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By: Dr. Mari Dias
“Age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in a different dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with
Stars invisible by day.”
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
(Photo: Tree of Life, Gustav Klimt)
My refrigerator was once covered with report cards, class pictures and kid’s schedules. Today it is dressed in prayer cards, doctor’s appointments, and laminated obituaries. My morning coffee is accompanied by the yearning for days gone by as I am welcomed by these faces, long and most recently gone.
Each and every loss reminds me of the past, along with the memories that I shared with them. I still hold the memories in my pocket, accessible when needed. Yet the other half of the memories have been cremated or buried along with those who shared them. I have less years in front of me than behind me.
I yearn for my youth. It’s not lost, just passed. I grieve “my lost loves, lost health, lost capacities” (T Brach). I miss the long nights and short days, of dancing until midnight and the ability to jump up the next morning without exhaustion. I miss the physical energy I had, the paucity of time it took to do my hair and make-up. Today, the efforts to hide the wrinkled face, the crepiness of skin and general upkeep is time consuming; however, what I miss most are the people of my youth. They are all entangled with my memories of youth, and without them the memories fade just a bit, enough to have me attempting to recall each and every one. In an effort to make them brighter, as rich as they once were.
But there are few with which I can relive these memories. With each passing year, their numbers decrease, as I struggle with the fading recall of my younger years. Perhaps I employ the “halo effect”, as I recapture and indulge in this journey. Remembering only the good times.
And yet, I feel young. When I look in the mirror I try to disregard what I see and if I squint a bit I can morph the reflection into the younger me. But only for a few minutes. Like a scrying mirror for the past. Then reality sets in. I’m not sure if it’s vanity or the evidence of a long life that I want to erase.
Unlike Dorian Gray, I am unwilling to sell my soul to remain forever young. That is too big of a price. Yet it doesn’t soften or negate the yearning for my youth, for days gone by.
According to many experts, particularly Alan Wolfelt a world renown author of books on grief, “Agism is alive and well in North America. It is an attempt to distance one’s self from the realities of aging, illness, death and grief.” We can avail ourselves of all the possibilities of extending a youthful appearance. There is Botox, and injections, wrinkle fillers, hair coloring, face lifting, and teeth-whitening.”We can run but we cannot hide. Growing old is inevitable. According to many, it may be inevitable but provide us with insight, discernment and empathy. They view aging as an offer of a gift.
I haven’t got to that point yet. I need to yearn, to embrace this unwanted gift, to mourn my youth and
Accept the aging me. It is sometimes very painful, anxiety-provoking and depressing. Those “grave bound traits and falling features” (Sunday Girl, Dean Petrella) are a difficult reality to accept, as they signify the time that has passed. Seemingly much more quickly than it did when we were young. Long, languid days have segued into weeks that pass in the blink of an eye.
Lost youth seems like lost time. And lost time is scary. So, I will attempt to focus on the here and now. Focus on what I have rather than what I’ve lost. After all, I’m not dead yet.
“And when I die
And when I’m dead, dead and gone,
There’ll be [two children and thousands of students and clients} and
A world to carry on, to carry on (Blood, Sweat and Tears, 1972).
Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief.
She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI. For more information, go to: http://gracepointegrief.com/