Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Experiencing loss

Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Experiencing loss

Natalie Gelman

Middle age begins with a sense of loss.

At some point in our lives, the death of a significant person will heighten the realization that we too will die. We learn the piece of information about dying when we are young, but it takes years to truly be acknowledged as a reality for all of us. This begins the theme of loss.

My mother died when I was 34. My father died two years later. As we were driving to the funeral, my husband asked me, “How does it feel to be an orphan?” I started to cry. Within moments, I felt very vulnerable. I imagined a triangle made of my family. My parents were at the top. Below them were my brother and myself. Below us were our children. And below them were our grandchildren, not yet born. Suddenly the top of the triangle disappeared, signifying my parents’ deaths, and there I was, at the top of the triangle. Symbolically, that meant I was the next in line. I was thrust into the position of being the senior generation in my family and I suddenly began to focus on my age, at that time in an uncomfortable way. I was getting closer to dying.

A few months later, Henry Fonda died. Jane Fonda was being asked about her father’s death. She said that she felt she had moved to the top of the triangle in her family and was very vulnerable.

My jaw dropped. She cited the exact same image I had.

Having written my master’s thesis using the same research format, I was not surprised to hear what she said. I had already learned people experience share certain themes at times in their lives, but I was not prepared to hear the exact same image.

For Jane Fonda and me, this was the step of internalizing the reality of our own deaths. Thus I began middle age a bit earlier than many do. This step heightens our awareness of time. We begin to value it more. We are aware that we are getting older. And we begin to focus on aging.

Natalie Gelman can be contacted at Her website is