I turn fifty-two in the morning, and these anniversaries always nudge me to check in with myself. Fifty-two years…it doesn’t seem possible. I can clearly see my sixteen year-old self staring into the bathroom mirror at my smooth, unlined face in the old house on Westwood Lane, the hideous gray/purple/green tile reflecting in the background, wondering what I would look like at the decrepit age of thirty. Now I don’t even remember thirty, or at least it feels a part of the distant past. So much has happened during those years; wonderful things, sad things, times of growth, times of hibernation- so much life.
On this birthday, I feel as if I am breaking free from my cocoon, and it it feels good- filled with hope, anticipation, and gratitude. I am coming out of a challenged-filled year that tested me in many ways, proved many things to me. I have changed as I faced the events that altered my life, most especially the illness and loss of my mother. But that loss gave me many gifts; a letting go of heavy responsibility – one that I would take on again in a heartbeat, but there is also a relief in letting it go.
I have faltered some as I came out of the fog of grief, but I did come out, still missing my mother’s physical presence, but feeling clearer, more determined. It is still strange not to have so many hours devoted to her care, but I am beginning to fill those hours with things I have needed and wanted to do. It feels liberating, and at times, overwhelming. I am not one to agonize over aging much. Oh, I have my moments of looking in the mirror or seeing a photo and being a bit shocked at the wrinkles, the gray, but they are rare. I am too excited about living another day, moving forward in my goals. I learned from my mother that beauty doesn’t have to fade- it becomes a different beauty that is more than skin deep, one filled with the depth and knowledge that can only come from miles travelled.
I noticed a change recently; I have always struggled with never wanting to disappoint friends and loved ones- really anyone. I can’t abide the conflict it causes and have always done everything I could to prevent it, often at great personal cost. However, as I shed my skin of grief, I am standing up for myself more – still with kindness, but standing up nonetheless. There is a heady sense of strength and freedom when you finally say to the world that your own needs have worth, too. I am not sure it will happen every time, or if it should, but I am pleased to see progress in my ability to maintain my sacred space, my sense of being, no longer just giving myself away to others blindly.
While I will miss my mother’s phone call tomorrow to sing Happy Birthday to me, I will rejoice that she is free of pain, that I have the gift of wonderful memories, and that I am moving forward- something I hope to never stop doing. I will continue to open myself up to what life has to offer, opening my heart and my mind, fighting with all my might against letting the passing years cause rigidity and fear. I need to do what scares me, conquer the demons and move forward. Only then will I truly be alive.