Taking a back seat


Have you ever sat alone in the back seat of a car or van on a long drive while others ahead are chattering away to each other? If so, think a minute about how that felt? Maybe you were just fine with it. But, maybe you felt a little isolated? Unnoticed? Superfluous?
And that is how I have been feeling of late. Redundant.
I just celebrated my 79th birthday and so I am now in my 80th year. And that fact is difficult to take in. I could say, “My goodness! Where did the years go?” Okay. “My goodness! Where did the years go?”
But it’s really not so much that they slipped by without me noticing. I noticed. I had some amazingly wonderful years, and some I’d give back in a heartbeat. Some days, when I look in my magnifying mirror to put on my makeup, my mind wanders, and I see not only me but my husband as we meandered through vineyards in France, played tennis, oohed and ahhed over his phenomenal sauce for the Thanksgiving turkey, (he never allowed us to call it gravy) bought our first home, built our last, and all the jumble of a life well lived in between. And always, I had his love and support. He was the head of our family as I was its heart and hands. Together it was good.
Since he left me in mind and body I’ve spent a long time getting to know who I am without him. Finding my place in life alone I have become supremely independent. But there is also something constantly missing. My partner, by my side, to love, talk to, complain to, take strength from, and for brief moments feel better for the safety of his arms. And the loss seems greater as I age alone. I miss my own personal someone who loved me unconditionally. I have had to fit myself into a new life of my own making and it has been good, but being accustomed to aloneness does not necessarily mean loving it.
I left New York and my son and daughter-in-law, and came back to more family in Florida. I had hoped there would be lots of time spent together, time I couldn’t share when I was living elsewhere. But I soon became aware that they are all extremely busy and leading healthy, productive lives. Which I am happy about. That said... I have been trying to figure out exactly what my place is in my family at this time and in this place as yet again I try to make a life for myself.
Before I wrote my last column, titled “Matriarch,” I asked individual family members if they thought of me as the Matriarch of our family. I expected that they would say, yes. Only my grandson did. The responses from the rest were more like questions about the meaning of the word, which I think speaks for itself. I thought I was asking because I was writing a column on the subject but when I had a really good think about it, I realized that it was because I am unsure about what exactly is my role at this point in my life. It is obvious that I am not needed as I once was, and that is a good thing for my children and for me. Yet, it feels sad, as all transitions do, whether they are necessary or not. And this one seems harder than others because of my age and the fact that there is less ahead than behind, and therefore less time to spend with family.
Often, at family dinner parties, I’ve found that the conversation is nothing to which I can contribute. I have been told that I sit too quietly and seem depressed. That I should just jump into the conversation more. Why?
I am a woman of substance. I am intelligent and if I’m asked a question I can answer. I listen. I hear, and if I don’t speak it’s because I have nothing to add, not because I’m depressed or upset. Their lives and experiences are different. It would be nice if they asked more about mine...what I’m thinking, doing, writing about? They are having adventures. And I love that they are. I am having surgeries. I don’t love that I am, but I’m still vital and interested.
One day, there may be a family conversation about my feelings and theirs. They will be different, of that I’m certain. But, bottom line... there’s no blame here. The onus is on me to make certain that I keep on making my own life as rich as I can and that I not rely on anyone else to make me feel less alone or valued.
So there you have it. There’s nothing like a vintage whine! Maybe you think that’s what I’ve done here. But just maybe some of you out there feel something similar. In any case I leave you with this...
“Am I getting older, or is the Supermarket playing great music?”
--Author unknown