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I must tell you something.
Lately, I have been not like I used to be.
I was full of bravado and enthusiasm and courage.
And now I feel worn and dense and misty.
I’ve been doing what I have cautioned others against – getting creatively blocked, my own head up my own asshole. I’ve been creating so long now that I feel like I am competing against my old self and her creations and achievements. There’s a great privilege to having 2 decades of creative work under my belt, and yet also: a great weight. I’ve been overcome by feelings of: what if my hey day is over? What if I’ve already created the best work of my life? What if I never feel that level of creative freedom and joy again?
I’ve become increasingly downtrodden by all my mistakes and regrets. Failing to find faith in my own decisions when I’ve been wrong so many times before. I don’t know if peri menopause is making me foggier. If the weight of all my responsibilities has suddenly tipped me into paralysis. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.
I feel like I’ve completed some kind of mission already with my work. And I don’t know what my next one is, or if there is a next one (please, let there be a next one). I’m in (non-denominational) God’s waiting room, restless and picking at loose threads, trying to find the one that will make it all unravel, make it all make sense.
I laid in the shower just before, asked: What next?
And it said to write about ageing. So here I am.
Following the thread, trying to trust it’s right where I need to be.
The strange thing about ageing is how shocking it is, even when it is the most natural thing on earth.
The strange thing about ageing is how we’ve already been told exactly what it is, and it is still a surprise to experience it yourself.
I guess it’s just like parenting. Before you have kids, you are told exactly how it is: sleepless nights, hard work, love like you’ve never loved before. And yet when you go through it yourself, it is a revelation.
You become wild with the lack of sleep! You have less sleep than you’ve ever had in your life while simultaneously working harder than you ever had before! You’ve never been so in demand in your life! You can barely spare the time to eat or bathe or go to the toilet! You find yourself instinctively moving yourself between your baby and a car. You will fight a bear, God, a glaring stranger for this new little being. You are overcome with tenderness, become convinced your baby is the world’s most perfect creation.
All of it, an incandescent shock. The first experience that’s ever been had in all of life’s history. Even when it has been the story of (almost) every parent from the beginning of time.
When it happens to you, it’s all brand new.
My grandmother had already taught me about ageing. I just never really expected it to happen to me, as ridiculous and obtuse as it seems. None of us really do.
She said she couldn’t do what she used to do. That it all goes in the blink of an eye. That the babies will soon be adults. That the decades will flash past in a moment. That she still felt 20 years old inside, even when she was 97. That she woke up this morning, and she was still breathing, so today was going to be a good day.
I am 40.
If I sit in the wrong chair for an hour, I will be going to see my osteopath for the next month.
I have become an orthotics shoe expert. Once I used to roam barefoot, but now my plantar fascitis screams at the thought. I carefully explained what that was to a midlife friend a few months ago, and she replied “the ole plantar fash? Oh yeah babes, we’ve all got that.” And it made me laugh, because she’d grown so comfortable with it she’d given it a nickname. And once again, my Brand New Revelatory Experience was not so unique at all.
If a photo of me is taken in the right light, you can see a brilliant blaze of silver streaking across the crown of my head. I joke that this is a free dye job in the making.
My periods have slowly begun to stutter. I’ve been bleeding for a quarter of a century. One day, this river will dry up too.
Sometimes, just before my bleeding begins, the veil between this and the next world thins, and I cannot stop myself from thinking of all the ones I have loved who have gone.
I list them all out in my head: my brother, my uncles, my grandparents (some beloved, some not). Aunt Lucy, my brother’s dad, my favourite cousin. Gran’s brothers and sisters. Nan, that boy from school, the boy that lit up a room. Ronny, Rob, JC. Charlie, Rebble, all my horses and all my dogs.
There is a world of them, the ones of my childhood and beyond. The ones that aren’t here anymore. That I can’t introduce my beloveds to. The ones that flit about in my memories, not making new ones.
I fret that I don’t know where all their graves are. How will I visit them?
Is this what ageing is? Slowly losing all the ones you loved?
Sometimes it seems profound. Sometimes it seems like a gaping loss.
My husband said to me just a few weeks ago:
20 years ago we met. It feels like just a moment ago. In 20 years, I’ll be 70. You’ll be 61. I’m trying to prepare myself for that.
It stopped me from breathing, and when I think of it now, it still does.
I’m not afraid of ageing.
I just didn’t think it would happen to me, and so soon.
We’re in the throes of caretaking our elderly dog, Angel. She is 19, bedraggled and between two worlds. She sleeps and she sleeps, and when she doesn’t, she listlessly roams the halls. The only sign of life is when it is dinnertime. At this, she gallops and dances, plays and prances. Then sleeps again.
Our life has become smaller to cater for her. We holiday in places only 30 minutes away so we can take her with us, her needs and anxieties too great to graft onto anyone else. My husband tends to her during the night like a newborn dad, but this time an end-of-life doula.
I ask my husband if it’s time to euthanise. A farm girl at heart, I’m more stoic and he more sensitive. “Please, no. Just let me care for her. She’s given us so much love for so long. Please let me repay her this way.”
I am selfishly impatient after 20 years of caring for special needs dogs. I want to flee the nest and roam the world because my world has been closed for so long. It feels like the clock is ticking before my children are adults and I want to make memories with them now, dammit. I want to go before I am too sore and the time runs out on me too.
I am all of this, and I am also the girl who fell in love with the sensitive man who adores animals. Who doesn’t run away from the hard things, but moves in.
And so I am learning patience. It is good for me to learn this. And to learn a little of how to be softer in the end of days, not closed off and wanting to be elsewhere.
Some of my ancestors lived such long lives it felt like a cushioning against inevitability.
My grandmother was 97. Her sister was 99. Her brother, the same. My grandfather, in his 90s along with a horde of his siblings. Our beloved (non-biological) Nan was 102.
It’s only been in the last decade they began to shuffle off this mortal coil, suddenly making my parents the next generation in line to go.
I will be the next in line, one day.
It’s still too much to even fathom.
That’s if I’m lucky enough to live that long, of course.
Old age is only for the lucky.
None of it is guaranteed.
This is what I worry about, most of all:
How do I let all of this soften me, deepen me?
How do I let it all sculpt me into something truer?
How do I ward off the weight of it all, the cynicism?
To become jaded feels like the worst kind of outcome.
I suppose I must do what I do for all else. Look for clues from my elders.
Nan, as English as ever, would say: “Well, there’s not much we can do about that. But we can have a cup of tea.”
She was the essence of kindness.
Aunt Lucy would say: “But look at those mountains! They are just so beautiful!”
She was the essence of joy.
Gran would say: “I don’t know darling, but we can love more anyway.”
And she was the essence of it all: loving harder and bigger, spreading light wherever she went.
I don’t know any answers, but I can tell you what I’ve seen.
And I can hope that’s enough.
That if I offer up this story, you may know you’re not alone in it either.
Because that’s all we’ve been doing, all along.
Just walking each other home.
All my love,