Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Facing death

Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Facing death

Natalie Gelman

While in midlife the theme of death enters in a new way in our lives, it changes again as we get older. It is not just accepted as a reality, but it feels closer. We do not necessarily talk about our fear of our own death directly. We pay more attention to people dying.

As I indicated earlier, I went to Mumford High School in Detroit. In preparation for our 50th reunion in 2012, some graduates created a website. They reached out to all of the graduates they had information for and requested data for anyone not on the list. Each graduate had an opportunity to set up a profile which included contact information, schooling, work experience and material about our families. There was information about those who had died and also a message page where graduates could write whatever they wanted. When someone died, wonderful retrospectives were offered.

I was aware that the number of classmates who had died seemed to suddenly go from 61 to 91 in a matter of months. I wrote the following:

I am touched that so many of the original 618 have died. These people were too young to die. Am I unusual with this thought? I feel young, like there is so much more time to do things. I don’t feel urgent about accomplishing things; I feel patient.

I am aware of more limitations to my body. I exercise three times a week. I cannot jump rope like I used to. I still race around, but I am aware of being clearer when I want to stop. Historically I simply kept going.

My sex drive has diminished. I don’t dwell on my looks anymore either. I like how I look and my weight is no longer the definition of how attractive I am. I am tired of dwelling on what to eat. I prefer having what I want. My thought about losing weight is gauged to whether I might feel better if I weighed less.

I care about my hair, what I wear, and my makeup, but I do not put the same emphasis on these things as I did years ago. Death is not on my agenda.

And then the theme of turning 70 emerged on the message page. One person noted that in 2014, most graduates would have their 70th birthday. Subsequent messages cited some disdain, at times with humor.

In March, I was notified by the Mumford High School website that a peer had died. Her name was Linda Marash Lee and she was the first friend I made when I moved to Michigan in 1953. She was a nice person. A feeling of sadness came over me that was stronger than the ones I experienced over others who have died. It is the personal connection. And it reiterated the theme that as we age, we are closer to dying. My eyes got teary.

Natalie Gelman can be contacted at drnataliegelman@gmail.com. Her website is drnataliegelman.com.