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Donna Jean Freberg Headshot

Finding My Way Back to the Table

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I have to confess I'm starting to see -- up close and a little too personal as I stare at a new mole that I'm sure wasn't there yesterday -- what Bette Davis meant when she uttered that now famous line, "Old age isn't for sissies." And I'm just on the horizon looking down on a much deeper valley that awaits.

Now don't get me wrong, there are some great things about getting older. Wisdom being the number one of my top ten. I like what I now know (for pretty darn sure). I'm a lot less wobbly, a lot more steady. And I know, for better or worse, who I am. Or more accurately -- through blood, sweat and tears (and probably far too many Oprah shows) -- WHO I'VE BECOME. I also live on that knife edge of: not much scaring me anymore / and the terrifying reality of all the loss and potential hideousness of life. If I break that down, as a person who has suffered with panic disorder for almost forty years, what makes me anxious these days are the things I now know are totally out of my control but that destroy us all. And they loom, at this particular time in history, pretty large over our heads. Maybe at this point, it's what hurts and destroys the soul that scares me most of all.

Not that long ago I found an old picture of my family at a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner at my parent's fabulous Spanish hacienda -- all around the table...grandparents, aunts and uncles, my mom, and as I'm remembering that day, that dining room, those faces, it suddenly dawns on me that everyone -- EVERYONE -- in the picture was dead. And this wave of inconsolable sadness washed over me. What I felt was lonely. My family consists of three of us now, well ever since my dad met someone who decided we were evil and gave him the ultimatum to disown us -- or that was it with her. And he chose her. That kind of stuff, that kind of morally bankrupt decision, is what scares me these days.

You might wonder, were you close to your dad? "En-meshed" I believe is what they call it, or maybe just dysfunctional, but wow, there was a lot of love in the midst of our shared lifetime that apparently wasn't worth fighting for. My brother is still in shock, an emotional PTSD, as if he'd been at war or in a horrible accident. I blame Viagra. My dad couldn't be alone, and at his age the potential for some serious sex (even when you have diabetes) was apparently more intoxicating than us. I felt for him on some level and I've tried my best not to take it personally (beyond beating myself up for the things I know about me that makes me wonder at times why anyone would love me), but the added cracks in my heart belie my tough exterior. And the truth is, I always miss my dad around the table.

Oh, and speaking of cracks, I should probably mention that we're also down one in our immediate family ever since the day the man I've loved and lived with for nearly two decades, turned to me not so long ago and said, "I'm surrounded by old people" and I looked around and it was just me standing there. He left shortly thereafter, needing some "space" leaving me with far more than just cracks. I'm afraid I'm still not sure if my heart won't, in the end, bleed to death. Moments in your life like that aren't for sissies. And wondering if anyone will want to ravish my ever-aging body again, keeps me up at night. Even with the comfort that he and I are still deeply connected and may yet find our way back to the magic of enduring love, I can barely make my way to the table this year without him.

And yet, it's almost Thanksgiving. A table beautifully set, with yummy (organic) food awaits me. And though a lot of the faces I love, so deeply and truly, are gone, or just won't be around that table, I have to be courageous and find my way to what I am grateful for. To bathe in the deep love of those I still have in my life. I have to locate my smile and dig deep for the joy that I know exists in me as I look around at the faces that are still looking back at me, passing gravy and cranberries -- who I know are there in the trenches when the going gets tough. And one thing I can promise is, you better believe the going sometimes gets tough.

Into every life a little rain must fall. Sometimes a torrential downpour, or even a Tsunami perhaps. And we hang on for dear life and find out what we are made of. And if we're lucky, we're still sitting around that table, a wee bit more fragile, but still there, for years to come. Knowing the value of what it means to bring as much kindness as we possibly can to the table, as people come and go -- and stay. As I contemplate the fragrance I want to leave behind, it always comes back to a fragrance of love. It is love alone, in my opinion, that makes getting old a lot less scary.