I’ve been in one of life’s ‘strange places’ for some time now. You know. One of life’s backwaters, the place where you’re sort of off to the side, out of the main stream, where there’s enough flow to give the illusion of movement …and yet …and yet mostly you just seem to float in wide, languid circles; slow eddies carrying you along with no real direction, no arrival time or location apparent. Moving yet not going anywhere.
Who knows when these strange place experiences start. Mine seems to have been precipitated by the news, just about a year ago, that my ex was dying of a very grim form of cancer. Seems odd, doesn’t it, that the imminent death of a long divorced spouse could start such a process? We’d been separated for years. He’d found another life partner. I’d begun dating again after many years of contented solo living. But it seems that when you’ve spent 30 years together, many of them in a relationship that was fulfilling and characterized by excitement and joy, there are all sorts of ties and tendrils that remain in place while ‘the other’ is still alive, even if you’ve chosen separate paths.
Concurrent with Greg’s illness and subsequent death was a growing awareness that how I’d been handling my professional life was no longer working for me. So the slow dislocation began, deepening after he died. I was surprised at how hard his death impacted me. I was somewhat shocked to discover that in my heart and head I was still having all sorts of on-going conversations with him though we lived a thousand miles apart and talked in ‘real time’ only intermittently. It’s also been destabilizing to realize that the person who knew me better than anyone else on this earth is no longer out there. Some essential, primal connection with a meaningful other has been severed and I am still emotionally flapping about feeling somewhat out of sorts with this new reality of my life.
In the grand scheme of things this time spent paddling in life’s backwaters hasn’t lasted all that long. It’s only been 4 months since he died. My first husband died in an accident so I know what grief is about and how long it can last. Or I thought I did. This is a very different type of grieving, it seems than that experienced by sudden catastrophic loss.
But I’m an experienced human growth professional. I know how these things go and how pointless it is to fight against them, to try to brighten the pixels of this thing I call my life, to force myself to simply get on with it. So I spent my summer paddling along. Getting a few things accomplished but not all the many important priorities that I’d planned to move forward. I’ve also been pretty much absent from my friend’s lives; it just hasn’t felt like I’ve had anything very much to contribute.
About a week ago I started to feel myself edging back towards the main current of the river of my life. The malaise I’ve experienced for weeks began to dissipate; I began to feel more motivated; I started making tentative plans again.
And then a very dear friend called to tell me that she’d been diagnosed with cancer. The resolve that I’d begun to re-experience dissipated like fog as we talked. My heart ached for her. My heart began to ache for me as I thought about facing the loss of someone else dear to me. I quickly slipped into that quiet backwater once more, partly stunned, partly dismayed, partly questioning whether it was worth all the effort required to live an active, productive, conscious life.
This morning my friend and I talked again. Her surgeon tells her that he’s not convinced she has cancer. They need to do a biopsy and only when he sees the actual tissue will he make the call. Seems like her symptoms aren’t typical and there are several key markers that are missing. Whew. Great news for her. Excellent news for me. We hope. We can only hope.
And yet, at some level, aging’s cat is now out of the bag. I’m faced with the harsh reality that there’ll be lots of this kind of news coming my way in the future. I’m at an age where more people will leave my life than are likely to enter it, despite my practice of proactively creating friendships with people significantly younger than myself.
Upon reflection, I’ve noticed there’s something about the death or immanent departure of age contemporaries that is profoundly unsettling. Not only is there the awareness of the ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ dynamic of life, but the shared experiences and shared understanding of the broader world that is common to an age cohort begins to disappear. The world my friends who are 20, 30, 40 years younger than me inhabit and grew up in is not the same world as the one I grew up with. Only my age contemporaries know and share that world with unquestioning intimacy. I find it destabilizing to have that common ground begin to disappear, as if the river of life is undercutting the banks of my existence.
So I wish for my dear friend that whatever is happening isn’t cancer or any other condition that might hasten her journey towards inevitable death. And I wish for me that my age-mates last as long as is possible, selfish gal that I am. As much as I love and appreciate my younger friends, I don’t want any more of the ground upon which I walk to disappear from under my feet.
And yet, I know it must. That’s the nature of life.
Who knows where life will take me in the upcoming weeks and months. For certain decision points await, actions must be taken and I must create, yet again, a new future for myself. I’m glad that I’ve had this time paddling around in the backwater channel of the river of my life. Out of it will surface the clarity and intention I need to move into a vital and vibrant new future. I am honoured that my ex and my friend have gifted me with invitations to think about my life, my future and my choices in new and innovative ways.
I look forward to my currently unknown future.