Extreme longevity: A blessing or a curse?


Want to know what the kiss of death – literally – is? Being named the world’s oldest person.

Such recognition brings with it a guarantee that within a short period, months often, the honoree will shortly shuffle off this mortal coil.

It happened again earlier this week when Misao Okawa of Japan died at age 117.

Okawa succumbed to heart failure surrounded by relatives at a nursing home in Osaka, just weeks after celebrating her last birthday.

Okawa, born in Osaka on March 5, 1898, was recognised as the world’s oldest person by Guinness World Records in 2013, meaning she lasted a surprisingly long time in her role.

Guinness World Records all but lays out a map and GPS coordinates for the Grim Reaper each time it recognizes a new world’s oldest person.

Jiroemon Kimura, Okawa’s predecessor as the world’s oldest person, held the title for 177 days. Before Kimura, Dina Manfredini’s reign lasted just 13 days.

Gertrude Weaver of Camden, Ark., who at the age of 116 years and 271 days, is Okawa’s successor. Weaver appears to be the daughter of a man born into slavery in 1861.

In all seriousness, one wonders if holding such a record is all that enviable. Beyond the fact that most of the extremely elderly have lost at least some of their faculties, there’s also the reality that by the time you reach 115 years-plus you’ve long outlived all your contemporaries and likely your children.

Okawa, who was married nearly a century ago in 1919, had been widowed for 84 years. She was survived by four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

(Top: Misao Okawa, surrounded by family, on the occasion of her 117th birthday at a nursing home in Osaka, Japan.)


11 thoughts on “Extreme longevity: A blessing or a curse?

  1. My mother is 98 and, after hip and knee replacement ops when in her mid nineties, is still pretty independent…but she has no wish to go on should she lose the faculties that make her life worth living.

    • I have a great aunt who will be 104 this summer. She still lives alone and is able to walk across the street to a senior center and have lunch and play cards with the residents there, many of whom are 20 or more years younger than her. She’s still pretty sharp but I wonder what it must be like to have outlived all your siblings, your high school classmates and all your peers, and to be aware of it.

  2. I admire people that allow the course of life to go through and be able to live that long. It helps to have close knit family to take care of the aged and/or proper care. I wonder if there`s an opinion from the winner.

  3. I have always wondered that myself. When you get to that age, you have seen all your friends and most likely the majority of your children die. That’s a lot of sadness in one lifetime. I figure if I make it to about 85, that will be pretty good, as long as I am still able to care for myself and don’t need to rely on anyone. If my children outlive me, I will be happy.

    • I think you’ve got the right idea. As long as I can take care of myself and my kids are still around, mid-80s sounds about right. I have no desire to live forever, especially if I am feeble or essentially alone.

      • Being alone would be an awful way to spend the end of your life, alone with only your memories.

  4. Only once you are not contributing any more are you really alone. For example, as long as you can copy jokes from the internet to send to children with cancer, you are performing a worthwhile service.

  5. I feel longevity as long as your mind keeps going is a blessing. If one knows your mind is going and this is certainly not a reason to euthanize, but my Mom wishes she would be able to remember, tries to write so many notes down, that it seems a little sad. But there is quality in having hugs, memories and kisses from loved ones who are aged. I would always hope that long lasting others would be a ‘good thing,’ my opinion since your title implied a question.

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