The Art of Growing Old
by Marie de Hennezel

Viking, 2010. ISBN 978-0-670-12345-5.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 11/14/2012

Nonfiction: Elders

In The Art of Growing Old, de Hennezel, a French clinical therapist, writes of positive aging with hope and grace. She writes of the heart—"the heart I refer to is that inexplicable, incomprehensible force that keeps the human being alive, and which Spinoza christened conatus: primordial energy or vital endeavor." She states that a contemplation of one's own death leads to a serene, luminous old age. Denying death and trying to reclaim youth will prevent one from preparing for inevitable changes, thus causing unhappiness and despair.

Perhaps, de Hennezel thinks that we dwell too much on the physical aspects of aging, as she devotes the first four chapters to what she sees as a dominant failing in today's society. From that point on, she writes about ways one can change to become receptive and open to, not only the physical changes, but the positive spiritual, and emotional changes. Especially appealing is her suggestion of small, self-chosen, support communities of elders living close by each other, reminiscent of William Thomas' ideas.

de Hennezel quotes the aged Sister Emmanulle: "Well, you see, Marie, old age is the most beautiful period of my life. I feel as though I am rich from all the encounters I have experienced. Thousand and thousands of people have enriched me, so I have an immense store of capital, and feel responsible for passing on what I have received." De Hennezel goes on to say, "This happiness in growing old must be earned, and nobody can do it for us. It is a question of real work..."

A thoughtful, well-written, well-translated consideration of positive, heartfelt aging.

Marie de Hennezel is a french clinical therapist and the author of 10 previous books. She has spearheaded numerous national health initiatives in France and is the recipient of the Legion of Honor.

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