Waiting to Exhale

images-2I turned 50 on a fall day in 2002

I  have always been excited, happy and grateful to celebrate each birthday. It was just one more piece of evidence that I was a survivor, and the alternative to getting older held no appeal for me.

Reaching this milestone was different. I had lived a half century!  Wow!!!

Why, then, did I feel such a sense of trepidation? Underneath my enthusiasm I could feel it…a hesitation almost….a tightness entered my chest. I couldn’t understand it.

In a year that should have brought great happiness, I lost my joy. I couldn’t understand it. Our businesses were doing well, our family was doing well, we had just bought a small lakefront cabin where we could escape the demands of being business owners and operators. Life was good. What was wrong with me?

At first I chalked it up to menopause…I’d been struggling for a few years with mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats …  all the worst symptoms that the unfortunate women of the world deal with….I’d bought the full meal deal from that menu selection.

But it was more than that. I couldn’t put my finger on it. The answer was there, just at the edge of my consciousness…I could feel it, sense it, swirling, ducking, darting…taunting me.


That year, generally, was one of the worst of my life. It was like I was holding my breath waiting for something horrific to happen. My sense of unease grew worse as the year progressed. I didn’t want to travel, I was on edge all the time.

Although my 50th birthday was significant, it  was my 51st that I remember most.

I am blessed to share my birthday date with our first grandchild, our granddaughter who, that year, turned 8. As was our tradition, we celebrated together, having a wonderful dinner at our house, opened our gifts and blew the candles out on our pumpkin pie and cake.

Although nothing particularly memorable happened that day, I remember feeling like as though I was breathing again…and then it hit me.

I had spent a year holding my breath, figuratively…and in some sense literally. That day, the day I reached 51 years of age, I finally exhaled.

Oh my God! I knew the answer! I had known it all along, I was just too frightened to give voice to it…if you think it, that’s one thing. If you speak it, you risk willing it into existence.

I had been terrified all year. I have been told my whole life how I look like my Dad, how I think like my Dad, how I act like my Dad.

My father died four days after my 23rd birthday. He had turned 50 just three and a half months earlier. Was I so like him, that I too would be dead at 50??


I remember that night…the night of my 51st birthday. After everyone had left or gone to bed, I sat quietly on the deck in the cool autumn air and I breathed again.  Once again a piece of evidence that I was a survivor. I was my own person. I wasn’t totally like my Dad. I was alive. And I gave thanks.

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