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Weddings, Family and New Beginnings at Midlife

April 27, 2013

Wedding Days

An oil on canvass wedding painting by Angela Lamb. Click on picture to see more.

I woke up this morning thinking about the wedding I will be attending later today and the family that comes along with it. I am more at peace than I have ever been with the oddities of the family into which I was born and moving in that direction with my husband’s family. Both have been the source of much angst over the years and a small amount of love.

Our family of origin, for good or ill, has a profound effect on the choices we make and the paths we take. Too often we are influenced as young people to move in the direction of family and cultural dictates and away from our own heart’s desire. During the midlife years as shifting roles and changes in our family structure stir up a natural dis-ease, we have an astounding opportunity to see ourselves, and the choices we have made to date, more clearly than we ever have before.

Becoming aware of and challenging the erroneous beliefs we acquired in the first five, ten, fifteen years of our life can provide us with a profound opportunity to remove the fog from around our self-perception and let the sunlight shine upon the person we were born to be.

Family dynamics shift radically when a parent dies. I remember so clearly the change in perspective that came on the heels of my father’s death and then again in the wake of my mother’s passing. I could see my father with clearer eyes and a more balanced perspective. Life and all its details seemed to cast a shadow over who he was when he was alive and those who loved him could not see all of the gifts he gave us. We were so caught up in what he didn’t give us and who he wasn’t that we paid little attention to his strengths.

My father was an exceedingly quiet man, an introvert of the first order. He did not shape my life through his words, in fact, for most of my life I was pretty sure he didn’t know I was alive. Even now I can’t say for certain whether he did or didn’t, but I have come to see the many things I learned from the way in which he lived his life in. My father was in the details of everyday life. He’s in the details of my everyday life.

My father taught me that life in the world is uncomfortable and difficult. One must pretend to be something one is not in order to survive financially and socially. One cannot rely on their natural creative gifts to prosper but should instead rely on hard work, determination and knowledge. These beliefs kept my family in food, clothing and shelter, but no more.

The truth that eluded my father during his lifetime, was that he had an endless well of creativity which he did not believe was of value and dared only let out in bits and pieces in his spare time on weekends when he wasn’t fixing the car, the plumbing or being dragged to church activities by my mother, or during is one week a year vacation.

It wasn’t until my mother’s passing that I was able to begin to recognize his erroneous beliefs and to see which ones I had acquired. My mother made certain we both held on to this belief system, because she lived in fear of going without and made my father promise he would follow the practical route to security when they married.

The death of our parents is often a heartbreaking, tumultuous time when it occurs at midlife, not only because of the loss of a loved one, but because it simultaneously stirs up all sorts of unfinished business and unsettles our belief system. But therein lies the magic, for it is out of the chaos that our true selves will ultimately emerge.

So, I am off to another family gathering, this one occurring on the heels of my mother-in-law’s death. The family is in disarray. The dynamics are shifting rapidly and everyone is unsettled. Feelings are intense and sparks will likely fly, if only with dirty looks and cold shoulders. It’s an intense, volatile, and passionate family given to fits of laughter, rage, fast alliances and broken bonds. Everything takes place a notch or two above sanity and definitely outside the norm of my upbringing. It’s what attracted me, precisely because they don’t just think and feel in silence, they shout it to the world. It has also been my greatest challenge.

My hope is that this chaos will prove fruitful for everyone, though more than likely only one or two will emerge a more clarified person when things settle out. It’s the way of the world. Not everyone can or wants to take on the hard work of unearthing themselves from the rubble and the shackles of the family into which they were born. For those who do, those who dare to enter into the fire of change, the gift is theirs. They will be transformed and their true selves will emerge from the ashes. They will be re-born into a person that more closely resembles the person they were born to be so many years ago.

©Dorothy Sander 2013

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2013 11:45 am

    One of my strongest childhood memories is of a family dinner when my father complained about how unhappy he was in his job. Ten-year-old me asked why he didn’t just get a new one, and there followed a long explanation about responsibility and obligation. I felt so sad for him then, and sadder now when I realize that he was only in his 40s at the time. In all the years that have passed, his life has been ruled by responsibility and obligation over creativity and passion. I am so grateful to be in a place in my life where I’m benefiting from “daring to enter into the fire of change,” as you so beautifully put it.

  2. April 27, 2013 12:28 pm

    Women our age have been given this opportunity by the hard work and dedication of those who have gone before us and paved the way. I feel blessed to be in this space and look forward to discovering, at least for myself, a way to grow old that is not marked by decay, disintegration and despair but is instead a continuously creative emergence of wisdom, truth and love and I live in the hope that I will leave this place believing that my life has not been wasted.

    One of the hardest things I had to accept during my parents last years and days, was that they were as free as I am to make the choices they made and that i could do nothing about what those choices were. It was so very sad to watch my father die from a fall because he was still trying to “do the right thing” by going without his leg brace because wearing it too much would only lead to further weakness. He could never just accept that he was good enough as he was at 89 and that he had done enough.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate hearing them.

  3. April 27, 2013 1:35 pm

    It’s interesting that the elder generation seemed to have that sense of obligation which was so strong. Since I was raised to abide with it, I am surprised by my resistance to it as I age. I find myself resisting it more and more everyday. Let freedom ring!

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