The Art of Midlife: Courage and Creative Living for Women

By Linda N. Edelstein | Go to book overview

2
"THE TERRIBLE WEIGHT OF ALL THIS UNUSED LIFE" Relinquish the Old

So I said to her, 'Jane why is it that there's all this unused life?" She just said it was because of men, it was all the fault of men, an' went back to readin' her magazine. An' I thought about it an' I thought, "That's rubbish. . . ." It's not just men who do it to women. Because I've looked at Joe, an' I know it's the same for him. He had more life in him than he could use. An' so he carries all this. . . waste around with him. It's the same for everyone. . . what kills us is the terrible weight of all this unused life that we carry round.

-- Willy Russell, Shirley Valentine

Judy calls upstairs to say that breakfast is ready, and when she gets no response, she opens her son's door and realizes that he never came home the night before. The same morning, Kate's mother falls and is rushed to the hospital. Down the block, Maria looks around her clean, silent house and wonders what to do until evening.

Our worlds change, so the old roles we have played become outdated. The familiar pictures of ourselves as mother, daughter, and wife fade. Mid- life, roughly the years from forty to sixty, requires us to update life in order to feel anchored in the present. How to do that? We review our lives thus far. We modify or relinquish any ill-fitting roles, relationships, behaviors, or self-images. We make practical adjustments to reflect those changes. In these ways, we slowly loosen our hold on the past and feel less encumbered. Not surprisingly, we discover room in our lives where we can emphasize different aspects of ourselves from those we highlighted in earlier times.

When we relinquish the old and connect with the new, we are engaged in a normal, universal process called mourning. The early phase of the process, letting go, is not fun, but is tremendously liberating. Different events encourage us to let go. Aging or children departing are natural occurrences that force us into reviewing life. We rework or relinquish relationships with partners and friends. We sell our house or quit a job; we lose dreams, ideals, or long-cherished images we hold of ourselves or others. With each loss, we are forced to let go, and so we mourn.1 At midlife, the losses are both

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