Healthy Living

Writing to Help Heal From Life’s Losses

She wrote this about her own life in the Preface to the book “In the Fullness of Time” by Emily Upham and Linda Gravenstone:

Once upon a time, when I was a young and beautiful princess of twenty and living in the land of Paris, France, I fell in love with a man of fifty-nine whom I shall call S. He was renowned throughout the entire kingdom of the moving image. Even then there were telephones, and he would call me in my turret and say “Rapunzel Rapunzel, let down your long hair” and sweep me away. Our story grabbed me by the jugular, gave me no choice, and shaped my entire life. For forty years we have been crucial to each other, for forty years we have told each other everything. As I write this S. is soon to be ninety-seven. I do not know how I will live without him.

Recently, on the heels of my fifth spinal surgery, my career as a classical pianist was laid to rest. The journey away from my chosen but unforgiving instrument, its white teeth bared permanently in a glaring challenge, has been marked by a broken vertebra, degenerating disks, semi-successful surgeries, denial, and finally a snarling quasi-acceptance.

It came to me suddenly that my generation, the baby-boomers, had arrived at the second half of life, and that this half would be laden with loss. The generation of women forged by the Sixties, the “youth” generation, is now facing the death of parents, friends, spouses, the loss of health, of sexual power, of power in the workplace, of dreams, of time remaining.

Ours is the mapless generation that came of age at a fleeting moment in history when all traditional expectations were tossed aside and torn up like confetti. Our womanhood was forged at a time when birth control was easy, abortion was easy, pursuing career was easy, when there were no rules, no boundaries, no directions, other than our own inner ones if we were lucky enough to have them. Many of us never married, many of us never had children, many of our lives were skewed by this upheaval, while paving the way for the many positive changes for women who came after us.

As we age and begin to suffer the losses common to all women, our landscape is a very different one from that of the women who came both before and after us.

Loss is, of course, visited upon us at all ages. Loss in early life, while bringing with it wounds specific to that time, also brings years of living in which to heal. But in later life our whole lives are not ahead of us. The next love affair is not around the corner, the next job opportunity not so evident. Many dreams have been realized or laid to rest, and our aspirations are tempered by what we suddenly understand to be a finite future. Our children are off and running, and the death of loved ones will be with us for the rest of our lives.

My startled awakening to these truths was the impetus for this project. I turned for guidance to Linda Gravenson, a gifted editor and writer, some years older than I, who had suffered a number of losses. She became my collaborator and together we explored how these storms of change could bring unexpected rewards.

My urgent quest for some maps for the terrain of later life lead us to gather a number of unusual women, outstanding authors and artists, who are older than I am and perhaps a few steps ahead of me. Ranging in age from fifty five to one hundred, they are immersed in, or have emerged from maelstroms of change. From Edna O’Brien on one continent to Gail Godwin on another, they have all responded to the universality of our theme and have participated generously in this project. Their essays have been written for this book.

There is hardly a one of us who has not been touched by personal tragedy or the erosions of time, and who is not aware of the fact that we live in a world that is filled with horror. We know that living on, never mind living well, is often life’s reward. One of the great gifts of experience, however, is the ability to choose- not our circumstances, but how we interpret them. I have come to focus the lens of my inner camera and to see things differently, thanks in large part to the words of the admirable women gathered here.

See this video about the book. Emily W. Upham

Some of the women who wrote the personal essays discuss the theme in this video.

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