Ageing-towards-death: phenomenology of finitude during old-age.
Abstract: This paper is based on a p henomenological investigation regarding the subjective experience of the awareness of finitude during old-age. Three elders who had already undergone the awareness of finitude were selected and Amadeo Giorgi's method was used in order to describe this lived experience and its respective acts of meaning. Results revealed the existence of nine key-constituents in its general structure of meaning. Two of them resulted from life events which originated the emergence of this particular awareness (unexpected loss of significant reference; body and temporal limits), while the other seven (memory of relational separation; anticipation; paradoxical situation; uncertainty; spiritual questioning; emotional vulnerability; change of perspective and r elatedness with existence), were key constituents that were built without being directly related to life and/or ageing contingencies. Subsequently, these findings where contextualized within a p henomenological-existential background, allowing the acknowledgement of how this respective awareness and its subjective meaning seem very much undermined by the elder's temporality, corporality, historicity and relatedness, and play in the end a fundamental role that will significantly set the way in which elders deal with their remaining time.

Key Words

Old-age, ageing, death, finitude, phenomenological-existential perspectives.
Article Type: Essay
Subject: Old age (Psychological aspects)
Death (Psychological aspects)
Phenomenology (Analysis)
Author: da Fonseca, Joao
Pub Date: 07/01/2011
Publication: Name: Existential Analysis Publisher: Society for Existential Analysis Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Society for Existential Analysis ISSN: 1752-5616
Issue: Date: July, 2011 Source Volume: 22 Source Issue: 2
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United Kingdom Geographic Code: 4EUUK United Kingdom
Accession Number: 288874225
Full Text: Introduction

The question concerning ageing, is one that asks about man's finitude and his freedom

(Olievenstein, 2000, p. 7).

The origin of this article comes from the author's MD course on "Perspectives of Existential Psychotherapy", in which a final thesis was presented and entitled as "Phenomenology of finitude during successful ageing", in the Institute of Applied Psychology (ISPA) in Portugal.

Questions concerning men's finitude have always been a cherished subject to existential authors, where the confrontation and "resoluteness" towards the human condition of "being-towards-death", as Heidegger (1951) would put it, is seen has a fundamental key for authentic living, a key that will ultimately open up the essence of uncertainty that undermines our "being-in-the-world".

In fact, death is the great muse of philosophy and a particular event that defines the meaning of life as well as the behaviour of subjects during existence, since it promotes a s et of existential anxieties and profound personal changes that can become pathological if they are not correctly addressed (Heidegger, 1951; Sartre, 1956; Yalom, 1980; Hetherington, 2001; Correia, 2006).

As years go by, this mortal condition will tend to become imperatively present in the awareness of subjects but for some reason, individuals are still able to develop inauthentic postures towards it since a state of "forgetfulness of being" can still emerge, instead of a state of "mindfulness of being". In fact, most people do seem to make all possible efforts to avoid and even try to deny the outrageous scandal that this condition represents (Levinas, 1993).

The odd thing about this is that during existence individuals can have access to the anticipated awareness about their own death (i.e. finitude), allowing them to behold a particular a priori meaning about it, but on the other hand they do not have access to the direct, the lived or the "at hand" experience of death itself, unless they cease to exist. This means that death is the utmost granted possibility for all beings that can occur at any age or time, still, its full experiential and direct knowledge will always remain inaccessible until the end of each temporal line. It is for this reason that "the description of the phenomenon of death is at hand to the living, while the experience of what comes beyond it, is not of the order of this existence"" (Levinas, 1995; p.158).

Indeed, the a priori meaning of one's death is not based on a factual experience per se, but emerges from a fundamental premonition where people intuitively know that they are all travelling towards the unknown in a trip with no return (Levinas, 1993). Furthermore, the particular meaning that intentionality builds upon this unknown is a phenomenon with the power to deeply affect the way each being relates to his existence. Generally speaking, this meaning implies a threat towards the fundamental core of each being but also towards the full spectrum of his current existential project, whatever it may be. Thus, it will promote a dwelling of questions, anxieties and angst's to which individual's will have to respond and/or own until their ending.

Regarding existential perspectives, there is a substantial legacy about the phenomenon of death and finitude but very few authors have focused on the specific issue of ageing and particularly, upon the awareness that elders build about their "being-towards-death". Some exceptions are the work of Adams (2006), where he presents a phenomenological and existential model of human development that is keenly suitable to this context, but also Langle (2001), that warns us how the ageing process can gradually detach the elder from his social and relational world, directing his awareness more than ever, to his inner world and the condition of his being where transformations can take place. According to this last author, there are three existential paradigms emerging from this process:

1. With all the multiple losses, the elder is forced to confront himself with the limits of human existence that need to be accepted and actualized. If this adjustment does not happen, the ageing experience will be lived with a huge amount of pressure, feelings of loneliness and emptiness;

2. The loss of significant people and the issues regarding health and disease awakens the elder to his own finitude and the proximity of death. This way, the impermanent and changing nature of existence needs to be more valued and addressed, or else, ageing will be lived has an everlasting experience of privation, loss of values and meaninglessness stance towards existence, making the elder look at himself has a loser and a failure that drowns him deep into depression;

3. Finally, the inevitability of the ageing process intensifies the awareness of no control over the fundamental and final blueprints of existence, which in turn, can create a feeling of great fear and anguish if the elder does not surrender to the fact that this type of control transcends its will.

Either way, old-age and finitude are intimately connected at least for three reasons. First of all, they reflect the imminent fact that time in existence is shortening. Secondly, they share a western cultural view which links them to pathological manifestations or taboo matters that are opposite to the actual notions and cultural values of life and well-being. Finally, they are associated with multiple losses that provoke a s et of crises and transformations that may or may not impel the elder to the discovery of new meanings, possibilities and acceptance of the limits of existence.

Therefore, the phenomena of the awareness of finitude during ageing and the contingencies that go along with it, in which a state of "forgetfulness of being" becomes something of an unsustainable enterprise, seemed worthwhile to be explored. This was also the reason why the paper was titled "ageing-towards-death", which means that the selected subjects in study where not only ageing, but they were already doing it with the clear awareness that their time in existence was unavoidably coming to an end.

Additionally, explorations of subjective lived experiences have been excluded for a long time from the stream of psychological research, and the same is quite true for investigations regarding ageing since it is still very much looked upon has an object of science, wherein elders are only described in their exteriority, that is, they are normally described by the other and never by themselves (Beauvoir, 1990; Adams, 2006). Hence, it is safe to say that today we know a lot about what ageing does to elders but we lack the understanding about what elders do or even choose to do with their ageing process.

Since this paper was based on a phenomenological investigation and an existential view of the awareness of finitude during ageing, it was crucial to acknowledge how, again, the elder's intentionality becomes a major factor of internalization of the multidimensional process of ageing, specially by creating particular meanings and choices that guide him through his stream of life moments, either through whatever he may had experienced, whatever is presented, and finally, whatever he has yet to experience.

With this being said, the descriptive phenomenological method was selected as the most suited one since it offers a first person view of how a subjective experience is lived and what acts of meaning are implied. As so, this paper will present below the phenomenological findings of this investigation and consequently, a phenomenological-existential background and literature will be offered in order to sustain and clarify the essential constituents of the phenomenon in study.

The main intention that guided this study was the will to understand what type of freedom, responsibility and possibility the elders have towards the meaning of their finitude, their lives and their remaining time in existence.


We need a method that is as essentially geared to the qualities of humans, as quantification is geared toward the essence of things

(Giorgi, 2005, p.80).

Due to the limits of this paper only a brief idea about the phenomenological method of Amadeo Giorgi will be offered, but for further reading please check the following works (Giorgi, 1985; Giorgi & Giorgi, 2003; Giorgi and Gallegos, 2005).

Basically, the application of this method starts with an open question regarding the matter in study (in our case was "Please describe an experience during you ageing process, where you became aware of your finitude?") and its followed by an interview which holds a phenomenological attitude along the way.

The Raw Data of each interview is recorded to an audio tape and later, a full transcription to a digital document is made. Following the interview, four fundamental steps guide analysis which will allow the achievement of the General Structure of Meaning, it's Essential Key-Constituents, and finally, the Empirical Variations.


Selection of subjects was based on t he following criteria: a) retired subjects with ages that were equal or higher than 65 years (the "official" chronological age for entering old-age and retirement); b) subjects who presented sufficient cognitive abilities to allow them to reflect and describe their experience (a central criteria for the application of this method); c) subjects that reported an experience that made them become aware of their finitude; d) elders that after retirement, were still active and involved in personal projects within their communities (a central criteria's for the "successful ageing" category, which was present in the original MD study).

Three subjects were selected (S1, S2 and S3), who presented the following characteristics:

* S1--male, 65 years of age, Portuguese, 5 years in retirement. Worked as a chief of cabin in an airline company and currently attending a senior university;

* S2--female age 70, Portuguese, 6 years in retirement. Worked as a nurse and is now attending a senior university;

* S3--female, 78 years of age, Portuguese, with 16 in retirement. Worked as a teacher in a primary school. Is a volunteer in a mental health clinic.


The description of the general structure of meaning of the awareness of finitude will be presented in Table 1, and it should be read as a whole (i.e. horizontally). Direct citations by the subjects regarding the key-constituents will be addressed so the reader may become acquainted to how essential meanings are captured within the raw descriptions. Due to paper limitations, only five constituents are presented, and they will be so by pairing subjects. Then, Table 2 will gather all of the essential key-constituents together with their respective empirical variations (a synthesis of the subjects' diverse descriptions regarding each of the constituents). Finally, the illustration of Figure 1 will show, as a w hole, the relation among these essential key-constituents.

General Structure of Meaning

Essential Key-Constituents

Within the general structure of meaning of the awareness of finitude, nine essential key-constituents were identified. Two of them resulted from life events which originated the emergence of this particular awareness (unexpected loss of significant reference; body and temporal limits), while the other seven (memory of relational separation; anticipation; paradoxical situation; uncertainty; spiritual questioning; emotional vulnerability; change of perspective and relatedness with existence), were key-constituents that were built without being directly related to life and/or ageing contingencies.

The reader can see below the direct citations of subjects regarding five of the key-constituents.

Direct Citations

Unexpected loss of significant reference--All subjects mentioned an episode in their lives where they unexpectedly lost something that was very meaningful to them. This event was one of the starting points of the emergence of the awareness of finitude. S1 reported that the moment he became conscious of finitude, begun during his official day of retirement when he went to his workplace to get his belongings from a locker he used for 30 years, and was surprised by seeing that the paper that had his name on the locker had been removed without prior notice. As he puts it:

S3 was robbed in two occasions, one when her ex-husband took her personal belongings from their house, and another one by a thief in the middle of the street, after attending a funeral:

Awareness of Body and Time Limits

The awareness of physical limits of the body associated to the process of aging, served has irrefutable evidence that their time in existence is also limited:

S1--I know I have a body that has a certain amount of duration and one day that body will need to rest, he will stop suffering and I will be gone. I am used to this body for a long time and the moment will come when he will not be useful anymore, cannot hold anymore and I will have to abandon hit, against my own will.

S2--I started to get old and became more fragile and that made me start thinking about death ... it is from my diseases and discomfort that I realize that this his part of my end, as long as I advance on my age my body will become more weak.

Paradoxical Intention

All subjects revealed the presence of a paradoxical intention that in one hand, was based on the acceptance of the imperative and unavoidable condition of their finitude, but in the other hand, in the will or wish to pursuit the fulfillment of their existential projects.

S1--I know that one day there will be nothing left for me to do here and I have to learn to let myself go, but at the same time, I am aware that I still want to do some little things here and that my body can still resist a little bit longer.

S2--I would like that people could recognize me, without hypocrisy, that I was a person that left them with a good memory, because I am going to end, because I will end and will become nothing.... my death will be the end of everything and if I can't leave them a good memory behind then my life would become a meaningless one.

Emotional Vulnerability

These elders also confess feelings of emotional vulnerability like fears, angst and depression, that are directly related to this experience.

S2--I have an immense fear of death. It is not the religious part but the physical side that scares me ... I also get melancholic about my youth because I had great conditions to do some sort of things but now that I am old, I can no longer do them, I cannot reach them anymore.

S3--I really try not to think in death all the time, I distract myself and think in something that makes my spirit high.

Change of perspective and relatedness with existence

The whole process of becoming aware of finitude was considered by these elders has a changing point in their lives, where previous world-view's and ways of relating to existence were changed after the emergence of this awareness. S2 and S3 are clear examples of that change.

S2--With my finitude I realized that I was not enjoying and using my life the best way so I made a new plan, I was not going to live only for my work and my dear ones, I would also start to give more importance to others, to strangers and to all living beings including plants ... Being close to end made me realize that we are not all the same, each one has an own way of being and we should let people live their lives the way they want, without hurting each other.

S3--Having ten years ahead of me is the same as having 10 minutes, you may think it is a lot but it isn't.... Now I don't postpone things for tomorrow because I don't know if tomorrow I will be here ...; I started to chose the things I really like to do, I am not going to do things that make no sense to me, for example, everybody is saying to me to buy a new house and I say "For What? I am not gonna have time to enjoy it!



Figure 1 will be a very helpful guide through this following discussion. Direct citations and Table 2 presented before contain an intrinsic value and they can speak for themselves in terms of understanding how key-constituents where achieved; still, it is advisable for the reader to check them now and then along this current section. In consequence, our discussion will be facilitated and will work more as a s ort of "leaping-ahead" of what was presented above.

The first reading to take from these results as a whole is the acknowledgment of how the acts of meaning of these subjects regarding the awareness of finitude, are undermined by the Husserlian concept of temporality, i.e., the subject's internal consciousness of time. In other words, consciousness is always presenting herself by a set of circular and fluid acts between past, present and future, acts that are known as retentions, i.e., the presentation of a perceptual act which is no longer before us, and byprotentions, i.e., the perception of something that is yet to occur (Husserl, 1994; Binswanger, 1987; Varela, 1997).

This way, we can admit how the key-constituents and the elder's intentionality are sometimes linked with the past (e.g. unexpected loss of significant reference and memory of relational separations), the present (body and temporal limits, emotional vulnerabilities and change of perspective and relation with existence), and finally, with the future (anticipation, paradoxical situation and uncertainty).

All of these constituents appear within the complex awareness of the elders' acts of meaning, nevertheless, this is not a rigid structure since some of them can occupy different temporal places at the same time within the elders' intentionality, thus, we should keep in mind that some of them are very much permeable and can even become transversal in terms of their temporality like for example the constituent of emotional vulnerability, body and temporal limits or change of perspective and relation with existence. Also, all of the nine constituents either present themselves as biographical narratives, present lived experiences or a priori acts of meaning.

The constituents of unexpected loss of significant reference and body and temporal limits are placed at the bottom of the figure and on each side of the experience in study. This is so because they represent life contingencies that offered the major ground for these elders to the emergence and to the awareness of finitude.

In both of them the meaning of loss and limit is implied which mirrors not only the issue of death and finitude but also what generally happens in the process of ageing. In fact, the general literature points out to the existence of a milieu of losses and limits during ageing, that are manifested in bodily and cognitive functions, health, retirement, personal values, memories of youth, self image, death of spouse or relatives, among others (Birren, 1968; Baltes & Baltes, 1990; Baltes & Silverberg, 1995; Fernandez-Ballesteros, 1999; Fontaine, 1999; Langle, 2001).

Additionally, these two constituents seem to be experienced as "limit-situations", a concept used by Jaspers (1971) regarding life experiences in which individuals collide without being able to avoid them, deny them or even be totally prepared for them. Moreover, we can also assume that they may very well represent the facticity of ageing and being, and truly, this facticity plays a preponderant first role in the awareness in study since these elders where and are thrown into them without searching for or choosing them.

Part of this facticity is played within the elder's body where massive changes in appearance and function take place, which makes the role of corporality a natural outcome within the quality of this awareness. The constituent of body and temporal limits implies that the elder's physical "vessel-of-being", wherein a v ital contact and a k inesthetic lived experience with existence is continually marked, sustains a significant part of the emergence and the awareness of finitude. This is of no surprise since the body represents life, biography and the immensity of possibilities in existence because it permits our manifestation in the "here and now", but at the same time, it is the body that proclaims death by getting more fragile and wasted has time goes by (Merleau-Ponty, 1969; Minkowski, 1992; Boss, 1994; Zahavi, 1994; Fuchs, 2003).

The retention that is made within this awareness also puts into play the role of the elder's historicity where biographical narratives are addressed, particularly in the constituents of unexpected loss of significant reference and memory of relational separations. Also, as we will see further ahead, this historicity will be present in the way elders make their protentions towards this future event.

The memory of relational separation is a constituent that implies the awareness of relatedness with others. Although it is not explicit in the elders' descriptions and the fact that this constituent is related with retention, it may also announce the tragic loss of relatedness with others and also with existence, which is normally implied in finitude (Heidegger, 1951; Ducceschi, 1970; Levinas, 1993).

Still, it is the connection with the past that serves as the main reason for placing this constituent in the border between the constituents regarding life contingencies and the others that we will see further ahead. In fact, it is from this border that the a priori acts of meaning towards finitude, seem to unfold.

Naturally, the first and central core constituent is anticipation, which allows elders to realize that they are a "being-towards-death", that their time in existence is limited and that the "possibility of the impossibility of being" waits for them (Heidegger, 1951; Levinas, 1993).

This constituent clarifies us how these elders build the main meaning of finitude in an anticipated way, nonetheless, these acts of consciousness are again permeable and also entrenched within the elders' historicity. A clear example of this can be seen in the empirical variations of Table 2. There, the reader will be able to see how these subjects intentions regarding what they wish to happen during their final process of dying are intimately connected to the particular life events that made them become aware of their own death. In other words, S1 revealed that two years prior to his official day of retirement, he asked (and was longing for) a premature withdrawal from work because of physical and psychological exhaustion, and what he wishes to happen towards the moment of his final destiny is to become gradually disconnected from existence in order to die "more effortlessly". For S2, her moment of awareness of finitude was during an experience of intense physical distress and what she is hoping for during her time of death, is to live it peacefully and especially without any physical suffering. At last, S3 was surprised by a thief in the middle of the street and by the act of suicide of her ex-husband, hence, she refutes any present or future act of suicide that people may undergo during life and, most importantly, she hopes that "God" does not take her by surprise or "steal" her from life without warning.

The other a priori act is the constituent of paradoxical situation, which reveals how these subjects were confronted with the tension of acknowledging the unavoidable condition of death, together with the time and the possibilities that are still available to them. Clearly, paradoxes are very much present during existence and in a way they offer the ground in which each being has to live or respond to (Erikson, 1963; Heidegger, 1951; Sartre, 1956; Jaspers, 1971; Thompson, 1993; Levinas, 1995; Farago, 2006).

On the same level, the constituent of uncertainty appears in the awareness of finitude, particularly in terms of what the future may hold for these elders. Indeed, they all wondered about how and when their moment of death was going to happen and also, about the metaphysical and essential questions of the after-life, regarding which some denied while others hoped, for a possibility of something in them that could go beyond the limits of existence.

Meanwhile, the awareness of the complex issues of "ageing-towards-death" brought into light the constituent of emotional vulnerability. In here, these elders confess how their thoughts about finitude made them feel vulnerable and devitalized with a spectrum of anguished feelings, anxieties, resentments, guilt's and fears. An outcome that is expected since each elder was confronted with the announced aloofness of separation from all types of relation they endure with existence (Ducceschi, 1970; Tomer e Eliason, 1996; Eliason, 2000; Moore & Williamson, 2003). Furthermore, these emotional vulnerabilities can be again linked with the Heideggerian proposal of the possibility of becoming a "non-being" or a "nothing". In fact, this represents a bottomless personal problem with no solution, where the "being-in-the-world" of the elder, a structure composed by time, space, body, consciousness, relatedness with others and projects, is irreversibly launched towards its future annihilation and towards the possibility of becoming an incomprehensible "nothing". From here, the reason of being is denied and the unbearable feelings are brought into action (Ducceschi, 1970).

Maybe as a response to this, the constituent of spiritual questioning was encountered in this awareness, since in a way, spirituality as the power to compensate these type of feelings of despair and these unanswered questions, mainly through a r elation with a reality that transcends our sensorial, existential and scientific limitations, and allows us to offer some meaning to what seems apparently absurd (Tillich, 1952; Ducceschi, 1970; Jaspers, 1971; Thorenson & Harris, 2002).

There is substantial literature that focuses on the importance of the spiritual world (i.e. the uberwelt) and this becomes more evident in the process of ageing. William James (1902) is an example of this when for some reason he called old-age the religious or spiritual age par excellence, and more recently, Tornstam (1994) developed the concept of gerotranscendence to address this important issue, where elders tend to find a need to reinvent themselves and develop a cosmic or spiritual intimacy with the world.

Finally, the constituent of change of perspective and relation with the world show how all of these subjects confessed that from the moment they became aware of finitude a fundamental change was enabled in their ways of being and relating to existence, as well as with the time they had left.

In our case, the process of promoting a sense of meaning as well as questions about finitude, independently of being more or less "comfortable" to the elder's lived experience, truly endorsed the awareness and the ownership of the possibilities and responsibilities of each elder toward the relatedness and totality of his existential project (Heidegger, 1951; Yalom, 1980; Ducceschi, 1970; Levinas, 1993, 1995; Moore & Williamson, 2003).

In a way, it is safe to say that these elders presented resoluteness towards their "ageing-towards-death", since all of them still chose to foster an opening and a venture towards their existential projects. This respective awareness carried an implicit and threatening meaning of loss, limit, vulnerabilities, doubts and wonderings, nevertheless, these subjects also used it as a possibility to integrate their wisdom gathered throughout life, wherein they had to let go of old conceptions and embrace new ones in order to reorganize and chose their possible and meaningful ways of "ageing-towards-death" (Erikson, 1963; Taylor and Ford, 1981; Kaufman, 1986; Baltese Baltes, 1990; Thompson, 1993; Tomer e Eliason, 1996; Langle, 2001).

On the other hand, this type of resoluteness towards finitude is not granted, however, the fact that these elders where selected from the original study because they belonged to the category of "successful ageing", may be a fundamental reason for the facilitating of this resoluteness. In fact, we should be aware that there are situations and contingencies of ageing that offer no conditions whatsoever for this type of outcome.

Towards the Conclusion

Phenomenological readings and existential stances about something as fluid as the stream of consciousness, are equivalent to taking a picture or a fixed blueprint about something that is alive and ongoing. Nevertheless, such effort is needed in order to acknowledge and understand in a concrete way, what is implied and what stands out in term of meaning regarding a particular lived experience. Even when that experience is directed towards the awareness of finitude, something that essentially speaking leaves us with no concrete answer whatsoever.

The original investigation of this MD study was in fact immensely wide and due to current paper limitations we could not show all of the results or even make a further development of the discussion, however, it was more than enough to identify and describe the essential constituents that build up this type of awareness and to offer a sort of "leaping-ahead" reading of what was presented. In this line of thought, the existential concepts of temporality, corporality, historicity and relatedness, proved to be of the highest relevance to understanding the dynamic of this awareness, where the elder's intentionality creates as et of acts of meaning that are undermined by them.

In a way, the fact that we are still allowed to reflect about our own death means that we did not have direct access to its full lived experience, even when we acknowledge the existence of near death-experiences which in truth, are not death itself. In turn, this makes this issue a truly unknown and transcendental one for any of us. Hence, the nothingness of death becomes also an empty phenomenological field to our intentionality, to where our assumptions and world-views are endorsed.

From here, something is created by us in terms of meaning and projected towards the void of death. Consequently, there is a certain quality and relatedness towards this something, and in fact it should at least be owned by us and why not, even challenged in some way. The reason to assume this, at least in our study, is that this type of quality is somehow reflected in the way elders respond to their remaining time in existence and to their existential projects.

Most importantly, the awareness of finitude in our subjects offered the ground to enable the ability to balance the facticity of ageing with the choices that are still available in their remaining existence. With it, all of these subjects used their freedom, their responsibility, care and the ownership of their ways of "ageing-towards-death".

At last, we would like to honor one of Husserl passages regarding the essence of human consciousness, one that was keenly captured by Binswanger (1987), which is the fact that intentionality has the main ability of constantly prescribing to herself the assumption that her lived experience will, somehow, tend to go on. In this sense, with all being lost in old-age, the faith that the human spirit will still struggle to find something to connect with seems of the utmost importance.

As so, one of the possible choices to endure while time is ticking, is to discover and create the quality of the relations of our intentionality and with it, to welcome the unknowing and the impermanence of existence and of being.


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Joao da Fonseca is an Existential Psychotherapist with a Masters degree in Existential Psychotherapy. He teaches Thanatology, Ageing Psychology and Models of Psychotherapy in a course of Social Gerontology. His main interests are existence, focusing and spirituality.

Contact information. Postal Address: Rua Dom Sancho I, no 120, 3 Frente, Talaide, 2785-723 Sao Domingos de Rana. Email:
Table 1. General Structure of Meaning of AWFI

The awareness of finitude emerges from two life contingencies, which
are the unexpected loss of a significant reference and the awareness
of body limits. These physical contingencies are the chief evidence
that the elder's time in existence is limited. From here, the act of
creating meaning about finitude takes place.

Firstly, elders seem to remember relational separations that happened
in their past, which leave them with anguished feelings. Consequently,
they anticipate what may happen to them at the cessation of existence
and are confronted with a paradoxical situation, where they acknowledge
their unavoidable mortal condition but also are aware of the time and
the possibilities remaining wherein they may endeavour in fulfilling
their existential projects. This process leaves them dwelling among
uncertainties, emotional vulnerabilities and spiritual questionings
about finitude.

Finally, these participants reveal how this specific awareness made
them change the perspective of their world-view's and their relation
with existence.

It was a shock ... the final punch ... there I acknowledge that I
   didn't belong to that place anymore.

I was coming from a funeral and got robbed in broad day light ... I
   was sitting in my car and a young boy opened the door and stole my
   purse with all my money, my keys and my credit cards ... I screamed
   and screamed but nobody came to my rescue ... I was left with
   nothing ...

Table 2. Analysis of the Essential Constituents and its Empirical

                  Empirical Variations

Essential         S1                S2                S3

Unexpected        Loss of a paper   A life-           Suicide of her-
Loss of           with his name     threatening       ex husband and
Significant       that              situation that    loss of
Reference         represented the   made her          personal and
                  connection with   realize that      material goods
                  his               her health was    where she felt
                  professional      not everlasting   she was left
                  life                                with nothing

Body and          Physical          Presence of       Sense of
Temporal Limits   tiredness and     physical          insecurity
                  the gradual       discomfort and    because of the
                  loss of body      awareness of      body's
                  functions         having wasted     fragility and a
                  became the        some time         strong wish of
                  evidence that     during her        postponing
                  existence was     life. All         death, in order
                  unavoidably       moments in life   to make the
                  ending            are seen has      best use of
                                    unrepeatable      remaining time

Memory of         In the same       A divorce and a   The divorce and
Relational        year of           considerable      the suicide of
Separations       retirement he     number of         her ex-husband
                  also got          losses of
                  divorced          patients in her

Anticipation      Presumes that     Worries about     Assumes that at
                  will be forced    the possibility   a given moment,
                  to abandon his    of physical       death will come
                  body, together    suffering in      to rob her from
                  with the          the same way      life,
                  presence of       she witnessed     withdrawing her
                  physical          the suffering     from existence.
                  suffering and     of her patients   Wishes to have
                  an experience                       a sudden death
                  of loneliness                       to avoid
                  time of death                       physical

Paradoxical       Accepts the in    Accepts the end   Accepts the
Situation         inevitability     of her            inevitability
                  of death but      opportunities     of death and
                  shows a strong    to enjoy          wishes to
                  will to           pleasure but is   continue to
                  continue to       willing to be     enjoy her
                  realize           more open and     remaining time
                  projects the      sensible
                                    towards the
                                    suffering of

Uncertainty       Is aware that     Does not know     The moment of
                  his moment of     if her time of    death is
                  death is          death will be     uncertain and
                  completely        painful or not.   is dependent on
                  uncertain         Does not have     God's will
                                    evidence of an

Emotional         Depression due    Fear and angst    Feels depressed
Vulnerabilities   to the physical   towards death.    when reflecting
                  tiredness and     Also feels        about death
                  impotence         guilt and
                  towards the       resentment
                  imperative        towards her
                  presence of       past, for not
                  death             making the best
                                    use of it

Spiritual         Believes that     Hopes for a       Prays to live
Questionings      after death he    peaceful death.   more time and
                  will continue     Wants to leave    also to have a
                  to exist in       a good memory     sudden death,
                  a reality         on others.        where she will
                  that transcends   Believes there    encounter God,
                  his               is something in   although she
                  consciousness     her that          knows she has
                                    transcends her    no proofs of
                                    body, although    that
                                    she doubts its    possibility

Change of         He now sees       Added more        Acknowledges
Perspective and   existence as a    importance to     that being
Relation with     passage where     life, to the      alive is not a
Existence         he will try to    time left and     granted thing
                  improve the       to all living     and assumes the
                  quality of his    beings, where     importance to
                  physical,         she is becoming   make the most
                  mental and        more open in      out of the
                  spiritual life.   the relation      present moment.
                  Wishes to         with others.      She is now more
                  disconnect        Tries to          conscious of
                  physically and    alleviate         her choices.
                  affectively       suffering by
                  from existence,   promoting
                  in order to       experiences of
                  ease his moment   pleasure and by
                  of death.         leaving a good
                                    memory of her
                                    person behind.
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