Dealing With Death and Dying When You Get Older

One of the most challenging aspects of life is dealing with the concept of death. As a species, it seems like this inevitable event is somehow impossible to fully understand. No matter how much we do to prepare ourselves, there are certain aspects of death that will remain a mystery. 

How people interact with death changes throughout their lifetime. Every person is introduced to the concept of death at some point in our life. For some, this happens at a very young age. For others, our first experiences with death occur when we’re older. 

One of the main ways we learn about death is by experiencing its effects throughout our lives, such as when we lose a loved one like a family member or a close friend. 

Life is strange in that so much of it is learned from others. While there is a fine line between nature and nurture, much of what shapes us comes about through our interactions with the remarkable people in our lives.

Children learn from their parents, parents learn from their peers—in every stage of life, we learn valuable lessons from the diamonds in our life. When someone who was intrinsically involved in teaching us about life passes, processing death’s complex emotions can feel completely disorienting. 

The intense sadness, disbelief, and even fatigue can feel overwhelming as we begin the healing process. How are we supposed to live a normal life when one of the key figures of our life is now gone?

Over time, we will experience the death of many incredible people we have loved in our lives. How does our experience through life challenge our thoughts and preconceptions about death as we get older? While the grief experience is always challenging, mourning and acceptance change as we age.

Terror Management Theory and Getting Older

In 1986, psychologists Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszcsynski, and Sheldon Solomon developed a theory known as Terror Management Theory or TMT for short. This theory has to do with the observable phenomena that occur in humans when they continue to live their lives amongst the presence or immediacy of death. 

For example, Terror Management Theory would try to explain why people in New York City would return to work soon after the attack on September 11th. With such a clear depiction of how life could end at any second and how unpredictable the future is, why would you go back to your job?  

Terror Management Theory would seek to describe how people can rationalize the unknowable, cope with the inevitable, and soothe their anxieties to the point that they could choose to live their life even in the face of death. 

Ranging from emergency situations like terrorist attacks and natural disasters to more personal interactions with death like a terminal diagnosis, the question has to be asked: How can we deal with death and dying? 

When it comes to getting older, TMT argues certain aspects of a person’s self-esteem and the ability for that person to soothe their anxieties play key roles in their relationship with death. 

Studies show that as most people get older, they do not experience an increase in their fear of death, denial, or related numbness, depression, or sorrow. Instead, we come to acceptance and peace with the idea of our life ending. 

As a species, humans are wired to manage terror rather than experience a loss of hope. Regardless of the underlying reason for our coping mechanisms, there are behaviors and resources that can help us process the concept of our own death in a healthy way.

Getting Help

For every person, the journey of our relationship with death and the grieving process will change as we get older. The changes that happen in a person’s life from the first time they experience death—typically as a child through the passing of a relative—to old age are significant. 

Growing up is a complicated and nuanced journey that is unique for every person. No two lives are the same, no two individuals will share the same relationship with the concepts of death, and there is no wrong way to process the existence of death. Emotions like sadness, bereavement, and despair can mingle with avoidance, anxiety, loneliness, or even guilt.

Because of this range of emotions, it can seem overwhelming to have to deal with something like this complicated grief process in our old age on our own. That’s why many people reach out for help. This stage of life is one that we can have trouble understanding, and it’s a good thing to ask for help. 

Professional Help

This can look like seeking help from mental health professionals like a grief counselor, a therapist, or even grief support groups. Some people choose to take these questions up with religious leaders and find healing and peace within religion. Whether we seek grief counseling, religious advice, or another form of guidance, getting help to understand old age and dying can be an important part of helping someone understand this stage in life. 

Social Help

Outside of professional help, reaching out to your community can also give you an opportunity to celebrate the life of the remarkable people in your lives who have passed. 

Many of us find comfort in sharing stories of our loved ones during memorial services, on important occasions like anniversaries or birthdays, and during our daily lives. Amongst the wide range of emotions that come alongside death, appreciation for the relationship you shared, joy in the time you spent together, and enduring love can coexist. 

By understanding the way our legacy and impact can endure even after we’ve passed on, we may be able to better come to terms with death’s inevitability.

Social Death

Social death is another term for something that people who are struggling with concepts of death experience in their old age. This is when a person who is struggling with the concepts of death will start to pull back from their social life. 

Social death can look different for many people, and in some respects, this can be a positive thing. For someone dealing with a season of questioning death and dying in their old age, pulling back from some of their social interactions may give them the space they need to process. 

However, this social death can also lead to physical symptoms and changes in routines, such as a loss of appetite or inability to practice self-care. As we give our loved ones space, we should also ensure they are eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep.

Focusing on a Legacy

As we mentioned above, one of the most comforting concepts to the terminal nature of human life is that of a legacy. Each generation does not simply vanish from the face of the earth but is instead replaced. One of the most incredible aspects of the human race is how, as a species, we are able to learn and grow from past generations. 

Certain qualities of strength, love, humility, kindness, and compassion can be passed down from generation to generation. Financial benefits can be conveyed to future generations, and a legacy can take on a variety of expressions. 

When a person nears the end of their life, one of the greatest blessings we can experience is knowing that we are leaving a legacy for those that come after us. Whether that’s through family, education, finances, or even scientific improvements that can impact the world, leaving a legacy can be a powerful way of coming to peace with the concepts of death and dying in old age. Each loving relationship we form strengthens the impact we leave behind.

Spending time with those we love and investing in the people around us is a powerful way to leave a legacy. Even though the concept of getting older may be scary, the benefit of investing richly into others during our swan years is incalculable. Every generation needs to learn from the previous one, and this kind of incredible investment is how humankind as a whole moves forward. 

Creating a Forever Legacy From Cremation Ashes

One way to leave a lasting legacy is through memorial cremation diamonds. This unique process takes cremation ashes and purifies them down to their carbonic elements. This source of carbon is then processed in state-of-the-art diamond labs, where it is grown into an authentic diamond. 

Not only does this provide a precious stone that will last generations, but it also is a beautiful way to keep the memory of those who have passed on close. When you grow a diamond from the carbonic elements of the ashes of your cremated loved one, you can personalize the cut, shape, and even color of the diamond to honor their legacy as they would have wanted. 


The journey of growing old is unique for each individual. It is a great privilege to be able to see our years extended, but this blessing does come with challenges. Dealing with concepts of death and dying as we age will be something that looks different for every person. Leaving a legacy for the loved ones we leave behind is a powerful way to experience this season of life with strength, peace, and purpose. 


Fear of death in older adults: predictions from terror management theory | Pubmed

How to Become Less Afraid of Death | TIME

Social Death | Oxford Academic


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