When you reach middle-age, you think about death a little more. Having lived more than half the average life span, the pressure is on to live more fully. We tick off our bucket list items and attempt to declutter both our physical space and spiritual space.
Internally, our authentic self, still in its chrysalis stage, simmers beneath the surface. Unlike the butterfly, however, there is no guarantee that metamorphosis will occur in us because let’s face it, it’s hard to change who we are on the inside, even as our shell wrinkles and softens.
When my maternal grandmother died, my mother, having already lost two siblings tragically, shed few tears in front of us. I was fourteen at the time and inconsolable. I remember being surprised by her stoicism and asking her about it. Her explanation was that life makes you hard, and though I believed her then, I’m not so sure I do any more.
In my twenties and thirties, I read a lot about death and grief, attended palliative care conferences, and learned through trial and error how to comfort others. Admittedly, it was easier to manage grief back then, being further removed from death as imminent. I lost grandparents overseas, far away aunts and uncles, beloved pets and coped. Later on, I survived lost loves, and the end of a marriage, mainly because I managed to keep those who are dear to me in my life. My inner circle remains intact.
I find middle-age to be a paradox. So many aspects are liberating, yet it is also a slow and painful letting go. We say goodbye to parts of us we have lost and the way we used to be, to dreams we may have abandoned. There is an acute awareness of our own mortality and the fact that some of the people we love dearly are closer to dying than we are.
Is there still time to save the world?
Ian hates it when I say, “One person always leaves first.”, but I want to be prepared for the inevitable farewell. I want to face it head on.
Today he was looking through some files and came across a poem that his mother had written on her birthday, the first without her beloved husband, David. He read out loud to me and its beauty, the longing and wistfulness of it, made me weep.
Ian gave me permission to post it here. It was written by Jean Hanchet on August 27th, 2002. (Ian’s dad had died earlier that year on March 17th.) The picture features Ian and not his dad. Apparently his mum often mistook him for his dad as her Alzheimer’s progressed. Until she noticed the long hair that is.