This is a personal blog. Recently I have written a lot to promote my books but today I feel compelled to write about growing old. I am fifty-one and do not feel old at all, although I remember that as a teenager anyone over fifty seemed ancient. I remember my grandmother at ninety-one, putting on lipstick without a mirror before being taken out to dinner. I admired her artful make-up technique and she replied candidly,
“Darling, I never look in the mirror. When I do I see a wrinkled old prune looking back but in my mind I am still twenty one.”
My mother started going to her local gym when she was seventy-three and ten years later still goes three times a week, staying an extra hour on Wednesdays for the abs class. She dresses beautifully, has her hair done once a week and is incredibly independent. So you see, I come from a family of strong women. Age itself does not scared me and I have even taken the decision to stop dying my hair and let myself go grey slowly. I am taking care of my body, doing yoga and eating healthily and am slimmer and healthier than I have been in years. I have no intentions of letting myself go but do want to be as true to myself as I can.
Over the last year I have seen a big change in the lives of my close friends. Each of us have had our own personal ups and downs but there is something which links us all and it is to do with our age. Firstly we are coping with the beginning of the menopause and therefore an inevitable confrontation with our femininity. None of us seems particularly worried or threatened by this lack of fertility and my friends are as attractive as they have ever been, taking care of their appearance and showing no signs of slowing down. What links us all right now and is causing a lot of worry and stress is the fact of having parents who are coming to the end of their lives. Some of us have already had to deal with the sadness of a loved one’s death while others are slowly losing parents to memory loss and illness. At the same time our children are leaving home, for university or work.
The key word that sums up our complex worries is loss; loss of youth, of beauty, of parents to death and ill health and of children to the world as they take wing. How to cope with this loss is what is challenging us all. Some throw themselves into more work and a frenetic social life that leaves little time for contemplation. Others turn inward, meditating and opening up to the shadows within, in the hopes of understanding and combating our fears this way. If we are lucky we have a strong and loving partner by our side to help us through this moment but all too many of us find that this is the precise moment when marriages and relationships break up, adding another thing to the list of losses to cope with.
There is no short cut through this. It is life, simply life. We are being tested, stretched to breaking point again and again. Then, when our worries for our parents end with a death, we will have the grief to deal with. Some of us have religious beliefs to lean on while others do not have this comfort. What I know for sure is that we will all get through it. Because that is the thing about life – one cannot stop it and get off, we are here for the whole ride.
I am grateful for so many things in my life. Grateful for my wonderful children who are growing into fine men. Grateful for my parents who loved and cherished me through my childhood, helping me grow strong enough in their safe harbour to leave them behind and plunge into my own life. Not everyone has this kind of upbringing, this amazing safety net that allows one to take chances and risk new adventures with no fear of abandonment. Then I am incredibly lucky because my husband is also my best friend. The twenty-four years that we have spent together have been the best years of my life and he really is there for me as I struggle to get through these difficult days.
I want to dedicate this blog to my close friends, though. Each of them have such different personalities and yet when we get together we blend so well, creating a mixture of strengths that serve us all. At the beginning of this year an event in my personal life shattered me completely and I reached out to them with an e-mail, asking for help. The reaction was immediate, loving and practical. I had friends driving me places because I felt too wobbly to drive alone, others came round with hugs or phoned every day. Even some friends who I know only via Face-Book were incredibly supportive and kind. I want to take a moment to thank them all here and let them know how important they are to me.
So, as we go on through life, as each new phase takes us and shakes us up, dashing our settled lives on the rocks and throwing us back into the waves, I know that we will survive. My friends will be there for me as I will be for them, to help us face and overcome every problem but also to share our joys and celebrate our successes.