Aging Gracefully (Or Not): An age of vulnerability

Aging Gracefully (Or Not): An age of vulnerability

Natalie Gelman

I have referred to my 76-year-old brother in my writing, and I find the theme of our vulnerability to physical change can be demonstrated with another story.

Last year, as a result of my focus on aging and loss, I suggested to my extended family - most of who live on the East Coast - that we arrange a reunion. The suggestion garnered a favorable response, and two cousins took the initiative for arranging it in Maryland.

All of my children and grandchildren arranged to go. My brother made arrangements, taking into account that he would need a ride to and from the airport and also, a wheelchair to facilitate access to and from gates. We were all staying at the same hotel.

My oldest cousin is 85 and he and his wife planned to be there. Originally we all thought of Pittsburgh as the place to have the reunion. It is our home town and a few cousins still live there. However, in focusing on the needs of our oldest cousin and his wife, we decided to hold the reunion closer to them. This is an example of another decision based on what happens as we age: Driving to Pittsburgh did not seem ideal for them as she is in a wheelchair and on oxygen.

A week before the reunion, my brother informed me that his ex-wife had been to see him and told him that she and their son decided it was too dangerous for him to go alone. He was already somewhat anxious as he had not traveled alone for most of his life. This led to him bowing out of the journey. I was conscious of the slim likelihood of everyone seeing each other again, and I was angry that he was discouraged from going. And I did not agree that he could not handle it.

Our anxiety and fear about handling situations is heightened as we age. The prospect of damaging ourselves physically often colors decisions.

Maintaining contact with people who are important to us is a priority for me, and my focus on this priority has increased as my awareness of people dying as we age has grown. My time with family at the reunion was phenomenal. (The age range was 6 to 85.) We caught up on each others' lives and we demonstrated how we feel about each other. Invaluable.

We returned to California the following Sunday and discovered that a dear friend who we knew was terminally ill died that day.

And so the theme continues. I want to head to Michigan to see my brother and friends.

Natalie Gelman can be contacted at Her website is