Maybe you lived the dream and got married to your high school sweetheart.   You bought the house, had the kids, loved your job…. but what if, in spite of following all the best advice, the dream hasn’t turned out the way you thought it would?

What if your kid made choices you don’t like?  Or, through no fault of their own, got a disease, or was involved in an accident?   What if your 50’s turn out to be years when you’re looking after your kid again, instead of riding off into the sunset with your beloved?

Most of us were taught that grief is something we feel when someone we love dies… they forgot to mention that it’s also what we feel when our dreams get derailed.

What if, as you’re finding your balance after one unexpected turn, your sibling gets sick, or your best friend is suddenly widowed?    What if your mom gets sick and you’re suddenly torn between caregiving for your kid, your parent and your best friend?

What if it all happens at once?

Middle age has always been a time of unpredictable change but as society increasingly retreated into nuclear families the sobering possibilities became less visible to us.   Without seeing reality in front of us every day we came to believe that the scary things could only happen to “the other guy”.

We live in our own little bubbles, inundated by social media and advertising that tells us to travel and enjoy a carefree retirement, dreaming big and seizing the day.   The advice is doled out as through these options  were our birthright.   If we don’t get the chance to make these choices and live out these dreams we can feel cheated and put upon.  We grieve.

We live in a world that does not prepare us well for grief.   The people who talk about hardship often sound bitter and jaded and we write-off their words because of their tone.   That needs to change.     

No one dreams of being menopausal and pulled between hormonal teenagers and aging parents or of a divorce that leaves you scrambling at a time when the commercials say that you “should be travelling and living the dream.”     Maybe if that old crank hadn’t sounded so bitter, we might have listened better.   Maybe we wouldn’t have been so surprised by what life had in store.

At every stage of life we grieve the unexpected turns.

We grieve the gap between our hopes… and what life serves us.

Whenever life turns out differently than “the brochure advertised” we can feel angry and sad and like we’ve been duped.  If we rant and rave about the unfairness of it all, we’ll be written off like all the cranks before us…    We need to talk about grief sanely.    Calmly.     We need to talk about the way life turns on a dime, for good and for ill and how that turning can feel.   If we all talk about the realities of life, we prepare the next generation to face what may come.

We can’t protect our kids from what may come but we can prepare them for it.

If the next generation understands more than we did, we all win.

Written by Catherine Mitchell, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist serving the Durham Region.