps that is why memoirs are such a popular genre these days. People have more time and freedom to take on this lengthy review process.

we all begin the process before we are ready, before we are strong enough, before we know enough; we begin a dialogue with thoughts and feelings that both tickle and thunder within us. We respond before we know how to speak the language, before we know all the answers, and before we know exactly to whom we are speaking.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves

More by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

It is in the process of a life review that we find our answers. Through participation in the tasks of aging we grow in wisdom and become increasingly congruent. it is important to remember that though we are called to undertake these tasks, it might be better to think of them as on-going processes.  We learn and grow when we embrace them, but they ebb and flow, sometimes urgently calling us, sometimes slipping out of sight for a time. Rising to greet the urging when it appears rather than shying away from it will enrich our lives as we age. 

Have you begun the task of a “Life Review”? What have you discovered?

Conscious Aging

Conscious Aging

Watching my parents die was one of the most difficult and painful experiences of my life. It was a modern-day tragedy, their conscious agingsuffering heartbreaking and unnecessary.  I watched, powerless to change a sickness of the mind, a fundamental commitment to their powerlessness.

We are all powerless over death, but we are not powerless over the way in which we approach our death.  As we choose better thoughts and attitudes, we begin to see them come to fruition with each choice we make.

At the time of my parents death, I was only beginning to grasp this concept. The fog was lifting but it was too late for me to help them. I was still in the grip of a lineage of powerlessness, even as I knew in my gut  that there was a different way. We were all products of our upbringing and for some a victim mindset is woven tightly into our DNA, put there before we really even had a choice.


My heart ached as I watched this mindset play out in two people I was born loving.  I watched in horror as they brought about the very conditions they feared and dreaded the most. They lived their worst nightmare, and lived their dying days watching everything they planned so meticulously to avoid play out just as they had envisioned it.

It wasn’t their physical suffering that was hard to watch minimal compared to many.  No, it was their unspoken belief that they didn’t matter, that only they could save themselves and that ultimately they were not worth anyone’s time.  In the end they lived their last years fighting a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.  Each, in their own way, was unable to break free from the mindset that could not create their way out.


It was then that I began to grapple in earnest with my own unanswered questions about life and death.  Untangling the mindset that created a lineage of mental and emotional suffering was my single goal, and I would separate out what was mine and what was theirs.  I had to break free.

I sought then and continue to seek today a deeper, richer understanding of and appreciation for the life/death experience. Traveling from a place of fearing life and death to a radical new place of hope, meaning and purpose has created within me a significant transformation.

If I have a choice, I do not want to die as they died, nor do I want to live as they lived.  I want to believe in possibility and hope as I live and die with strength and courage.  Of course, I have yet to test my new perspective and I do hope I have more time for it to ferment and strengthen, but I have changed.

During my fifth decade, I discovered a deeper connection to myself and to the creation of all things. I am unwilling to name  the source without source. To do so is, for me, too confining, too limiting, and subject to false interpretations. Yet, I feel a powerful presence, an energy upon which love and life and all that is good is founded and sustained. This power lives within us, between us,  around us and before us.  When we open to it, our course becomes clearer.  It is both me and not me. It is both the collective and not the collective.

I will never know what crossed my mother or father’s mind in their last moments. Perhaps they took the hand of their God and were no longer afraid. I hope that was true. Since that time, however, I have vowed not to live an un-lived life and not to die a meaningless death. Conscious aging is my goal and conscious living my ongoing quest.

© Dorothy Sander 2015