In my early thirties, my eleven year old son was killed in an accident. As my life went on, this became a freedom. I had experienced the worst possible tragedy and I had survived. Not only that, I turned my son’s death into a search for my spirituality that had me writing about the inner strength of women and their ability to reach deep and reinvent their lives. As fifty approached, I sat in my sureness, knowing that I wouldn’t be the “typical” American woman—experiencing empty nest, searching out plastic surgery to lift my spirits, fearing whether my husband would begin to look elsewhere. I was comfortable working in the family business my husband and I had founded, while continuing to educate myself about women’s issues, including writing and doing some workshops. My five children were in various stages of college, work and relationship and didn’t need me to be a full-time mom anymore. I could envision the second part of my life and it was good. After years of work, struggle and loss, my husband and I would begin to think about taking time off and enjoying life. And then it happened.
My college sweetheart, husband of over thirty years, the father of my children and my business partner said he didn’t love me anymore, and couldn’t imagine himself married to a woman over fifty, though he was already fifty-six! As he talked, like a pressure cooker that was releasing the steam, many other resentments surfaced around the fact that I had “changed”. There was no fixing it—no amount of traditional counseling could make him love me. Eventually we divorced and the company we worked so hard to create foundered, leaving me with no physical support. At the same time, I began to have health issues that kept me on pain medications and confined to bed for days at a time. I was falling into that dark night of the soul and it was a fearful place. My self-esteem was gone, my ex was with a younger woman (who wouldn’t be fifty for several years) and our family was in disarray. I thought that not only was I no longer the woman I had been, but I had become a cliché.
Then, during an especially dark time, I found myself on my knees deep in prayer, I heard someone reminding me of the core strength of myself—the woman who had lived through the loss of a child. How had that woman, the one who counseled other women on their beauty and passion, disappeared under the grey cloud of rejection and loss? It was a lesson I needed to learn. We are not finished when we are tested, but only beginning to create the woman we can be. There is a lot more to us than we think. That first round of growth was only the first ring on the tree. The loss of my marriage and the loss of my business were the next two, and I was to find my way through and back to that woman of strength, only this time I would be even stronger. My strength would not be in the armor of the survivor, but the vulnerability of growth. My expectations had changed.
As I learned the lessons of the second half of life, it became clearer all the time that being open to whatever comes in life is the key. I clung tightly to the words of the poet Rumi from his poem “The Guest House”:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning is a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meaness,
Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Later in the poem, he counsels us to welcome all that comes, without exception, and not only that, but to be grateful. This is not a Western concept. We are stoic—we accept. This is a passive way of being. Gratitude and welcome are active, and are ways of seeing what is present that we are not aware of as things are happening. It would be only a short two years before I would thank my ex-husband and send gratitude his way for being the one who could see that our life was not exactly as I wanted it to be, or painted it to be. Only through the pain—almost a death and resurrection—could I begin to conceive the life I was meant to live. And sometime later, after I began to build my lost possibilities into a career that supported and guided other women, a man came into my life who believed in the total woman I was, supported my work, and became a full partner.