I'm walking along a clifftop on the edge of Jervis Bay. I love this time of year, the clear winter sky, a sharp wind, this sense of freedom. The sun is low, but still casting a glow all along the north-eastern shore, and I feel the world opening up, along with my thinking. On my walks, a recurring theme in my head is the big stuff that men tend to avoid talking about – life, the tricky bits.
My thoughts also turn to my youngest daughter who spends much of her time under these waters in her job as a scuba diving instructor. She knows the best diving spots in the bay, and the marine creatures that inhabit them. I also think about my other two daughters, both mums to my two gorgeous granddaughters and successful women in their careers. And I think about my wife, the legendary Mary B, who passed away two years ago. We loved her, and we miss her, and we are just starting to learn learn how to live without her, and how both sadness and happiness mix and mingle within us like soulmates.
David and his late wife, Mary B
Walking and thinking about my own situation, I realise how difficult it can be to accept sudden change as we age. As children and young adults, we embraced change. We expected it. We initiated it. Friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, jobs, homes, addresses, behaviours – all switched and swapped from one month to the next. Then, as we approach our later years, sudden change is unwelcome, and we cling to our dreams of a perfect post-work life – exotic travel with our life partner, family get-togethers with kids and grandkids, feeling comfortable and at home in a house we have finally finished paying off, enjoying all the entertainment and luxury we can now afford in our debt-free retirement. Add your own dreams here.
After a lifetime of work and careful money management, we think we deserve these expectations. John Lennon came up with my favourite quote: ‘Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans’, and the truth of this hits home for many of us when our dream bubbles burst.
David's three daughters and two granddaughters
Six years ago I had a successful career in publishing, a five-bedroom house in Sydney's inner west, a wife with a full-time job and finalising her doctorate, three daughters with university educations and good prospects, a holiday house on the NSW south coast, and retirement dreams shared with this exceptional woman, my wife, who had been the great love of my life for 42 years.
When Mary B got sick, I gave up permanent employment to care for her. After she died, three years later, I found myself alone in the big house that was supposed to have been our home forever. My girls had left to find their own way in the world. So I sold the house and moved into an apartment down the road. The sale and move were hard work. I could almost hear my own heartbreak as I packed up Mary B's beautiful clothes and jewellery, and all the papers she had accumulated for her unfinished doctorate.
David's holiday house, Tír na nÓg
My daughters were grieving. They needed to see strength in their father's eyes, and I had to dig deep to find it. Helpful realisations seemed to roll in from nowhere, but one recollection really nailed it for me – how as a young man I rode life like a wave, taking it as it came, including the excitement of constant change. Forty years later, age had backed me into comfort corner and I was reluctant to leave. I realised I could guide myself back into light by resurrecting and embracing my younger self's attitude to change. And letting go of everything.
David and his grandaughter playing a duet
Today, I am happy in spite of an underlying sadness which I accept and absorb as part of who I am. Much of the time I feel this fabulous sense of freedom and hope, and love of life. Is it possible, I wonder, that I reached this good place by accepting change and shedding my attachments: My expectations, dreams, plans, possessions, cravings, longings, career, a home we loved?
I count my blessings, as my mother always directed me to, and there are a lot of them. My daughters, who are full of love for me and each other. The smiles my granddaughters give me. My oldest friends, who have been rocks in difficult times. The love and kindness of my wife's family and my own sisters. This south coast house, Tír na nÓg, which is Gaelic for land of the young, with its 30 years of holiday memories, that has now become my second home and the venue for family gatherings. My guitars, and the songs and stories that seem to flow naturally from me now after lying dormant during the busy years.
As I walk home along this cliff top, back to Tír na nÓg in the fading light, a sense of liberation moves with me. Yes, I am travelling light at last, and allowing life to unfold as a fascinating mystery.
How do you deal with challenging times in your life? Let us know in the comments section below.