Guerrilla Aging: When Where We Are Isn’t Where We Thought We’d Be

Posted on March 21, 2014



I had dinner with a friend/colleague a couple of days ago. She is sixty, and for decades was the devoted wife of a career military man. A registered nurse by training, she happily set aside her profession and assumed the role she felt was her highest calling. She raised her sons in wherever her husband’s postings took them. She assumed volunteer positions of great responsibility. She was a leader in the officers’ wives’ club, a pro at managing social events for her husband and other top military. She stood by her man. She continued to stand by her man even after it was painfully clear that her man was standing by someone else’s side. She continued to wear the trappings of her life, well after the reason for such trappings had moved on.

She is now on her own. She is lucky. Unlike many women who go through divorce, her financial situation is secure. Her boys are grown, healthy, and she has a good relationship with each. She and her ex can speak civilly to each other. Physically, she looks better now than she did when she was married. She has started dating again. On the surface, she has survived the divorce quite well.

Beneath the surface, she asks the hard questions, and she has no answers. She wonders who she is, if she isn’t Mrs. Base Commander. She wonders why she spent her life doing the right thing, when doing the right thing didn’t lead her to the right place. She looks at her credentials, at the RN degree and the decades of volunteer work and she finds it difficult to think about starting at the bottom at the age of 60. This was supposed to be the time of her life when all that she worked for would bear fruit. She did not expect to have to reinvent herself at this time of her life.

Her story is our story. We have experienced the death of a spouse or partner. Or we have experienced the dissolution of a relationship. Or we are on the brink of a retirement that has come too quickly. Or we now find ourselves as caregivers to aging parents or to grandchildren. Or we or our partners are beginning to experience real health challenges. Or, even if we have a solid marriage or relationship, our health is sound, and we have fulfilling work or retirement goals, we may still step back, and for perhaps the first time in our lives, be aware of the finite number of days we have ahead of us. And we may wonder, for the first time in our lives, if we are making the best choice of the time that remains.

We stop and we shake our heads. We aren’t sure how we got here. We might not even be sure where “here” is. It feels easier, sometimes, to go on auto-pilot, to keep doing what we have been doing. To not question. To avoid the sight of the road spinning out in front of us by keeping our heads down and taking life one small step at a time. To focus more on not stumbling on the rocks that litter the road than on the possibilities of what might lie ahead.

Or, we can take a deep breath and go where we haven’t gone before. Deep inside. To get rid of the preconceptions of who or what we should be at this age and focus instead on who or what we choose to be.

My friend said the worst thing for her is that someone would ask her what she does and her only answer would be “I’m retired.” As though “retired” were something real, like having grey hair or big feet. I said that for years, I painted. But I would have never called myself an artist. I wrote, but for years, I never would have called myself a writer. I always said I was a realtor, because that was “real.” Then, one day, someone asked me the question and I heard myself say “I’m a writer.” Saying those words didn’t cancel the realtor. It simply acknowledged that I was more than a realtor. And, having discovered that, I realized that no matter how old we are, we all have the ability to live into the people we declare ourselves to be.

What is the road like that you are on right now? Is your life what you imagined it would be? What do you want your future to look like? How will you make that happen?


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