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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

August 2013


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month


Confronting your mortality

At 75, the actor Dustin Hoffman is tackling a new role – director –and old worries about mortality and aging.  Yet he wouldn’t trade now for anything.

After nearly 50 years in front of the camera, Hoffman stepped behind it for his film directorial debut, Quartet, about a group of opera singers who end up at a home for retired musicians.

In an interview in the American magazine, AARP, Hoffman says, “It’s an affirmative movie but still reality. There’s this cloud of mortality hovering over the characters and binding them. As we were working on the film, I asked Billy Connolly (one of its stars), ‘What’s the movie about?’ And he said, ‘Don’t die until you’re dead.’ I thought that nailed it.”

When asked what age he would like to be, Hoffman replied. “I wouldn’t trade now for anything. Yes, I’d probably like my body to be less limited. I’m trying to delay that with Pilates and diet but not getting an A yet. Have you ever held up a cell phone and see yourself? The first time it happened, I said: ‘Who is that old fart? That can’t – that’s me?’”

Does he ever think about retiring? He says he’s fortunate to love passionately what he does. But “What we all want is to continually grow and expand. I’ve discovered that as the body becomes more limited, the soul expands. And there is a full circle. A 2-year-old will pick up a leaf and look at it with fascination. You get to the other end and again are looking at a leaf. I know I am. Birds! I used to wonder, why are those fuddy-duddy old people going around Central Park with their glasses? I get it now. It’s finding that thing that the very idea of it just fills you.”

Does he fear death? “My wife says I’ve been worrying about it since we started going out. But at a certain point your icons change. There’s Manoel de Oliveira, who’s still directing at 104. And I recently read about a 94-year-old guy who had just run a triathlon. They asked, ‘Are you going to run anymore?’ He says, ‘Oh, yeah. I got to keep going till I get old.’”


The Death Café Movement: Tea and Mortality

A survey by the charity Dying Matters reveals that more than 70 percent of us are uncomfortable talking about death and that less than a third of us have spoken to family members about end-of-life wishes.

But despite this ingrained reluctance there are signs of burgeoning interest in exploring death.  A reporter from The INDEPENDENT  recently attended her first death café and was surprised to discover that the gathering of “Goths, emos and the terminally ill that I’d imagined, turned out to be a collection of fascinating, normal individuals united by a wish to discuss mortality.”  And in the comfortable surroundings of a café enjoying tea or coffee and cake.

Death cafes have been organised in the UK by Jon Underwood, a former council worker.  “We don’t want to shove death down people’s throats,” Underwood says.  “We just want to create an environment where talking about death is natural and comfortable.” He got the idea from the Swiss model (café mortel) invented by the sociologist Bernard Crettaz, the popularity of which gained momentum in the nineties and has since spread to France and the United States.  

“There’s a growing recognition that the way we’ve outsourced death to the medical professions and to funeral directors hasn’t done us any favours,” Underwood says.  He envisioned Death Café as “a space where people can discuss death and find meaning and reflect on what’s important and ask profound questions.”     

These are not grief support groups or end-of life planning sessions, but rather casual forums for people of all ages who want to discuss attitudes toward death.  Death and grief are topics to be avoided in our society, but if we talk about them maybe we won’t fear them as much.

I have arranged to attend a death café gathering soon and will report to you on what I observe in a future column.

To find out more about death cafes, go to or email   

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