Turning 40 is a mixed bag of emotions for me. There are many who have sought to improve my experience by saying things like “I wish I was 40 again” and “40 is nothing – you’re still young”. But the reality is that I don’t require cheering up because there’s nothing wrong with the sadness I feel.
You see, when it comes to the physical aspect of turning 40, i.e. the prospect of waving goodbye to my 30’s and the ever increasing grey hairs, I’m totally okay. I fully get that age is just a number.
But the thing that creates my feelings of sadness is attributed to only one thing. Grief.
All these years later and I still experience waves of grief after losing my parents. Life was never going to be the same. Please understand me – my grief waves are mostly small and gentle, unlike the rough early days of feeling engulfed.
The times when my grief shows itself these days, is usually in relation to the milestones and special occasions in my life. It’s also often related to the time of year – the autumn / winter period which is when I lost my parents.
Behind the grief.
Being a Halloween baby is kind of like a double whammy. Most years, I look back with fond memories of my mum obsessing over themed parties, spooky decorations and on the milestone birthdays, joint celebrations with my dad – his birthday was 10 days before mine. Such fun.
On years like this however, when I’m reaching the fab age of 40, it’s also a stark reminder of all the occasions they haven’t been here including this one. It’s not easy to observe your closest friends who are all celebrating their 40th year with their families. Not to mention the fact that it’s also a reminder we haven’t been able to start our own family.
The point is, special occasions and events in your life can be difficult when someone has died, regardless of how much time has passed. The fact that that person isn’t there with you at big moments can feel really strange. It can make even the happiest occasion a bit sad.
Being okay with whatever.
It’s natural for people around you to want to make you feel better. But it’s okay if you want to feel sad. Equally, it’s okay to enjoy yourself too because this doesn’t mean you miss the person you’ve lost any less.
The truth is, I have no idea how I’ll feel when the day arrives. One thing I have been clear about is that I want plenty of space for myself. I’m celebrating in a way that suits me and so can you. It’s not about pleasing everybody else or meeting their expectations, it’s about what makes these occasions easiest on you.
Look, I’m sure there will be smiles, laughter, celebration and joy, as much as there will be sadness and maybe even tears. Like I said, it’s a mixed bag. You don’t need to judge or label the emotions either – just allow them to be.
Keeping things to yourself means the tension builds up inside you. So I’m happy to find ways to express what I’m really feeling because I know it’ll help me to feel better and navigate the whole day. I’ll make some plans with plenty of flexibility.
In the end, it’s simply remembering that this might be a tough time – or it might not be. It’s about treating yourself with a bit of extra care. I’ll be avoiding making any major decisions until after the occasion is over. And where possible, I’ll be treating myself to the things I enjoy doing.
What do you need? You may find these prompts useful.
Having someone you trust to talk to about how you’re feeling is helpful. This may be a family member, friend or a professional. If you’re finding it hard to cope with day-to-day stuff then it may help to talk to someone like me because quite frankly, I get it.