Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Lost Years Stimulated By Turning 50

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 6, 2012

Tea, turned 50 in December, but she is still fixated on this number. “I finally figured it out,” she tells me with great enthusiasm. “Yes,” I say, nodding that she has built up suspense. “Well, as you know, my son died twenty years ago and for me, the world just stopped. I was in a grief period, of course I still am, but I was really in another world for so many years, that turning 50 does not seem real to me. Everyone looks at me with a sense of recognition about how hard it is to turn 50, but I know that I am experiencing something that they do not connect to. I feel the loss of so many years where all I could think about was my son. That distortion, if you will, made me lose the normal tracking of time, such that I cannot latch on to my age. Sure, I have the other issues of aging, both body and brain, but that is not what is getting to me.” Tea relates this to me, as if she has solved a challenging puzzle. She is enthusiastic and not sad about her disclosure. “You know, it makes me sad to hear you talk about your son and particularly sad to hear how you feel you have so many lost years because of it. I am a bit perplexed as to why you don’t sound sad as you talk about it. At the same time, I can understand that you had an itch, which was the mystery of the meaning of turning 50, and now you have scratched it.” I say, knowing that we have discussed on numerous occasions how talking about her son is sad for both of us, but that does not mean we should not talk about him. “Yes, I do feel like I scratched an itch. That nails it. Before, I just felt so uneasy about my age, but it did not make sense to me, because normally I am not sensitive in that way. Now, it makes sense to me, so I feel better.” Tea, has done self-analysis, in a way in which she is communicating to me that the tools from our work together have helped her dig into her mind and test out hypotheses, until she lands on a concept that feels satisfying to her. “It must be so hard to ‘lose’ so many years, and have the people in your world not appreciate your feelings. I mean, I can connect with what you are saying, but it still must feel lonely.” I say, highlighting an old discussion about how Tea feels so alone in her grief. “Maybe you lost many years, but now that you have turned 50, you will be starting to appreciate time in a different way.” I say, highlighting that maybe this self-discovery will yield a deeper presence for her. “I can only  hope,” Tea says, now looking sad, but appreciative of our discussion.

6 Responses to “Lost Years Stimulated By Turning 50”

  1. Jon said

    The loss of a parent can be hard, very hard indeed, but still has the sense of a natural order. In today’s world, the loss of a child must be unspeakably more difficult, as a natural order seems to be violated. In the 19th century and before it was assumed that not all infants and children would survive; in the 20th and 21st century, the opposite assumption is made.

    Tea’s trauma seems understandably crippling. Hopefully, as seems to be happening, the bittersweet milestone of reaching half a century in her own life will help her with the sad reality of her own son’s death in the late 20th century of the current era.

    • Thanks, Jon for adding the very important historical perspective about childhood mortality. Changing the statistics of childhood mortality has changed the psychological trauma of losing a child. If Tea were one of many with the same experience, then that would be different, as you say. Thanks Again.

  2. blankpaperblackpen said

    Probably a lot of people can relate to the loss of time, be it in short or epic lengths, to pain and/or numbness. It is hard for me sometimes when I realize how much life I feel I have lost from years of childhood and adult trauma and numbness, I may never know what, in the chunks of never-to-be re-lived time, what was actually missed. Two lessons I learned out of the sensation of loss is that the depths and value of our lives are inside each of us, and that some of the greatest losses come from, I think, the loss of predictable and ideal futures. Yes, most definitely dependent, to our peril sometimes, on the lives and love of others. The loss of a child…I would imagine to involve massive loss of both an idealized future and loving connection to another. Massive loss.

    After being actualized, my painful experiences have deepened me and I’ve chosen to embrace this reality I have endured for often long periods of my life. There is loss for sure, I know it, and I can feel it. But, I have come away with something special – that part I haven’t fully figured out yet (I’m 37 and I feel like a noob to the world of depth and Others), though I see the positive effects of working through great pain and trauma; for example, I enjoy and encourage conversation in other people that some might consider to be psychologically burdensome. Both the one I am speaking to, and myself walk away feeling expansive, intrigued for more, and satisfied, not to mention the blissful state of feeling recognized and felt in another. It is so great and good that I find it is often openly remarked upon by both of us.
    I’m also an artist, and I’m waking up to the realization that I’m going to begin painting and drawing much more meaningfully and maybe even be able to contribute something to the world of value and use to others.

    Thanks for letting me ramble if not contribute. 🙂 I love the blog!

    • Hi Blankpaperblackpen,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Yes, as you say, unlike other losses, a loss of a child, has large implications for one’s fantasy life about one’s future. One usually does not imagine that your parents will be around for one’s lifetime, but as Jon says, in this century, most people fantasize about outliving their children. When this fantasy does not occur, then massive disappointment and sorrow may ensue. Good luck with your art. Thanks again.

  3. Shelly said

    I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of losing one’s child. I also know that turning 50 spurs one to consider and take stock of one’ past and where one is going. Is that what happened her? Did tea suddenly turn that magical 50 and wake up to the pain of the years that she buried the pain? If so, why is Tea sadder about the lost years than the lost child?

    • Shirah said

      I think the issue for Tea is that the wave of loss comes in different flavors, if you will. This particular wave was met with the sudden realization that so many years have gone by with the hope that her child would magically return, and of course, that did not happen. This is not a psychotic thought, as much as it is a very deeply held wish which Tea holds which helps her survive from day to day. The passage of time is a particularly fascinating issue for me as a psychotherapist. Some people look back and reflect at milestones, whereas others are not so interested in that mental activity. The interpretation of time, both for the individual and for those the individual cares about is a very interesting experience of how people look at themselves and those around them. Some, very narcissistic folks see that time passes for them, but not for others around them, so they tend not to acknowledge that time may have changed certain things in their lives. I say this in light of how time is interpreted is a window into one’s psyche. Thanks, as always.

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