Freedom. What does it mean to you? We are living in the midst of a historic year that will not allow us to take our freedoms for granted. From a global pandemic that has stripped us of the freedom to live, work, and move about in the ways we were used to doing, to bearing witness to the Black Lives Matter movement and deciding how (or for some, if) we will contribute to creating a country that is actually and finally free and equal for all of its citizens. Today I am discussing other types of less noteworthy freedoms, yet those that can profoundly impact our midlife years.
Until recently I was the meat of my family’s generational sandwich, someone’s only child and caregiver, with adult children of my own…but then my mom died. Freedom. But a very hard pill to swallow. This dose of freedom was delivered with a sense of relief that she was no longer in pain, but also with so many questions. Did I do enough for her? Did she know how much I loved her? Was it really her time to go, or should more have been done? And the “if only’s.” If only I had been there more for her. If only I could have just one more day with her…We are all aware that we will likely reach this bridge eventually, and we understand that it will be difficult to cross. Until we get there, though, we may not fully grasp the swirling vortex of emotions we’ll be faced with.
I am also an empty nester. Freedom. Anyone who has raised kids during the 1990’s and later, knows that our generation of parenting has made it very difficult for us to create healthy boundaries as our birds flew from the nest. We have been ultra-involved in every aspect of our children’s lives; and technology has us tethered much more tightly together than ever before, so separating ourselves can feel almost like a form of child neglect! As dramatic as that sounds, many parents experience varying degrees of these emotions during the letting go process. Eventually most of us do learn not only to make a new life for ourselves, but to actually enjoy it and to relish in our newfound freedom. For some of us, however, we may still be tied to the care of family members in the forms of healthcare, welfare, or financial needs for periods of time.
Just over a year ago, my husband and I made the decision to unburden ourselves from our commitments to a large house and some other property. Drastic downsizing took us to a small urban condo with little to no necessary maintenance. Freedom! And then two of my closest loved ones’ lives began to fall apart. So I began a 14-month period of caregiving, and traveling through the many stages of grieving both those who were still living, and one who would soon pass.
When my mom died and our other family member reached a better place, I was, in a very bittersweet way, free as I had never been in the past. Over the previous years and recent months, I had promised myself that the light at the end of that long dark, cruel, and heartbreaking tunnel would include lots of traveling to nourish my aching soul. I would finally be able to enjoy my available time and the money that had been set aside for relaxation and adventure. But then COVID-19 reared its ugly head, with the opportunity for travel being taken off the table.
Freedom is a subjective concept, isn’t it? In the large scheme of things, I have many privileges which I did nothing to earn, and some for which I have worked extremely hard. The region of the country where we live is still relatively open during the pandemic, so we are largely free to move about with only minor restrictions, unlike other regions. I’m free of much of the responsibility from earlier years when work and family mandated my time. I love living in our new condo and new neighborhood. We’re financially more comfortable and free. Our birds have flown the nest and are hatching lives, and even babies, of their own. We get to spend some time with and love on them, and then we’re free to return to our tranquil, breezy, and separate life.
So, until I can travel and enjoy new adventures and a freedom from everyday sameness, I will continue to work through all of my feelings about this wild journey we call “life.”