One of my dearest friends, a dynamic and beautiful woman, died recently. This friend was confined to her bed or wheelchair due to a spinal injury.  She was in constant pain.  In our last face-to-face conversation she asked me to think with her about what optimism could mean at the end stage of life.  She had written a great deal about optimism in her 70s and 80s but didn't find those descriptions particularly helpful at 96.  I responded that, intuitively, I thought optimism had to mean something different from looking on the bright side (when the bright side seemed considerably dimmed by physical, emotional, or intellectual disability).

I now think optimism means that we accept ultimately (and I'm guessing not without struggle) that death will come sooner rather than later, and that our time remaining is best spent in required rest and also in the company of the people who mean the most to us.  Depending on our religious or spiritual views, it might mean looking forward to discovering what comes AFTER death.

I have another friend, somewhat younger than the first, who confided a deeply troubling experience in her life, one she has not been able to get over.  She asked me for help finding a therapist and I was happy to do so.  Here, I think optimism means something different.  It means seeking to find one's own internal peace at the end of life so that we can enjoy, unencumbered, our family, our friends, and our experiences.

Recognizing these kinds of optimism isn't especially original.  But I want to find answers to my friend's question for myself and for those around me who seek to find new meaning in the last years of their lives.