Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 May 2015
Living beyond ninety years is not always seen so positively, and a number of our cases described in the last two chapters have illustrated how fragile life can be as one enters the tenth decade. At least twenty-five of our sample of forty cases reached age ninety years. Many of them were by then in poor health, ten of them dying within two years. Nevertheless, there were others who continued to flourish beyond ninety years and even beyond ninety-five years. The latter could be said of at least eleven of our cases, more than one-quarter of the whole sample. In this chapter, we describe the lives of the six persons, three women and three men, in the sample whom we were able to interview up to and in some cases beyond their middle nineties. Did awareness of their exceptional longevity influence the way that they perceived meaning in their lives?
The oldest women
One of the most remarkable stories in our sample of forty cases was that of Elsie Darby, whom we first mentioned in Chapter 4. In Chapter 7, we described her life in a residential care home where she came to live at age eighty-six after a difficult period in which she was in a stressful relationship with her third husband, whom she subsequently divorced, and also suffered a heart attack. Yet Elsie succeeded in leaving residential care five years later at age ninety-one and returning to sheltered housing, where she lived a further six years. How did she manage it? She herself later said that she had been spurred to leave the home by a visitor who had said to her that she was ‘taking someone's place’! Elsie had the good fortune that all her furniture had been kept in store at no cost by friends of the family. Therefore, it was relatively easy for her to set up home again.