Volume XIV, Number 2 Summer 2017
Recently, at the age of ninety-six, my mother passed away. At her death, she possessed one of the greatest gifts anyone can have: a long life, well lived. A year ago in this newsletter, I wrote about the unexpected silver lining I found in my mother’s advancing Alzheimer’s. This silver lining was the gift of her sweet nature, acceptance, respect and kindness to me, a gift I had not been able to experience for most of my life. We have just finished the final few years of our relationship in which I was able to let down my defenses, relax with her and enjoy her company.
Many months ago, I planned to attend a retreat for healers, the dates for which turned out to be right after my mother’s passing. In the wake of her death, after thinking briefly about not attending the retreat, I decided to go with my original commitment. The first of these retreats had been last September, and the topic was “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life.” James Hollis, a Jungian analyst, who has written books on this subject, led much of the retreat. The main reason I attended was to interact with colleagues, not really because of the topic. My work is professionally solitary and sometimes I crave interaction with professionals who think about the same kinds of things I do. Also, I generally like my life and wasn’t in the market for a major change. This time, although the same topic, “Finding Meaning in The Second Half of Life,” was still a reference point in communications about the retreat, again I attended so I could be with my peers, and as before, I enjoyed the teaching and interchange of ideas tremendously.
On the last day, our facilitator asked us each to reflect on what we were doing there in the retreat and what were we taking away with us. At this point, I realized that at the very least the retreat was a self-imposed chance to slow down from my usual galloping pace of life, and there was significant value in this. It took me almost a full day longer to realize that I actually do want to intentionally define “the second half of life,” and in fact, that I am indeed in the second half. I became interested in evolving. The second half of my life may carry meaning, purpose and treasures that want to be expressed in new ways, ways I have actually thought about, albeit briefly. My work now focuses on helping wealthy individuals and families with the psychological challenges of wealth, and I find it fulfilling. Also, I have thought at times about helping those in our society who are facing other kinds of challenges. So far, my actions in new directions are yet to be.
Why so slow to crack these thoughts open? First, the obvious, I genuinely do like the life I have been living. Second, there is the classic resistance to change. It’s usually a lot of trouble, and I’m not sure where the change would lead me.
That said, I’ve acknowledged it now. No going back. My current work will continue, and in addition to this, I will pay attention to James Hollis’s questions, “What wishes to come into the world through you, and only your fears keep you from serving it?” And I will “Keep asking, ‘what matters most?’”
Professional speaking has been important in my life. When I began speaking as part of my work, there was no one presenting the topics I wanted to illuminate. It was my calling to provide understanding and education on the psychological challenges inheritors and their families face, in ways that could enhance their journeys. Now, there are many who speak on these topics, and I am almost ready to pass the torch.
As I reflect on the days of the retreat, the turning point for me pivoted on the response Hollis gave to a question I asked him. The question was a follow up to a point he had made about alcohol and drug abuse being responses to anxiety. I asked about the young adults on college campuses, many of whose behavior with substance abuse is excessive and terrifying to parents. His response was that most students who go straight from high school to college are too young for this academic endeavor. He said that most would benefit from a couple of years out in the world doing whatever they need to do. He kept talking about this period of growing up as I became completely preoccupied with thoughts of our son, who insisted on stepping away from college a couple of years ago. I was sure he was limiting himself by not pursuing a college degree posthaste. I devoted a lot of time to trying to overcome many tears, sleepless nights and a big broken heart. I made it my constant goal to give him my unconditional support, even though I just could not envision him trying to enter the adult world without the key tool of a degree.
He has not been wasting his time. He has many accomplishments to show for his time out of school, he is happy, and he is a wonderful young man. I have not given up my dream that he will earn a college degree someday, and I am confident that he will succeed on his chosen path. The point I want to make here, however, is the turning point I encountered in thinking about him.
How was this the turning point? I realized that this fine young man is on his own journey. He took it over from us, his parents, as he should have. It is a small leap to look at my own life and see that I have certainly insisted on forging my own journey. Why should I expect him to do less? For the first time since he left school, I understand what he is doing, and I am happy for him. In fact, in my own way, I did the same thing to my parents. I was not able live the life they believed would lead me to success, because I needed to make my own journey too. My mother was always on my side, even though I was unable to understand this most of the time, and it has taken me until now to see it. The tasks of the first half of life, I now understand, are very different from the tasks of the second half.
What will I do in the second half of my life? I will ask, “What matters most?” I will take the time to answer thoughtfully. And I will honor my parents by living my life well. How about you? If you are in the second half of your life, what matters most to you? What will you do to make “what matters most” your priority?