A week from today, I will turn 40. I’m not sure how to BE 40, and while I haven’t really known how to be 18, or 27, or 32 either, it seems more important that I’m lost at 40.
Not that I mind being 40 – I kind of like it, in fact – but here I am, coming to the age when I first remember my mother’s age, and I do not have my mother to guide me. Of course, that’s been true for nearly 4 years – how could it be 4 years since I have felt her skin? – but just now, the lack of her sits heavy.
On Sunday, as P and I put things away in our new walk-in closet/laundry room, I carried an afghan Granny made for me. I walked 5 steps with it and started to sob. . . all the women I have lost. . . all the women.
All of this emotion about women gone in my life seems so silly because my grandmothers, even Mom, were not “nurturing” women in the way of advice and long talks over tea. Yet, all of me aches for the ways I wish they could guide me now.
This morning, I read a friend talk about how 40 looms large over a year away, and I read another woman’s beautiful lament on the loss of her grandmother. I think of Brittany Maynard, whose decision to end her life before the pain swept her and her loved ones into dark days has been critiqued as cowardice and “quitting.” I sit under our new chandelier and talk with P about how really some things are worse than death.
I think of Mom’s last days, her fear, her pallor, the way harshness slipped out through the skin thinning around her lips. There are things worse than death, far worse things.
I am dwelling on death a bit at present, and yet, the irony – as in the way of true things – is that I have never been happier to be alive – to be loved by a true man, to have a farm where I can watch kittens frolic with giant white dogs, to be doing work (and making a living) that I adore and that fulfills me. Maybe just now it’s safest for me to contemplate death because I have so very much to live for.
I am in the midst of Claire Messud’s brilliant and beautiful book The Woman Upstairs, and I am enthralled by both the narrator but also by her mother – the way she is and is not my own mother, my mother-in-law, my grandmothers. When harshness and anger leech out in the characters’ language and tears, I wonder how many of us women hold ourselves steady when really what we most need to do is topple over for a while.
I suspect it is books that will be my guide through this second half of life, Hope Edelman’s Motherless Daughters already downstairs, waiting for me, a book I didn’t really think I’d ever need.
This morning, as I Skyped with a client in Australia, I kept staring at my skin, the way it’s finally got a glow after all these years of acne, and I think of my mom at 40, standing in our NC kitchen, yellow and brown wallpaper behind her. Her skin was alight with life . . . as if her laughter lived there.
Now there’s a lesson she gave me, not the skin but the glowing laughter, a memory to carry me for the next 40 years.