GriefSPEAK: At Your Age – Mari Nardolillo Dias

by Mari Nardolillo Dias, EdD, contributing writer

“What a drag it is growing old” (Rolling Stones)

I have always considered my PCP (Primary Care Practitioner) to be a colleague. For the past couple of decades we often spoke about juggling the concurrent demands of college professor and practitioner. We have a great deal in common. My annual visits always began with questions about my mom, my brothers, my family. Until now. It appears that 70/71 are magic numbers where the health care system pays less attention to medical issues. This experience is not limited to my PCP as all my medical specialists seem to breathe a similar air of disinterest.

My 2023 annual did not begin with the usual banter. In fact, it didn’t end with the traditional banter, either. Her voice sounded like a knife cutting glass when she asked: “Have you fallen lately? How is your balance? Memory? Any driving issues? Do you have a designated individual for medical power of attorney? What is the status of your advanced directives?”

Are you kidding me?! Dear reader, as many of you are aware all my medical directives and power of attorney were completed at least a decade ago. All the minute details of my “send off” have been outlined in my pre-arrangements, from flower choice, clothing, make-up and hair to the play list for both my wake and funeral (after all, I am a mortician’s daughter…). But that is beside the point! People often guess my age to be much younger and I certainly don’t feel a day over fifty. When I told her as much her retort (there goes that knife scraping glass again) “Well, you are not fifty.”

I thought, “I can’t wait until she is seventy-one” and bit my tongue so that I didn’t say it aloud. I know I fall into the categorical rubric of “elderly”, (I do prefer the term “older adult” ), but don’t treat me as if I have one foot in the grave! We all do, regardless of age. I’m still teaching four courses, and managing a full client load in my private practice. How might I accomplish all of this in a successful fashion if I struggled with memory loss? Am I still driving at night? Of course.

Whenever I ask a question about a medical issue, she always prefaces her response with “well, at your age…” What about “at my age”? I should expect to have issues and accept them? Ten years ago she would have sent me for a full blood work up and a CAT scan. Now, it’s just a shoulder shrug. I do not believe she knows that her words serve as a motivation to prove her wrong. Regardless of the sting of her words, they propel me forward to continue with my plans.

I recently watched “Nyad” on Netflix. If she can swim for 2 1/2 days for a grand total of 109 miles at the age of 64.., well then… there go I. 

Many say that “Age is just a number”. Our individualistic Western society does not embrace age, or recognize the accompanying wisdom. Don’t buy into anything someone says if it begins with “At your age…”.


Dr. Mari Nardolillo Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief. Dias is a Certified death doula, and has a Certificate in Psychological Autopsy.

She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI.  For more information, go to:

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1 Comment

  1. Donna Kerner on November 17, 2023 at 8:00 pm

    No kidding. I’ve experienced all of these insulting doctor -patient exchanges. I would add to the list of age-related medical check up surprises:
    Being asked to draw a clockface on a blank sheet of paper and have it show ten minutes after eleven; being asked to remember three unrelated words and repeat at the end of the visit; being told i no longer needed a pap smear or yearly gyn checkups; being told that i should just get used to arthritis pain but not take over the counter meds which might wreck my stomach; and after answering a question about exercise with the response that i regularly work out about 200 minutes per week being told that i should consider going out at least 15 minutes a day! I too had a collegial rapport wit my PPC as a college professor who is still teaching. I am 73, retired and in perfect health

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