When I first gathered up enough courage to start this blog I had a whole load of fears that threatened to overwhelm and undermine my intentions. On the one hand I told myself this:
- You’re nearly 50. You have written things all your life and never got anything published. This is a way to get your writing out there; also, if not now, when?
- You’ve lived a long life with ups and downs and experienced different things. Your perspective might help others deal with things you have gone through and learned from.
- You’re hilarious! Look how often you make yourself laugh with your jokes – people will love your jokes and it will brighten up their lives!
- You have something to say, you should say it. What have you got to lose?
- You will connect with other women, perhaps also going through a mid-life crisis. They can only make your life richer.
On the other hand (and at the same time) I was hearing:
- Who the hell wants to hear you spouting nonsense and claptrap about your humdrum little life? Nobody will follow you, nobody will be interested except, possibly a little squirt from your Year 10 class who will then circulate your posts with sniggers and great hilarity causing complete humiliation.
- If you write anything about your relationship with your mother she will kill you.
- You are not at all funny – as someone once chillingly told you 17 years ago, ‘you’re not as funny as you think you are.’ NOBODY will laugh at your stuff. Loser.
- You’re too old to start something like this. Leave blogging to the young people.
- You will run out of things to write about and then give up and it will be a complete waste of time.
- You have no technological skills it will look rubbish and unprofessional.
These voices in my head warred for about two months before I shrugged off the second voice and started designing my blog. (I say shrugged off, it’s still very much then, I just try to ignore it. Some days that’s really not easy.)
My husband was very supportive but he’s not a big reader – he’s more of a visual kind of guy – and when I showed him one of my early blogs about losing our first son it just made him cry, so though generally positive, he left me to get on with it.
The person who gave me the courage and confidence to get posting was my best mate Guy. After my husband and my brother Guy is the most important bloke in my life.
I met him In the late 80’s and we are still close friends thirty years later. Luckily, after Guy ran an in-depth and detailed interview of Rob to check he had honourable intentions, Guy has always adored my husband and they get on very well.
I was in the sixth form at school when I was first introduced to Guy by a friend who was working up London at the time. Tall, dark and skinny, he had a look of Rupert Everett circa Another Country. (Which he massively worked as hard as he could)
I took to him straight away as not only did he make me laugh, he laughed at all my jokes. That’s it as far as I am concerned: Friend for life.
He is wonderfully supportive and has staunchly stood by me through thick and thin. Years after we first met, Guy told me the only reason he initially pursued me as a friend was because a boy he fancied at work took a shine to me. Guy never told me about the cutie liking me until he was well off the scene. What a bitch!
He can be a bit of a flake at times, as can I, but we have always managed to ride out any turbulence and I couldn’t do without him.
When I was planning to start a blog, Guy never once questioned whether I could do it. He was the first person I sent an article to (after husband of course) and if it wasn’t for his feedback I would never have found the guts to get this out there.
I asked Guy if I could share his first responses to two of my favourite posts as a kind of guest blog. Wonderfully generous as he is, he agreed.
I wanted to post it here to not only share his own experiences of ageing and loss, which I think have a universal truth, but also to show how important a supportive friend can be. Guy’s thoughtful and encouraging comments helped me take a leap which I would never have chanced on my own.
It forces me to remember how much positive and enthusiastic responses can make someone’s day and I hope it has made me a better blog reader as I want to try and respond positively when I find wonderful writers out there.
It is so easy to read something, maybe give it a like and move on, but to take a minute to write something to show what you loved about the post can really put a spring in your step. I don’t care how long you’ve been blogging, I bet a comment that says: ‘wow! This is wonderful, thank you so much for writing’ puts a great fat smile on your face.
The first blog I sent Guy was the one about my crush on Norman Reedus. It was one of the most personal and emotionally honest pieces I have written and I was literally CRINGING to think what he would write in response.
I felt like such a silly old bag lusting over a film star in this way and felt sick to think Guy would see me as a foolish middle aged saddo.
But he did the loveliest thing, he wrote this. And apart from saying quite urgently that he thought I needed therapy (Ha!! Don’t we all?) he couldn’t have been more thoughtful and encouraging.
Guest post by Guy in response to my post ‘‘I am a little bit in love with Norman Reedus’: A middle-aged woman’s mid-life crisis.’
“Firstly, thank you for sharing this with me. It’s very personal and I appreciate the trust you have demonstrated by letting me in to your feelings regarding this man.
Obviously your feelings for him are understandable, in character he portrays a hero. He has all the survival skills you would need in a zombie apocalypse, but demonstrates, through talented acting, a vulnerability that is very attractive. Added to the hero, the vulnerability makes him irresistible, he is a very well constructed character, expertly delivered.
From the readers’ perspective it offers a picture of you that I know to be authentic and you have written with integrity, examining your own feelings and motivation for those feeling for this man and his character.
Knowing you, I am unsurprised that you have conducted thorough research (ehem!) of both the man and the character and you offer an insight into both. It’s a good read, and you have demonstrated your own vulnerability which is particularly brave as you are writing in the first person. As your friend I was honoured to read it, as I said before, trusting me into your intimately personal world. I recognised my friend, her strengths, weaknesses and her talent.
From a psychological point of view it’s really fascinating and as much as I enjoyed reading about the man, it was (and I’m not saying for one minute the subject of the article was not) more interesting. Actually learning about you and your infatuation was the most fascinating aspect of the piece.
For me, that posed more questions, which were racing through my mind the more I read, about your state of mind. “What’s happening to my friend? Is she ok? What might have led to her emerging feelings? What’s her motivation? Is she unhappy in her relationship? Has she fallen out of love with Rob? Is this the beginning of the road to actual infidelity?”
“Is it as she says age related – that would make sense. Is that how it feels to be a middle aged woman? Do middle age women have these fantasies and infatuations?” Lots of questions!!!
I like at the beginning of the article you describe an infatuation that could be attributed to any teenage girl and it sounds as if it could have been written by an adolescent all be it one with writing skills way beyond her years! As I read on it becomes clear that you have really reflected on your feelings and why you have them. It provides for me, as someone who knows you well, with reassurance that you are OK, and that Rob is still the man you love.
I think any middle-aged person would be able to relate to your feelings and experience even if they haven’t actually gone to all the trouble you have in your research, they would certainly be able to relate to your self-examination of a crush or infatuation. It made me reflect on my own of a couple of years back with a highly inappropriate man.
As to the central issue of this article, are you having a crisis? I personally don’t think so. If you were you would not be rationalising, examining and reaching the conclusions that you explain so clearly. It was certainly relatable in terms of we, the young at heart middle-aged, frequently have to examine our behaviour, feelings and motivations, just to check we aren’t mutton dressed as lamb, both literally and metaphorically!
I do it all the time at the moment having physically aged considerably [edit: this isn’t true at all – he looks great] over the last painful year, and having started a new job where I have frequently had to remind myself that I am with a lot of new people who see me as middle-aged, even though my sense of humour causes me to act as my internal age – which is still in my 30’s.
Yesterday, at an award party for some hard-working under-paid maternity support workers, I was asked to take a group photo so I stood on a chair to get a good shot and instead of asking the gathered women to say ‘cheese’ I asked them to say ‘sex’. This was met by a mixed reaction ranging from laughter to awkwardness which prompted their manager to contextualise my comment by saying “well without it we would all be out of a job!”
I then immediately remembered that it wasn’t my internal young, hilarious 30 year old self standing on the chair, it was that 50 year old man they are all getting to know and some were probably finding a bit creepy!! Yes, my darling, we have all been there and your article examines that dichotomy between our inner and outer selves. You see, it was relatable, reassuring and as such amusing, at least for those with the confidence to laugh at themselves rather than those thrown into deep insecurity by their middle-aged behaviour.
The cliché that middle-age is a time of great joy which comes from accumulated knowledge and experience, and great sorrow because you don’t match your inner age is, for me at least very true. This for me was the great strength of your article because I think it’s rarely expressed so honestly.
As your friend I would say that it might be that you want to examine your experience of ageing with a bit of expert help, if it is bothering you, but you are sentient, powerful, intelligent and beautiful women. I wouldn’t be concerned if you rejected that idea as unnecessary.
I’ll give it 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟and a big thank you for allowing me into your personal world. I am VERY pleased that your obsession with googling medical symptoms played no part in this! As your friend I think that is something that you might want to seek some expert help with. I know an excellent therapist who will, hopefully, prevent any further decline in you turning into your dear mother.
Guest post by Guy in response to my post: ‘Your voice sounded like you were drowning’: The day my baby died’
When I sent this to Guy it was along with an apology. For 13 years I had felt guilty for the fact that when we lost James and Guy called me, I couldn’t talk to him.I couldn’t talk to anyone, but I always felt bad I didn’t answer his call and asked my Mum to tell him I’d call him later.I don’t know why I didn’t talk to him about it. I know he would have said all the right things. He loved me and Rob and would absolutely understand what we were feeling.So when I sent this to him in a way it was making up for that missed phone call. I wrote in this post what I couldn’t say on the phone.The bizarre thing was, when I sent him this post he was working, temporarily, at a maternity hospital as he explored whether he wanted to continue teaching or look for something different.Guy read my post just as they were dealing with someone who had lost a child to stillbirth many many years ago and had contacted the hospital to ask some questions and find some peace.As I had written in my article, my aunt has experienced something very similar, where the baby was just whisked away and buried somewhere nameless.I thank God the support for grieving parents of stillborn babies is so much better than it was. “Oh gosh, where to start? This is without a doubt the most moving thing I have ever read. Probably because I remember how excited you both were, as I was for you. I remember the moment your mum phoned me.
I remember the moment as clearly as if it was yesterday. I remember exactly what I was doing; packing my suitcase, what I was holding; a black T shirt, and I remember putting the phone down, not remembering exactly what you mum had said, looking at Stephen and just breaking down.
We were in Sydney I had had my phone next to me, fully charged for some time expecting news. I remember sobbing in that hotel room for you both, for you three, and reading your piece, I empathised with your feelings of how utterly unfair and inconceivable it was, still is. I can only imagine, the strength of your grief and sadness and your confusion as to why something so unfair, so pointless, so horrific had happened to you both and your son.
I’m so proud of you both for surviving that grief, although I know that hasn’t by any means been easy, I’ve seen you both suffer for such a long time, with the lasting devastating effects of James’s death. I’m so proud of you in particular for helping Rob when he was at his lowest, for never giving up, remaining positive and for just getting up everyday and doing the mundane things that need to be done when you have two small children and a husband wracked with grief years after James’s death.
I’m sure the sadness never goes away and it’s deep down in there somewhere, but you are strong, stronger that I could have ever imagined knowing you as a singleton and young woman, I speak often about it to my parents, how through your inner strength you keep your family, job and business all going with such determination. We describe you as an unstoppable force of nature, with my mum declaring EVERY time we speak of you “I just don’t know how she does it all!”.
It’s a coincidence that you send this piece to me now, to tell me your story in such moving courageous detail so long after James’s death, as I currently work in the maternity department of a hospital, in the fairly privileged position of having access to all sorts of fascinating information and people as the PA to the head of midwifery.
One of my jobs is to coordinate the complaints received by my Directorate. One, which I have been helping my lovely boss to respond to, resonates with your experience. It’s not really a complaint more like an enquiry and a request for help. I’ll tell you about it and you will, I hope, understand why I mention it.
A mother wrote in, having recently lost her husband. She described that in 1975 she had had exactly the same experience as you. She described how since that day in 1975 she has suppressed her grief and how, because of the loss of her husband, she had revisited it and needed our help.
I can only imagine her bravery in writing to us so long after her baby Mary’s death. In 1975 things were very different in Maternity units. Today we have a specialist midwife, dedicated to helping bereaved parents and she is wonderful and utterly amazing. Parents who have the same experience as you are treated with dignity and respect and they are supported in their grief.
In 1975, by comparison, it was the dark ages. if your baby died at birth or prior to birth it was, in Mary’s mother’s words, “whisked away” and perhaps worse, buried with a random woman who was also due to be buried. No records were kept of the birth, death or burial.
The baby’s parents were not informed of where their child had been buried and nor indeed were the women’s family informed that she had been buried with a child. Mary’s mother never got to hold her daughter and has no idea where she is buried.
She wrote to us asking for some evidence that her baby daughter had existed and utterly tragically all records of her or Mary being in the hospital have long ago been destroyed. In her response, my boss has suggested that we hold a memorial service in our chapel to acknowledge baby Mary and to enter her name into our book of remembrance.
This all happened two weeks ago and caused me and Susan to have a long chat about your experience and that of Rob, and she acknowledged how sometimes the effects on the father are, not overlooked, but perhaps not prioritised as significant.
She said that there has still been little progress in finding the cause of pre-natal deaths despite a body of research which has very successfully provided new guidelines and evidence of how to make birth safer, and reduce ante-natal deaths even in our world where very premature babies survive.
I’m so glad that you now have happy and healthy, wonderful children and am pleased for them that they know of their brother. I’m also so glad that James is resting in Barham, it really is beautiful there. I know of the garden for the little ones, and just across the path is a tree where my grandad was scattered. He was wonderful, he loved us absolutely unconditionally and was mischievous and full of joy. He loved children. I am so pleased that he is near to James. It would be nice at some point for us to visit them both.
I’ve never asked but always wanted to visit James. Yours is such a private grief, I have never wanted to intrude upon it. But I often think about you, Rob and James and that day and would love to take him some flowers and say hi, if you think it would be appropriate, at some point, and wit absolutely no pressure.
So here I am, having woke up at 4 because I left the heating on all night, at the perfect time in the gentle stillness that happens just before dawn, with the peace of the early morning and just the quiet rumbling of the Thames (and a sleeping Gizmo) for company. I’m glad I waited until this morning to read it and that I have had the time in this quiet peaceful space to reflect and reply.
It’s still sad that deaths like that of James are discussed so little, almost never, in our society. I don’t know why, perhaps because it is just unthinkably sad. But those parents who experience this kind of pointless loss would surely benefit from reading of your experience.