Aging Gracefully (or Not)

Aging Gracefully (or Not)

Natalie Gelman

Welcome to my blog about aging. In this blog, I will present themes that are common to the aging process and with a personal twist. In light of the fact that the largest group in the United States right now is the Baby Boomers, aging is a topic of interest.

I began to study aging when I was getting a doctorate in clinical psychology. I wrote about it in 1987 and have continued to study, interview and journal about it ever since. I am in the midst of writing a book about it now.

I believe that one of the contributions to my focus on aging was having a beautiful mother who took great care of herself with pride and vanity. She died when she was 69 years old. I was 34 years old, and I was too young to fully grasp how aging affected her, but I suspect it was troubling for her. I believe that I picked up hints of her not aging gracefully.

I had a difficult time with aging until I reached 40. At 30 I experienced myself at an age where I could no longer be trusted by younger people. It was a line that came at a time when there was a tremendous emphasis on being young. The youth surfaced as an impactful and influential presence in the 1960s. As a former high school teacher who fully appreciated the close and trusting relationship I had with my high school students, I was sad at the risk of losing that connection.

I walked around my home on the day of my 30th birthday and talked to myself. I reminded myself that I was married, had two children, had a college degree and had a career. It was not enough. I felt old.

Shortly before turning 40, there was a major amount of snow that had accumulated in Michigan where I lived. I always looked outside after awakening to see if the driveway needed to be plowed so that my husband and I could drive to work. I went out to shovel and found myself getting very angry. I threw the snow and began to swear out loud. The intensity with which I shouted was out of character for me. I did not even care that high school students were walking by on their way to the bus, hearing every word I said.

Initially I surmised I was angry about the weather and the shoveling. Within a brief period of time, I realized my birthday was in a couple of days and I was angry about turning 40.

But my attitude about aging changed.

The morning of my birthday, I woke up, sat up in bed, and I said out loud,” I am a full grown adult. I will not call anyone Dr., Mrs., Mr., Ms. again. We are all on a first name basis.” I was no longer angry and accepted my status as an adult.

I felt empowered. I had never been a person who yielded to the opinion of others, but now I felt fully liberated.

When I turned 50, I did not want a special celebration. My birthday is in January, and, still living in Michigan, I decided to go to Florida for a couple of weeks. I escaped snow and acknowledgements of my birthday. I liked that day blending with the other days. I became aware that I was very comfortable with aging and had no problem revealing how old I was.

It has continued to be a rewarding and growthful journey for me with minimal preoccupation about getting older. I am interested in aging, because I am intrigued by the process. I remain very positive about it. As I will share in future posts, I find many people who are comfortable with aging and others who are not.