Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Words from the wise

Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Words from the wise

Natalie Gelman

I called a woman I was very close to when I was growing up to make arrangements to get together when I would be in Florida, and she mentioned that she had just turned 70. “It was not an easy number to accept, especially since I have a 30-year-old brain in a 70-year-old body," she said. "The body is not holding up as well as my mind.”

Nora Ephron, a writer who died in 2012, wrote the following:

We are a generation that has learned to believe we can do something about almost everything. We are active, hell, we are proactive. We are positive thinkers. We have the power. We will take any suggestions seriously. If a pill will help, we will take it. If being in the Zone will help, we will enter the Zone. When we hear about the latest ludicrously expensive face cream that is alleged to turn back the clock, we will go out and buy it even though we know that the last five face creams we fell for were completely ineffectual. We will do crossword puzzles to ward off Alzheimer’s and eat six almonds a day to ward off cancer; we will scan ourselves to find whatever can be nipped in the bud.

We are in control. Behind the wheel. On the cutting edge. We make lists. We seek out the options. We surf the net. But there are some things that are absolutely, definitively, entirely uncontrollable.

I am dancing around the D word, but I don’t mean to be coy.

When you cross into your 60s, your odds of dying or of merely getting horribly sick on the way to dying spike. Death is a sniper. It strikes people you love, people you like, people you know, it’s everywhere. You could be next. But then you turn out not to be. But then again, you could be … And meantime, your friends die, and you’re left not just bereft, not just grieving, not just guilty, but utterly helpless. There is nothing you can do. Everybody dies.

We become more aware and focused on the status of our bodies and the reality of death. I began writing about it more in my journal:

Elizabeth Edwards died yesterday. I am in mourning.

From the time she first came into my life when her husband entered the political arena, I liked her. She became a woman I never ceased admiring. She always looked toward the positive and when things were down, did what she could to move forward with energy and enthusiasm.

She valued the role of women in the world and was a great model. She was a professional, a lawyer, and she was a partner and a mother. The last role was the one she took most seriously. When she learned she had breast cancer, she went public with it and participated in interviews where she answered direct questions without deflecting. She shared her treatment plans with the news and her emotional and physical reaction to it.

Her son Wade died in an auto accident when he was 19 and she maintained a lifelong relationship with his friends. She involved the children in the political part of their lives. She spoke openly about the discovery of her husband’s affair and discovery he had fathered a child in that relationship. She made the choice to keep him involved in their children’s lives in a positive way even though she made the choice to end the marriage.

Her children were the most important part of her life. I can identify with that, and thinking about her death and thus not being able to be with them, brings me great pain. I wish she had the time to have become a grandmother.

The news said that next to her bed, the one in which she died, she had Wade’s picture. Perhaps her belief is that she is joining him. For her sake, I hope so. That is another example of how she endlessly sought the positive.

I continued to be aware that I was clearly more impacted by the deaths of people I knew or was familiar with in the news or entertainment world. Now people close to my age were dying.

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