Before It’s “Too Late”: Seniors Share Fears Before Death

July 28, 2014
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“I am not my Alzheimer’s.”
(credit: elephantjournal.com)

Article By MaryFrances Knapp, SevenPonds

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Steve Rosenfield is the brains behind the “What I Be” project, which is known for highlighting teens as an exploration of human identity and expression. “It’s a way to tell your story the way you want it to be told,” reads the site’s mission statement, “Oftentimes people make up stories about our lives by what they think is going on without even knowing the whole story.

hand, elderly hand, elderly man, fear of dying, regrets of the dying
“This will take forever.”
(credit: elephantjournal.com)

[You ought to] be the one to tell your story exactly how it is, not how others perceive it to be.” Sure enough, with their faces as a canvas, the goal is to have “What I Be” participants write words and sentences that best represent them. Naturally, when Rosenfield decided to highlight the thoughts and end of life fears of senior citizens, the result was one of his most moving photo series.

“It’s a way to tell your story the way you want it to be told…you should be the one to tell your story exactly how it is, not how others perceive it to be.”


What’s most remarkable about the “senior edition” of “What I Be” is its lack of preciousness rewarded by the photographer. Yes, these are senior citizens approaching very real, very frightening end of life fears – but that doesn’t reduce their strength, nor does it make them infantile. Nearing death can be equated with succumbing to a kind of fragility, but every person in this series is passionate, lively and ready to talk.

“Nearing death can be equated with succumbing to a kind of fragility, but every person in this series is passionate, lively and ready to talk.”

African American, African American man, elderly man, senior citizen, fear of death, appearance

“I’m not my appearance.”
(credit: elephantjournal.com)

“In today’s society, we are often told to look or act a certain way,” states Rosenfeld, “If we differ from these ‘standards,’ we are often judged, ridiculed, bullied and sometimes even killed over them. I started this project in hopes to open up the lines of communication, and to help everyone accept diversity with an open mind & heart and empower those who feel they suffer for something they may see as a flaw.” And one of the hardest things to bring up on the subject of lines of communication? End of life.

“Yes, these are senior citizens approaching very real, very frightening end of life fears – but that doesn’t reduce their strength, nor does it make them infantile.”

Old woman, fears before death, fears of aging, regrets before dying, memory loss, old woman

“Be more understanding.”
(credit: elephantjournal.com)

“I don’t want to get older,” “What can or can’t I do?” and “This will take forever” are just a few of the seniors’ concerns. Overall, the looks on their faces are powerful and enigmatic; there’s not a complete absence of fear in the creases of their mouths and eyelids, but there’s a sense that this is a group of people ready to confront the taboo subject of death. It’s honest; it’s unairbrushed; and most of all, it’s courageous.

View more images from Elephant Journal here.

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