This passage comes at the conclusion of section 26, after the everyman has made a series of phone calls to old friends and colleagues. Gwen Spraco, the wife of the everyman’s recently deceased former boss Clarence, discusses her bereavement with the everyman. She tells him that she is glad Clarence died quickly, because he was exhausted by his ill health and his body could no longer cope. Gwen says, “Old age is a battle, dear, if not with this, then with that.” The everyman, in response, changes the subject to discuss the obituary for Clarence. Much later, after he has spoken with Gwen, his colleague Brad Karr who has been hospitalized for poor mental health, and Ezra Pollock, another colleague who has terminal cancer, the everyman takes stock of these conversations and wishes to revive himself by calling those closest to him, Nancy, and, impossibly, his now-dead parents.
This passage is an example of the narrator speaking to highlight what the everyman does not himself know regarding the extent of other people’s suffering. In keeping with one of the themes of Everyman, this passage presents aging as a terrible, inevitable wave of suffering that strips the aging person of their dignity, peace, and wellbeing. If the everyman had known of how much all his friends were suffering in their old age, he would have to spend all night calling them to console them in their time of need. From this revelation, we arrive at the quote above, “Old age isn’t a battle; old age is a massacre.” This pessimistic view rejects Gwen’s idea that old age is a fight, because a fight implies that both sides might be able to win. In the metaphor of a massacre, only one side can really win – death.