Grief and The 2 Halves of Life

As Father Richard Rohr says in his book “Falling Upward”:

“Challenges and disruptions invite us to move from what I call the first half of life to the second half…Most of us tend to think about the second half of life in terms of getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of our physical life. But the transition can happen at any age. Moving to the second half of life is an experience of falling upward and onward, into a broader and deeper world, where the soul has found its fullness and we are consciously connected to the whole.”

The first half of our life we are focused on the development and enhancement of ambitions, plans, competitiveness, judgments about others, looking after oneself, one’s career, one’s family.

The second half seems to be about undoing much of what has been accomplished in the first half in order to get at a deeper heart of human life.

This undoing? It’s also known as loss. And loss means we grieve.

Most writers on this topic suggest you can’t complete the tasks of the second half of life with the skills, talents and thought processes you used successfully in the first half of life. In other words, what got you to where you’re at won’t help you continue on a path of growth. The skills you developed were wonderful and useful and necessary, and now they are not. Now a new version of you needs to come forth in order to become the best you.

To further understand this, I found a metaphor used in the Japanese culture when a soldier is decommissioned.  It’s called “discharging our loyal soldier.” In Japan, when a soldier is decommissioned, he is invited to close one phase of his life by thanking the skills and mindset he needed as a soldier and discharging it.

In our lives, our “loyal soldier” has helped us survive and get through the first half of life, but will be a hindrance in the second half of life. And here’s the kicker:

when we first discharge our “loyal soldier,” it will feel like a loss. A loss of faith. A loss of identity and self. Yet this is only the death of our “false self” and actually the birth of our soul.

As a woman who seeks control in all aspects of my life (it’s a challenge, maybe my greatest one, I’m working on it…continually it seems) I am always trying to engineer or plan my own future, my own “enlightenment.” Yet this isn’t possible!  If I try to control my own enlightenment, I am doomed to fail, because it will be driven by my ego (Eckhart Tolle has some GREAT writing on ego).

By trying to engineer our own enlightenment, our own “second half of life,” we will see only what we have already decided to look for, and we cannot see what we are not ready or told to look for.

An extremely large and necessary part of moving into the second half of life is failure and even humiliation. Both of these things we try to avoid at all costs, yet they force us to look where we never would otherwise.


One of my favorite writers, Shauna Niequist, writes about the two halves of life as follows:

“Richard Rohr says the skills that take you through the first half of your life are entirely unhelpful for the second half. To press the point a little bit: those skills I developed that supposedly served me well for the first half, as I inspect them a little more closely, didn’t actually serve me at all. They made me responsible and capable and really, really tired. They made me productive and practical, and inch by inch, year by year, they moved me further and further from the warm, whimsical person I used to be . . . and I missed her”

I am going through the transition from the 1st half of my life to the 2nd now. It’s not tied to my age, it’s tied to my spiritual progression and growth. I have experienced a loss of myself, the self that has served me incredibly well up until this point. And now? Not only am I unable to physically continue in the way I always have going forward, but I have moved away from the fun and joyful person I used to be. And much like Shauna…I miss her.

So it is time to discharge and lay down the skills and mindsets that have carried me this far. It is time to say thank you to my loyal soldier. It is time to unlearn my habits and thoughts and reform my soul. I am through some of the roughest and darkest parts of this process…at least I hope I am. And now I look forward to loving what I have, to being more creative and less anxious. To embracing calm and stillness and simplicity. To falling upward.

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