I was shocked last Sunday when I saw the Sacramento Bee’s front page: “Many types of loss mark midlife for boomers.” The online version has an even more depressing headline, “Boomers’ lives full of losses expected and unexpected.”
I felt like I’d seen a reflection of myself in a carnival fun house mirror. Me, but distorted.
The article by Anita Creamer, consistently one of the Bee’s best columnists and writers (in my humble opinion), reports that boomers are being hit by divorce, the death of parents, fading youth, failing health and economic loss.
Parts of the image I recognize. They call people my age “the sandwich generation” for a reason. We’re often squished between the needs of our children and those of our elders. In 2005, I answered an internal call to care for my Dad and gave up a job and identity that I truly loved.
For the first six months after I “retired,” before my Dad actually made the move from Washington, I felt a profound loss of identity. I didn’t know how to measure the value of my day: what had I produced? I didn’t know how to answer when people asked me, “What do you do?” The hole that I left in my team of co-workers slowly filled in. The hole they left in me was slower to heal.
But loss isn’t what I feel now, with this big caveat: nothing truly bad has happened. We’ve been hit by the economy (who hasn’t?) and we don’t have the resources that we did when I worked, but we’re secure enough.
My marriage is probably stronger and my relationship with my children better, despite the energy that funnels into caring for Dad.
And my health is better. One of the priorities I made for myself starting four years ago was a regular exercise program, something I’d never been good about but knew I needed as an outlet from the stress of caring for Dad. I started by having a trainer come to the house once a week, knowing that I would wimp out when it came to something like – oh, I don’t know – getting my heart rate up above 90. If our appointment was at my house, I figured, I couldn’t escape.
Several women in my neighborhood noticed (since I looked pretty dorky doing lunges in my driveway). They were interested in trying it, too. Four years later, we continue to split the cost of a trainer and added more workouts.
I no longer look at productivity the way I once did. I am better at being in the moment with my father. A friend recently sent me this email:
I have found in my Hospice work that heart time is different from mind time. Culturally you and I are programmed to be productive — even in our sleep we should be productive with our psyche!! Foolishness. Just being with each other, and not doing is a major blessing few really get. The ancient ways here understood it fully.
My elderly friend, Jackie, who lives nearby can sit quietly in her meditation room for a long period. She can see in a simple flower bloom a beauty that most miss, or the little birds in her back yard. She absolutely relishes ‘living’ instead of doing although she is a doer too.
Glad you are having this time. Just remember, sometimes with those who are really advanced in age, they are here but en route to the other side, they spend some moments in the nether region — the space between — maybe a way of getting used to letting go. When they are in it, they are distant from those around them even when those around them are physically present. Don’t take it personally — tis the way of the universe — turn it over to God.
I’m grateful to Ms. Creamer for covering this important topic. I’m grateful for this time with my Dad. I’m grateful for the changes this period has wrought in me. I guess I’m just plain grateful.