The Art of Senescence

This blog is written by Lee Gale Gruen to help Baby Boomers, seniors, and those facing retirement find joy, excitement, and satisfaction in life after they retire. Her public lecture on this subject is titled, “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement.” Her memoir, Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class, is available by clicking on this link:  Click here for her website:

Now, on to my blog:

LG & Morton Bay Fig - VRG 2-27-16While reading an article in a scientific journal, I came upon this word which I knew but had forgotten: senescence. It simply means aging. Senescence happens to all living things; it is a normal trajectory of nature.

Many things that are alive practice senescence artfully. For example: as trees age, they become more beautiful, majestic, and regal. Applying this to humans, some people are able to recast the act of aging into an art form. Unfortunately, so many aren’t. They bemoan the inevitable rather than accepting and growing into it.

I recently saw a movie, “The Lady in the Van,” starring the wonderful actress, Maggie Smith, as an elderly woman who, although successful when younger, had fallen upon hard times and was living in her van. The actress portrayed her character with authenticity, joy and dignity just as she did with the polar opposite character she portrayed, an English dowager noblewoman, in the television series, “Downton Abbey.” The most important take away from this observation is Maggie Smith, the person. She has aged naturally, embracing her wrinkles, sagging neck, and faltering voice. They are her trademark, and she wields them with skill. She has discovered the art of senescence.

Another example of such a person is Iris Apfel, the 97-year-old fashion icon (born in 1921).  A documentary about her, “Iris,” was released in 2015. As is evident from the movie, Iris Apfel does not hide herself from public exposure because her youthful looks and stature have eroded.  She is proud of her accomplishments as a designer and as a businesswoman. She has created an image of an elderly person who is positive, sharp, and respected.

Rather than fighting growing older with one elective surgical or dermatological procedure after another, both of these women have used their own aging process to their advantage. They are the human equivalent of the senescent, awe-inspiring Morton Bay Fig tree I’m standing next to in the photograph. That tree and these women challenge the rest of us to follow in their footsteps and not fear and fight aging but to investigate it, embrace it, and make it work for us.

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6 responses to “The Art of Senescence

  1. …a good article with a great perspective, LGG! I just wish that women were allowed to age gracefully as men are allowed to. It’s hard to find Maggie Smith’s in films but aging men are all over the place.
    BTW I’ve just finished another book, “Elementary Watson”, written for midddle readers.

  2. Sheila Sauber

    Hi Lee Gale, I’m in Atlanta and I just enjoyed your senescence blog…& learned a new word. I really like your examples of Maggie Smith & Iris Apfel. It is hard aging, especially with my granddaughters asking how old I am twice so far. Hope all is well with you. Love, Sheila

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. thx for movie recommendations – in the one about Iris, didn’t she say she didn’t have surgery simply because it seldom looks good? I agree. I’ve heard aging called ‘living,’ which resonates with me.

    • I don’t remember if Iris Apfel said that, but it certainly sounds like something she would say. She’s feisty and tells it like it is–so admirable and enviable.

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