As part of my Perspectives series on how others are facing the 60 milestone, here’s a blog from grief counsellor, writer and speaker Mary Potter Kenyon. She lost her husband when he was 60 years-old – she was 52 – which adds extra poignancy.
Now, as her own 60th birthday looms closer, she shares why entering this new decade has her nervous—and what she’s doing to fight feelings of fear and loneliness.
“I have struggled with each of my birthdays that end in zero, ever since I hit 30 years old. I know it’s a psychological thing—but the birthdays ending in zero just sound so much older than the previous number. And I think being a busy mother just exacerbated the feeling that years were just flying by. While I was mired in caring for eight children, the days tended to blend into one another; entire seasons would go by that I missed because I was relegated to a rocking chair, nursing and burping a baby. With all of that, I didn’t have time to concentrate on myself much.
When I finally slowed down enough to take care of myself, my youngest was three years old, I’d just completed a caregiving journey of six months taking care of my husband during his cancer, and I was 48 years old. I remember the morning my husband went back to work after recovering from treatment. I walked into the bathroom, took a good long look at myself in the mirror, and promptly burst into tears! Who was that old woman staring back at me? I didn’t recognize her.
I will admit, getting a positive pregnancy test on the morning of my 40th birthday helped me through that birthday. Pregnant women can’t be old! For my 50th, my husband planned a surprise birthday party for me, so that thankfully helped me through that big milestone ending in zero.
But 60? I’ve been dreading this for months. The very last birthday my husband celebrated was his 60th! I was 52 when he died. He died—from a heart attack, not cancer—the day before his 61st birthday. So, this birthday is particularly difficult. I can’t help having scary, nerve-racking thoughts like, Will this be my last birthday too? Or will I live longer than my husband did?
But I’m determined to change my attitude. I remember asking my husband as his 60th birthday approached, “Are you like me? Do you dread those birthdays ending in zero?” He replied, “Not at all. Think of the alternative.” What a wise outlook. David was a five-year cancer survivor. He truly appreciated the gift of life after his cancer. He appreciated our relationship and marriage. And he even appreciated the cancer—because the experience of caregiving and cancer really revitalized our marriage relationship. He’d often take my hand in his and say, “If it took cancer to get our marriage like this, then I’m grateful for the cancer.” I want to be like that. So, whenever those fears or concerns about turning 60 rise within me, I remind myself how lucky I am to be turning 60. How blessed I am with my eight children, five grandchildren, and a wonderful job; I’ve discovered what makes me feel most alive in life—writing and public speaking—and I’m getting paid to do both.
Since my husband’s death, I’ve kind of hated my birthday. He was the one who made it feel special. I’ve made an effort to be “busy” with something else on that day, even to the point where I’ve scheduled workshops, grief retreats, and presentations related to grieving on that date, thinking it would help to do something for others instead of concentrating on myself. For the most part, it has helped me get through the day. But this year? I have a grief retreat scheduled the day before, but my birthday is free. For this one, I want to do something for myself. I’m not sure what that’s going to be yet, but I expect it might involve a friend or two. When I turned 50, my husband and daughter had a difficult time finding friends to invite to the surprise party. My world has gotten so much bigger now; I have many cherished friendships. I’d like to celebrate that, too.
And I want to do something related to the number 60—to mark the milestone and as a kind of ritual. Sixty random acts of kindness leading up to the big day? Using $60 to purchase little gifts or gift cards to give away? I’m not sure what it will be, but I know it will be something to get myself out of my own head, and to think of others. It’s too easy to get lost in my thoughts, my feelings, myself. I think the best thing I can do for myself is do something for someone else.”
Here’s the link to the full article.