A ""first-person exploration of the dark continent of age by a traveller who knows the language."" Robey, a former Boston-area psychiatric social worker now in her eighties, begins her story with her husband's death in 1975 and her own subsequent ""grief work""--from the ""deep atavistic pain and bewilderment"" to the first glimpses of hope, as she learns to live ""unattached."" In 1977, accelerating back pain forces her to retire. As well as she can, she ""enjoys little rituals and orderly days,"" and solitude's ""inward turning."" Yet instead of being the ""wise woman"" she'd thought to be in old age, she's ""a worthless invalid lying there in bed."" She doggedly explores her past, and reaches through the experience of pain for new insights. ""I wanted so, before I died, to hear my own true voice."" But it is a ""last resort"" five-week stay at a Boston ""Pain Center"" that not only liberates Robey from pain, but brings new joy and richness to her life. The Center's approach is holistic--a blend of stepped-up physical activity, social interplay, and pioneering group therapy. It was uncaging lifelong angers, Robey feels, that slackened body tensions and calmed the spasms of pain. Happier, relaxed, no longer a compulsive smoker, she returns home. Then, after a restorative beach summer with children and grandchildren, she is ready to deal with her encroaching blindness--to achieve a balance of social life and solitariness, to plan realistic arrangements and court a vigorous inner vision. ""I prefer my weal and woe . . . that state of becoming which carries its own immediate pain. Perhaps I will one day be vouchsafed a final vision of myself in the universe, the universe in me."" Rigorous and demanding--but for the intellectually adventurous, space and fresh air in the often claustrophobic experience of old age.