Free-floating grief

While sitting at my desk working on a project and listening to music, a song touched a nerve and raw emotions came rushing to the surface. I was overcome by overwhelming sadness and unstoppable tears.

If you were to ask me today how my life is going I would, without hesitation, reply “Great!” My life is great. However, there are uncertainties, eventualities, and realities hovering just under the surface and in that moment listening to music they bubbled over.

My retired husband is facing a second knee replacement next week. Managing and organizing all the care giving and household tasks required during his convalescence is a tall order. His first knee replacement took place just six months ago and it was one of the most stress-provoking events in recent memory. Splitting my time between tending to his needs and tending to the needs of my 95-year-old father who lives with us was exhausting. How do you choose between the needs of the man who gave you life and the man you chose to share your life? How do you make time for you and your needs?

My father’s emotional state vacillates as he faces his mortality and we both realize that there will soon come a time when he is gone. Finding meaningful activities for him and providing the emotional support he needs is difficult, gratifying, and heart-wrenching. Listening to him tell stories, watching his eyes well up with tears as he recounts all the people he has loved and lost including two wives, a son, a daughter, and a grandson, would make almost anyone weep.

When my brother died nine years ago this month, his family was devastated. His three children did not know how to grieve such a catastrophic loss and I was not in close enough proximity to help them through the process. Now, like other sandwich generation retirees, I am actively involved in mentoring them as they make the often bumpy transition to adulthood as well as mindfully helping my father as he moves towards the end of his days.

My husband and I thought his retirement would be filled with fun adventures, travel, and meaningful pursuits. We do have adventures and most of them are fun. But there are some “adventures” that stretch us emotionally and push us into areas where we feel inadequate and ill-prepared. We travel, but not as much as we anticipated. We are optimistic two new knees will remedy this.

As for meaningful pursuits, our life is full to the brim. Never before have we been as closely connected to family or have we seen the results of gently guiding the next generation toward healthy, life-affirming, choices. Starting a business to help other boomers make the difficult and often bewildering transition from working to not working and beyond is gratifying beyond measure.

Sometimes the only thing that helps clear out all these emotions is a good cry. Not an “Oh, woe is me.” type of cry but a genuine release of pent up emotion like the one sparked by a song I heard today. Too often we think we have to keep it together, keep marching on, and do what needs to be done. This is true but we cannot do it at the expense of our humanity and to be human is to cry.

I remember being in a discussion group based on Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way several decades ago. A similar emotional release happened when a comment made by a fellow participant landed in my psyche. Although on the surface I was not was not sad or upset, I could not stop crying. “I hate crying,” I said as I wiped my mascara streaked face. “But crying makes you human and approachable,” someone in the group said. I didn’t think so then, but I do now.

Had I not chosen to listen to music I would have continued on through the day and the week with no understanding of why my sense of depression was deepening. Having acknowledged all that I am feeling and having released that pent up emotion, I am now ready to move forward. There may be more tears in my future, but I will welcome them. They are part of life and part of loss. ­­­­­­

Kathryn Avery

About Kathryn Avery

When Kathryn Severns Avery’s husband, Chris, began contemplating retirement in 2014, she knew they had to quickly come up with a multi-faceted plan. They spent the next year discussing, sometimes heatedly, what they would do once he stopped working. On paper their plan looked exciting. They would head from Colorado to the 1891 sea captain’s house they bought and renovated in Rockland on Maine’s midcoast. But the reality of planning and implementing retirement was much different than expected. Kathryn has worked in radio, television, marketing, and public relations. She is the author of five books and has written articles on interior design and crafts for national and regional publications including Romantic Homes, Log Homes Illustrated, The Rocky Mountain News and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles.