“…For I’ve grown a little leaner
Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder
Grown a little older…”
– Jerry Herman
This has been a tough year for me and it’s brought me face to face with many things. It’s brought me face to face with things I thought I was too emotionally stable to experience. I guess I was too over-confident. Every time I get too confident, life takes a twist and flips me on my back.
I was positive I was too stable to experience something as cliché as a mid-life crisis. I thought mid-life crises happen to other people. They happen in middle age when people are in the autumn of their life. They happen to people who didn’t do their bucket list, didn’t experience as much as possible in life, didn’t, didn’t, didn’t….
My dad past away when I graduated high school. And then nothing happened for a very long time. I was in my early 40’s and one day, one of my high school friends stopped facebooking me. And I wondered about that. I queried up his name and read he had died of a heart attack.
Reading about his passing was unsettling. I was still in the context of “living forever” and here was a friend of mine who died. Reading he passed quickly brought death close to me. How do people my age pass away? We didn’t die…. yet.
After that, people I knew started passing more frequently. It started happening every year. Someone I knew passed every year. Then death started stalking my inner circle. My friends and family got cancer, had heart attacks, had strokes.
I was no longer in the context of “living forever”. With each serious illness, with each passing, the reality of life being finite came closer and closer. I stopped looking at the whole of my life in front of me and started seeing that my life was half over. I became aware of the passage of time in a way I never had before.
I changed and stopped living so freely. I stopped gambling so recklessly on stocks, jobs, sports. I purchased life insurance. Bought safe cars. I stopped eventing horses. I started a business. I settled down and got focused.
I started asking questions about life. I wanted to figure out what I needed to do so I wouldn’t ask the question, “Is this all there is?”
And then time rolled me into this year. First, I lost my sister. A month later, I lost my mother. Another month later, I lost the horse that I bred and was my show partner for the last 18 years. So much loss in such a short amount of time. An enormous hole in my life opened where they use to be.
That hole held some new learnings for me. I learned my internal definition of who I am is based on my relationships. It is not based on my job or my activities. It is based on my relationships with others.
The closeness of those relationships created my world. We came together to experience the world without having to apologize for our actions or compromise on things we loved to do.
When my sister, mom, and horse left, the force they applied in my life vanished. They were like a strong wind guiding my sail across an exciting sea, and without them, the wind suddenly stopped. I found myself in the middle of an empty sea in a stalled ship. Losing one of them would have been disorienting yet manageable. But all three of them?
No one was holding me up. Things that we would do together were no longer important. Without them why would they be important?
I didn’t know who I was anymore and found myself asking, “Is this all there is?” “What is the point?”
It drove me to want to seek out the past. I wanted to find them again and the time when we were still all together. And I wanted to go back to where I grew up. I wanted to go back “home”.
I was in the middle of a mid-life crisis.
I think what surprised me the most was a mid-life crisis was created by loss. It could be any significant loss pulling apart a piece of what defines you. The kids going off to college, losing parents, your partner becoming impaired from dementia or stroke or dying, getting a divorce. These losses could have built up over time or happened all at once.
I realized I had been looking at the definition of a mid-life crisis backwards. I was thinking that a mid-life crisis happened and then we became crazy and unpredictable. I didn’t realize the loss came first and when the loss became too much to bear, then our grief sought refuge in a younger you when everything was still possible and the losses hadn’t happened yet. That frantic search for the past was labeled a mid-life crisis.
I was experiencing many of the things that define a mid-life crisis. I started wearing clothes I wore when I was a teenager. Thank-goodness they were still age-appropriate like wool shirts, jeans, and docksiders. I listened to music from high school. I reacquainted myself with my extended family. I picked up hobbies I had when I was younger. I planned trips back “home”. And, I was changing my work experience one more time.
And here is the thing, a mid-life crisis is about loss. I wasn’t psychologically prepared to face so much loss in such a short time. As I reeled over one loss to another, I wasn’t given time to acknowledge and process the losses.
I guess the last thing I realized about a mid-life crisis is that it isn’t a crisis. A mid-life crisis is a coming of age story. It’s your own coming of age story where you, once again, are given the opportunity to mature. Only this time, you do not have to learn about responsibilities, standing up for yourself, or struggling to find your place.
This time, you get to learn the value of the world around you and how to give back. The world becomes more important than yourself, your jobs, your life, your daily routines. Loss teaches you the value in the world around you each day.
What have you learned from loss?