As far as birthdays go, I had dreaded strange milestones—16 and 20 stand out in my mind—but never 40.
Forty is the milestone people (stereo)typically dread, or at least teasingly celebrate as being “over the hill.” Old.
But not me. I didn’t feel old. There is plenty of life left in me. So no need to dread 40 or feel any older than 30.
Whenever I think of “40,” my brain automatically flashes back to the age of 15, when I was volunteering at the local library. One of the librarians—whose teen daughter was in horse 4-H with me—jokingly complained about turning 40. “Now I’m over the hill,” she had said. When I think of 40, this moment comes to mind, this woman somehow etched into my memory as the epitome of 40. I remember standing across the desk from her at the library check-out and hearing her say those words. I remember her ruddy face, her voice, her short, salt-and-peppered brown hair. At the time I guess she seemed old to me, or at least “over the hill.” Past her prime.
Growing older changes your perspective on age. In the past few years, 40 no longer seemed so old. My husband and friends were already 40. Just part of life–you move on and keep on living.
Except the librarian from my youth had a teenager. My friends in their 40s have teenagers. But I just lost my second baby.
I had experienced prenatal care twice in my “advanced maternal age” but was excited to finally have a baby right before my 40th birthday. Like I was somehow beating time, or barely meeting a deadline I thought I would miss. Today I am 40…and still trying to dry up my milk that isn’t needed. At 40, I’m procrastinating packing up and giving away my maternity clothes because it hurts to acknowledge the end to that chapter of my life. A chapter that never came to a satisfactory close.
I’m 40, yet still have no living children who share my last name. Because children born from my body are cold in the ground, and children who entered our home through foster care have gone back to family members. The one with us now is still not legally ours.
My sister sent me lovely words for my birthday: “Welcome to this decade, full of beauty, wisdom and grace as you are.” But I don’t feel that way today. Just broken and full of tears. I had never been dreading 40, but suddenly, today, all I can see is what I’ve lost, not what I have or what’s ahead.
Kind words sometimes touch a nerve and unleash tears. Sometimes comfort releases expressions of grief because it presents a stark contrast between what is and what is not, what you have and what you lost. Encouraging words can feel like a lie in the face of what you are feeling.
But it’s all good. Kind words are still cherished. They still speak to the soul even when the heart or brain can’t accept them in the moment. Someday I will again rejoice in hope.
This year of 40 will be good. I just have to get past today, grieve my piece, shed my tears, then pack it up and smile when the sun comes out again. Forty can be “full of beauty, wisdom and grace,” because I serve a God who redeems our brokenness, who turns mourning into dancing, and who brings beauty from ashes.
May it be so.