Aging is Bittersweet … It Giveth and Taketh Away

Aging is Bittersweet: A collage of aging faces.


“Your face is marked with lines of life, put there by love and laughter, suffering and tears. It’s beautiful.”

—Lynsay Sands, author

According to the Oxford English Dictionary there are more than 171,000 words in current use. That tells us that there is clearly no shortage of adjectives to choose from when trying to describe something. For the sake of this article and this magazine’s theme, let’s consider the word “aging.” In my opinion, of all the word choices available, the best and absolutely perfect descriptor is “bittersweet.” It is so spot on, Peter Mark Roget—the creator of Roget’s Thesaurus would be hard-pressed to suggest a better alternative. Aging is bittersweet.

Like any respectable oxymoron, this self-contradicting word cuts both ways and simultaneously makes us think of the joy and the sadness that accompany old age. It makes us take stock of that which we have gained and of what we have lost. It conjures up how age both enriches and diminishes us. It reminds us, to paraphrase Job, that aging giveth and taketh away.

Ask any older adult about the downside of aging and you’re likely to hear a lengthy recitation of assorted maladies that include deteriorating physical health, loss of mental acuity, financial concerns, the death of one’s peers, loneliness, and more. Realistically, we all know that these conditions are pretty much inescapable and that they come with the territory.

Fact is, longevity takes its toll on all of us and it manifests in many unpleasant and painful ways. But, when we find ourselves griping about our various age-related woes, all it takes is for someone to say, “Hey, consider the alternative,” and that’s it. End of discussion. There’s a lot to be said for perspective, right?

But why dwell on the negatives of old age when the other side of the ledger lists so many plusses and offers so much positivity? Certainly, living a long time gives us much to celebrate and be grateful for.

So, try this. Sit down in your favorite easy chair and consider all the meaningful experiences and wonderful relationships you’ve had during your long life. Think of all the interesting characters you’ve met who made a lasting impression on you—or vice-versa. Rejoice in the fact that you have friendships that go back 50, 60, 70 years or more.

Now take a moment and bask in the warmth of your multi-generational family. Treasure the breadth of knowledge you have accumulated and have enjoyed passing on to your children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren. Think of all that you have seen, heard, tasted, smelled, and touched all these years—nature’s beautiful vistas, fabulous music, sumptuous meals, fragrant flowers, a warm embrace, and more.

Yes, aging is undeniably bittersweet. All of us have living proof of that. So, as we continue along this wondrous journey, we must accept the bitter and the sweet, the pleasure and the pain, and the joy and the sorrow. Most importantly, we must remind ourselves to savor each day and be grateful for our long, well-lived lives.

Larry Moss is a retired advertising creative director and jazz piano player. He recently published a memoir about how playing the piano played such an important role in his life.

See this article by Larry Moss on Living Your Third Act

Here are more articles on how aging is bittersweet:

Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole—A wonderful book by Susan Cain

Bittersweet Moments—Past, Present, Future: Life is filled with bittersweet moments, times of pleasure that at the same time may be accompanied by suffering or regret. Although we may be more aware of such occasions as we get older, I am convinced that since we are constantly aging, we will experience many such moments in each decade of life.

Jennifer James on the Bittersweet Reality of Being 80: What you gain at 80, says Jennifer James, “is yourself. It sounds self-centered—but it’s that you have one life.”

That Box of Chocolates We Call Aging — Forrest Gump said, “My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.”  Read this essay by chaplain Stephen Sinclair on how to take the sweet with the bitter and get on with the business of living.


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