Remembering how to cope with the “turning 50″ milestone

Some of us — the leading edge of the baby boomer generation — have just coped with turning 65! So maybe we’ve forgotten about coping with an earlier birthday: 50. Canadian baby boomer Wendy Reichental just went through it, and shares a piece about her experience that she originally wrote for the Montreal Gazette.

My 50th was soon approaching and, much like New Year’s Eve, I was driving myself into a frenzy of anxious anticipation — and dread.

Wendy Reichental

Turning 50 for a woman could best be described as suddenly going from feeling like the “Girl from Ipanema,” impish and carefree, to the Older Woman from “Ipa No More!;” no longer fresh and young and lovely, but at the same time not quite an ancient relic either.

It’s a turning point in a woman’s life and, yes, I appreciate the magnificence of making it to this point relatively unscathed. But at the same time there’s a feeling of tremendous loss. Some of it might be imagined and exaggerated, but much of it is real. The loss of my parents brings to light such a profound new reality for me that no matter how genuinely I try to see the happiness in things, I find everything now is tinged with a certain bittersweet quality.

Perhaps these sudden swells of emotion had something to do with my decision to agree with my husband that a perfect place to usher in my birthday would be aboard a cruise ship sailing in the Caribbean. It wouldn’t be our first cruise. The last time we sailed the seas was on our honeymoon, where it was hard to tell whether it was us or the natural ebb and flow rocking the boat. But celebrating my big, worrisome birthday at sea would be a first.

I love the ocean and can stare into its vastness for hours. I adore the way problems and thoughts get put into perspective when you realize just how small you seem compared to the immensity of the sea. What I didn’t realize was that on the very first night of our cruise, I would be struck with an immediate “ah-ha” moment, just by looking around me.

There are many different kinds of people on cruise ships: tall and short height, large and small girth, different ages, different kinds of families, singles and couples, and people living with various physical challenges. But they all find something appealing about cruising.

That night at dinner, we went to one of the three dining rooms where there are no set meal times, so people can eat whenever they want. My husband and I like this freestyle form of dining. As we waited in the lounge, I did my usual people-watching and observed a large number of motorized wheelchairs with their incumbents looking full of vigor and excitement. There were elegant elderly women pushing their walkers with whimsical scarves tied to the handles. I saw well-dressed elderly gentlemen holding sturdy canes with deeply wrinkled hands.

Upon being guided to a table of eight, my husband and I noticed that we were by far the youngest in this sea of silver. Introductions were made and we soon deciphered that two of the couples were on board to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversaries and one couple was there to celebrate finally reaching retirement. As we cut into our rolls and spread our butter, another kind of shared activity was taking place. Stories were being swapped about difficulties that were overcome, from health scares and illness to work failures, bankruptcies, and other tragic losses. But they also talked about everything from skydiving at 60 to mark one more item off a bucket list, to finding love again at age 75!

I was wonderstruck at everyone’s determination to make lemonade from lemons and to face their challenges full-on and with such grace, gratitude, and humor. And that’s when I had my birthday epiphany. I looked at my husband and whispered in his ear, “Thank you.” He said “For what?” and I more or less uttered, “For being here and steering the helm with me through all these years. And then I said, “Damn right I’m having cake tonight; bring it on! And bring on 50″!

©2012 Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

10 Comments

  1. Shedding vanity can be just as hard as losing weight when you turn 50.
    Thank you for your insights that bring to the forefront that surviving half a century also means weighing painful losses with gratitude to those for ‘being there’ and having courage to go on forging our dreams-
    even if it’s to continue looking fabulous on the high seas! Many more happy journeys!

  2. I turned 50 a year ago. It hasn’t been all that bad, but I increasingly don’t recognize the hands at the end of my arms…they look like some old guy’s hands. Oh wait…

  3. Thank you, Wendy. I am trying to learn to make lemonade from lemons. It isn’t always easy. But I never stop trying.

  4. Well, judging from your pics, you still look far more the Girl from Ipanema than the Older Woman from Ipa No More!
    But, you’re right, turning 50 is indeed a turning point in a person’s life … for both men and women, I might add.
    Like you, I found myself writing about it to ease the angst. My article from a few years ago about turning that
    milestone age is entitled A Boomer Looks At Fifty. You might relate to it:
    http://calwriter.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=67:a-boomer-looks-at-fifty-&catid=35&Itemid=59

  5. I’m a little over a year away from my 50th. My parents have been a great example for me. When my mother turned 80, she said it was the first time she’d understood what people meant when they said they felt old as their birthday approached. At 80! My dad is soon to turn 91 and says things like, “I’m not using a scooter. Those are for old people.” He uses a Segway, by the way. I’ve never dreaded a birthday. I’ve celebrated each one. And that’s what I plan to do on my 50th. Maybe I’ll go on a cruise too. ~Karen Fisher-Alaniz

  6. Hi Karen, thank you for leaving the comment, the imp. thing is to always feel young at heart…..my parents used to exhibit that and I never considered them old,even when they were in their 80s….Betty White is my example of someone who defies age. I hope you do get to go on that cruise and celebrate a great milestone! sincerely, wendy

  7. As someone who DID lose 50 pounds at age 56 and the QUEEN of midlife crisis (I have a blog to prove it!) I say hang on it all changes! Life keeps coming if you’re lucky! TIME is an ILLUSION, CAKE is REAL!!!

    Enjoy it all as best you can, because none of us get out of this ALIVE!

    Laura Lee Carter aka the Midlife Crisis Queen!

    1. Thank you Laura for being encouraging, as I haven’t stopped eating since leaving the ship…and need to seriously shed some pounds….I am still a little scared of 50 and what comes afterwards…….just being honest. thanks again for reading my piece, best Wendy

  8. Laura, your article had some really great points about turning 50. I’m really happy that you have a husband and the means to take a cruise to help you celebrate (and let’s face it) forget you are aging. I’m just wondering though if you’d really have the strength to forge forward if you didn’t have a man to filter everything through and to foot the bill. Best of luck on your adventure. Luckily you still look great so he probably won’t leave you for something younger….yet.

  9. I am 8 months away from being 50; I’m not panicky nor frantic to me it is another year older and I just don’t bother to celebrate, Everyone else thinks I should stop the BA HUMBUG of birthdays.   13 years of silver/white hair sneaking up on me ( started getting the white hair pop up at age 36), 7 years of Perimenopause (glad it is mild).  In  life we all go through 7 chapters in our life with sub chapters; Chapter 1: new born to 12 months, Chapter 2: Toddler ages 1 to 3, Chapter 3: child  age 4 to 10, chapter 4: tween age 11 to 12, chapter 5: teen age 13 to 19, chapter 6: adult age 20 to 59, chapter 7: senior citizen: 60 and up.
     
     

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