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Martha Pasternack

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Fear of Aging: Befriending Grief in Midlife

Posted: 07/27/2012 9:17 am

Among the obvious fascinations attendant in midlife -- such as becoming experts in our careers, becoming more comfortable (and yes, sometimes more uncomfortable) with ourselves in general, "new leases on life" and surrendering to gravity -- midlife is a time when we are typically immersed in and experiencing grief beyond our imagination.

Our parents naturally pass away when we are in midlife. Friends too close to our own age begin to die from natural causes rather than accidents and bizarre circumstances. Our children leave home and launch their own adult lives. Perhaps our kids struggle with their adolescence and young adulthood and come dangerously close to self-harm, conflicting with our readiness to be free of the responsibilities of what I affectionately call "parental crisis management." We grieve the loss of freedom.

More and more frequently we hear of women choosing first-time parenthood in midlife, perhaps not quite ready to merge with midlife without the experience of pregnancy and parenting an infant. We grieve the loss of a dream.

Our physical youthfulness fades as we get emotionally, mentally and spiritually bolder, and things we held as important suddenly don't seem that important anymore. We grieve the loss of passion.

We begin to search the horizon for a newer and brighter beacon of light to guide us into a safe harbor, only to find a longing to journey out into the open ocean again. Perhaps we are looking for the adventure we held back from earlier in our lives. We long for a second chance.

Our marriages, if they survived the periodic chaos, are now called "long-term marriages," and we are not the same people we were when we entered them. That may suit us well or not, depending on who it is we have become as older adults. We may yearn for the good old days.

Maybe our marriages did not survive the chaos inherent in intimate relationships, and we find ourselves alone when our dream was to be otherwise. For many of us the fact that dreams change or simply fade away was not in our awareness 30 years ago. We become disillusioned.

In midlife we relax and sometimes even release our tenacious grasp on principles, values and desires. Letting go and releasing dreams, goals, and desires can be very challenging. Sometimes our long-held dreams seem like sand sifting through our fingers. We grieve the loss of possibility.

And the thing is, at least in my experience, the reasons I grieve seem to be piling up in midlife before I "get over it." To me it feels like I sink below the surface on an ocean of grief and become submerged again after I get too tired to tread water. Just as I think I may pop above the surface, the next loss occurs, and I slowly sink under again.

I remember the moment it felt like in order to survive I had to conjure the courage to breathe under "water." It happened after my father died. It occurred to me that grief may be part of midlife naturally and the "getting over it" part was an unrealistic expectation.

Grief just may become a familiar and regular presence in my life now that I am in the middle of midlife. Living in a state of exuberance with a willingness to let go of the past while being a person who grieves is my task. At the bottom of this deep well of grief is the love I seek. Once again I am able to open my heart up to freedom, dreams, passion, possibility and love.

Grief may, in fact, be a friend misunderstood and one that allows me the space to renew myself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. What do you think?

 

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