Close Connections: The courage to age


By Nancy Norman

I had the privilege of spending time with my dad as we both aged, and meeting other older folks where he lived. I work with a doctor who lovingly treats elderly patients. These experiences have taught me many things about aging. One of the strongest and most touching traits I see in our elders is courage: the courage to age.

Often seen as redundant or more cruelly as useless, elders withstand the blows and go on. They persevere through gradual or sudden loss of physical strength and mental sharpness. They get up in the morning with aching muscles and tight, dry joints. Just turning on the tap can be hard. To fix their hair when reaching overhead is often painful, and sight loses its sharpness.

Many manage to get food on their table with or without help. They keep doing the best they can with major changes in things that brought them meaning in their earlier lives—career, home, driving, managing money, recreation and so much more.

If this isn’t courage, I don’t know what is. Webster’s definition? Courage is the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.”

Daily courage is needed for most of us to face the violence all around us. But compared to when our elders grew up, the world looks pretty scary now. What used to be word of mouth and a newspaper delivered the next day now appears live on TV. The horrors of war are in our living rooms. Murders are reported with pictures of dead feet sticking out from under tarps. So, to go out to shop, to take a walk, to answer the phone can all be acts of courage.

Tasks younger folks take for granted can create disturbing feelings in the elderly as they try and fail, or have to ask for help. Calling the bank and getting a recording that dictates punching this number and that or a series of verbal cues to talk to a human being can be difficult, no matter the age. The frustration of not knowing how to do something that used to be simple can make an older person (including me) feel pretty dumb and even afraid or hopeless. Or the reaction might be downright anger at the modern world’s hi tech, furious pace. Family members or caregivers wonder why they’re a target and might get angry back.

We’re never too old to want to keep some sex appeal. The courage to fly in the face of society’s often belittling and downright rude attitude towards the way old folks look (note: “the Wrinklies”) takes perseverance. To dress well, put on jewelry when fingers aren’t as nimble as they used to be, shave each day, keep the old bod clean and smelling good, isn’t easy, either literally or emotionally. It takes guts not to give up.

Whether aging gracefully or grouchily, elderly ladies and gentlemen forge ahead. Just understanding the courage it takes to age can help younger folks be more patient, respectful, even admiring, of our older citizens. Their courage only dies with death.

Nancy Norman is a licensed clinical social worker, musician with The Storys duo and former “Intimacy” columnist for “The Wichita Eagle.” Email her at

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