Life after menopause - letting go and living!
"I'm late, I'm late for a very important date" said the White Rabbit to Alice.
My 77th birthday has just arrived albeit with a whimper rather than a bang but I am determined not to be late for the date with the rest of my life.
Although the numbers are meaningless on their own and have absolutely nothing to do with how I think and feel, there are two realities: one, is how people react, even one's own family and friends and their perception of how I should now be (more on that subject later); and two, the real issue of maybe running out of time before I get to do or experience a whole lot of things which still interest me.
I have been married and divorced twice; have two grown children and a grand daughter. I have lived and worked in five different countries and made a variety of career choices and changes. Perhaps more significantly, I am authentic and speak from the point of experience: I have, like every one of you, experienced both great joy and sadness; I have had the comfort of a fairly lavish lifestyle as well as a bankrupt one (literally); I have had business successes, personal success and enjoyed the rewards; I have also failed in more than one area of my life - obviously not rewarding initially but eventually from which I learned my most important lessons on how to survive and eventually re-build a life.
Ripened to Perfection
"Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be; the last of life for which the first was made" so said the poet Rudyard Kipling.
I am guessing that most of you would agree with me that in growing older we have indeed grown wiser - and probably wish that it had happened sooner rather than later - when we might have avoided some of those embarrassing or painful mistakes which in my case are sprinkled fairly liberally, like measles, over the landscape of my life. Even when I felt I was doing my best, I know with the benefit of hindsight and the awareness which comes with age, that even though my intention was valid, I fell short in some areas and it saddens me. Unfortunately, there are no do-overs and we have to learn to live with the errors, no matter how uncomfortable. It's easier to enjoy the rewards of success and we should, we earned them; we need to take all of it, good and bad and keep looking forward in order to progress.
For those of us who fall into the divorced category, lugging our guilt around with us like a heavy knapsack, we can at this age drop the damned thing and happily leave it in lost luggage. To prolong the metaphor, we are now ready and unencumbered for the next part of our journey. Although most of us probably have children (and they stay our children forever no matter how old) we are now released from their immediate nurture; and there's a sadness there and sometimes a loss of purpose; it takes time to come to terms with this and to re-imagine our lives; but if we have done our job properly we have now set them free to follow their own pursuits and, surprise, they have in turn set us free to begin the rest of our lives.
We are Fascinating
We have history; we have a truck load of experience with a cornucopia of interesting back stories. We have successes, we have failures, gains and losses, disappointments and joys all crammed into one life - we should celebrate this muddled and flawed mess which we call life for, at the very least, we survived all of it.
If we can maintain our vibrancy and interest in all things (and there's no reason not to)
I have found that even much younger people are actually curious about us even if half the time they are struggling with the notion that we did at one time look young, were young just like them and had similar desires and fears. They find it hard, just as we did, to envisage ever being old and I am sure half the time they are silently thinking we are "past it". Personally, I am glad not to have to re-visit those teenage years fraught with insecurities or the twenties when a lot of us still hadn't found our place in the world. I don't enjoy the occasional reminders that I am not as athletic as I once was nor that my looks have faded but I do enjoy the better acceptance of myself just as I am. I love being a Grandma but on the other hand I am not ready for grey hair, 'age-appropriate' clothes or orthopoedic shoes (unless necessitated by a medical condition). If we are on the cusp of being "older" or have long ago crossed that Rubicon then I hope that everyone has embraced the reality, realised the opportunity and re-vamped and re-imagined themselves; that we have created our own style and our appearance whether classical or quirky which will still turn heads; that we have kept healthy eating habits and maintained all our moving parts as well as having our ducks in an orderly row in terms of emotional and intellectual well-being and believe that we should be able to embrace our age, dive in and enjoy it.
Although I don't personally like the term "cougar" it has a certain alluring cachet for some although that expression has a shelf life reserved for a certain age span. So far no-one has come up with anything remotely catchy or attractively descriptive for all of us over 60 even though we are mostly admitting that 60 is the new 40 compared to our parents' eras. I don't want to be called an "oldie" or a "senior" or any of the other pejoratives in use. I want to be visible and I believe deserving of respect - not invalidated and invisible; my innate energy and sense of self still functions as if I am 40 - I'm still here - alive and well with energy, curiosity and enthusiasm. I don't mean we have to develop a phony aura or personality which we might think makes us better or even younger than we are. That would certainly put us in the 'trying too hard and failing' box because it's pretty easy for others to see or infer artificiality and insincerity. Our real persona should be displayed to the world in an honest fashion because we're worth it.
We don't give a damn
We are relaxed enough at this stage to hopefully not give a damn about anyone else's opinion because we have our own moral compass firmly set. Only we should be the judge and jury of our own behaviour; I think the attention we can attract lies in being real and bringing authenticity and integrity to every aspect of ourselves and our actions. We are perhaps more fully "real" than we have ever been and are most likely more at peace with ourselves or, at least, cognisant of the things we can still change or influence and conversely the ones we cannot.
For some of us, we are fortunate to arrive at that point of realisation sooner rather than later, but whenever it occurs in your life , it is a point of release and worthy of celebration - so have a glass of champagne or a donut - whatever moves your motor. At the very least, kick up your heels and do a dance whether anyone's looking or not - who cares! So paint on the bright red shade of lipstick, wear the eye shadow, do the full make-up; get dressed up when you feel like it, special occasion or not. Do it for you and if you don't feel like it, then don't.
I will say at this point for me though, even working from a home office, I always get up, shower, dress and put on make-up because the routine prepares me mentally as well as physically for whatever the day may bring. On the maybe not so enthusiastic days when, like Eleanor Rigby I would prefer to leave my face in a jar by the door (thank you The Beatles for that imagery) it may be a case of fake it till I make it but I have found this assumed attitude usually pays off, equilibrium is regained and I can fool myself, if necessary, into believing all is okay until it is.
Why not? I choose to believe and take into my heart that this is not an insult or a word to diminish anyone but a recapturing of that joyful, unalloyed sense of ease and playfulness; that pure focussed sense of being absolutely present in every moment which we had as children. That it can be even more intense and valuable as by now we know the emotional and physical costs, the struggles, the gains and the losses which are part of everyday life. To paraphrase Andre Gide "to discover new lands one must consent to lose sight of the shore for a very long time".
There are no bargains to be made with god(s) or life, we need to accept what is or was, value what we now have and shake, rattle and roll into the rest of our lives with determination, unshakeable optimism and a smile as wide as the ocean.
I'm on my way. Are you?