Unexpected Lessons

The year I turned 50, my world unexpectedly collapsed. My 49th year was spent struggling with aging issues. I wondered if I should keep coloring my hair, questioned why I was so depressed at the thought of turning 50, and grieved that my youth was growing distant. As the health of my children deteriorated and I found myself in one emergency room after another, I put my aging issues on the back burner.

I recently turned 56. I've had time to reflect on growing older. I've also had time to think about suffering, loss, depression, and grief in ways I would never have imagined. I haven't resolved my struggles. In fact, I have more questions than ever. But I've learned to live with them and embrace them. As Rainer Maria Rilke suggested, "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves."

I celebrate this milestone with humble gratitude that, despite my weaknesses, I have learned some valuable and unexpected lessons.

Here are five things I've learned since turning 50:
  1. Hard doesn't mean impossible.
    "Can't" was a big part of my inner vocabulary. I didn't realize this until we were faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Now I understand that life may be hard or difficult, but not impossible. "I can't" has become "I can try."
  2. My voice matters.
    As our medical needs grew in the days following my 50th birthday, I found myself at the mercy of more than 60 medical professionals. I felt voiceless and inadequate, drowning in a sea of expertise. Something was wrong and I knew it. I faced a difficult choice. Do I listen to the experts or trust my instincts as a mother? My decision to listen to my mother's heart has made all the difference.
  3. Embrace reality.
    As life became increasingly difficult, I found myself idealizing my past. "If only" and "I wish" kept my heart and mind directed to our old life. "Someday" kept me idealizing our future. Only when I chose to embrace reality did I find myself able to connect with our present. Today is all we have and all we're meant to live.
  4. My health is my own.
    When our health declined I looked to a doctor to fix us. I resisted responsibility for my family's health. After exhausting our options, I knew it was time to try a different path. Food became our best prescription for recovery. My kitchen became our pharmacy. Taking charge of one's own health is both empowering and rewarding.
  5. Keep going.
    My health and mind collapsed the day our world collapsed, and I struggled to get through every minute of every day. My unrelenting fatigue, along with the sudden loss of my mother, took me deeper into despair and discouragement. I hung onto one thought: "Don't give up." Even if I wasn't "succeeding" and our lives were still in turmoil, at least I was trying. There is much to gain simply by taking the next step.
I no longer see aging as something to deny and defy. Now I understand the truth. Aging is both a privilege and an opportunity, as expressed in these words by poet Robert Browning:

Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be . . .