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Finding Your Courage in Midlife

I saw an old hometown friend Saturday at a breakfast place.   She was up for a baseball game with her husband.

“You know, I’ve had cancer.  But I’m fine.  This is my real hair finally“.

She has always had a gorgeous smile, which she flashed at me again.


I hadn’t heard a word about it.  Told her how sorry I was.   She told me my family there in my hometown had been very kind, which didn’t surprise me a bit.

We said our goodbyes and left.

I’ve been thinking about her a lot.

I hear every day how one word, one event changes someone’s life.  Changes someone’s perspective.  Whether that event is cancer or tornado or rape or affair.  Maybe even death itself.

I would have loved to have sat down and talked to her about how she had changed.  About how her perspective on life had been transformed by having cancer.

What I see is that people have to rebuild a wall of certainty around themselves.  Brick by brick.  They have to come to believe that they can feel safe again, whether it’s from illness or nature or from the actions of others.  They have to trust again.  Slowly.  Sometimes very slowly.  While just having gone through one of life’s terrifically real experiences of feeling totally out of control.

I had a female patient come into my office one time.  Mid-40’s.  Was telling me all about her really great life.  Great job, great marriage, great kids.  No problems.  Puzzled, I asked her, “So, I am little confused. Why you are here?”.

Her eyes filled with tears.

I have never had to grieve anything – and I am terrified of living the rest of my life“.

Being in midlife innately predicts loss.  If things go “normally”, whatever that means.  We will eventually lose our parents.  We may lose our partners or get sick ourselves.  Children leave.  We may stop working at jobs that have been meant a great deal or just have been a familiar structure.  We will watch siblings and friends go through the same.

That’s why perspective is so important.  The patient above had actually handled more loss than she had given herself credit for – which we worked on.  She just had to be reminded of that.

She needed to find her courage.

“Courage is managing fear to accomplish what you want to accomplish”.  That’s what Rudy Giuiliani said after 9/11.   I don’t remember quotes very well but for some reason that one has stuck with me.

Courage not being the lack of fear but the management of it.  Being afraid and still getting on with life.

It takes a lot of that in midlife.  Managing fear.  Managing ambiguity.

Managing not knowing what’s going to happen.

Maybe my friend found her courage.  She is still smiling that gorgeous smile.  Her hair is back.  She’s watching baseball.  She’s alive.

The good news seems to be that you can find it.  Whether that’s through faith in a higher Being or some other way.

We can all go on.  Accomplishing what we need and want to accomplish.


If you would like to comment privately on this post or have a question that you would like answered, please e-mail me at[email protected].  These emails will only be read by me and will remain completely confidential, unless specified by you otherwise.   I would love to hear from you! I will answer the questions and comments in an upcoming post!

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Dr. Margaret Rutherford has been in practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas for over 20 years. She began blogging in 2012 with the website “NestAche”, and following with in April 2014. Her work can be found here on Midlife Boulevard, as well as the Huffington Post, Boomeon, WeWantMore, BetterAfter50 and Arkansas Women Bloggers.

[email protected]

Tuesday 28th of July 2015

So sorry for your loss Margaret.

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Wednesday 29th of July 2015

Thank you Nancy. There are others who saw Adair day in and day out and loved her deeply. Please keep those folks in your heart.

Carol Cassara

Tuesday 28th of July 2015

Ah, sorry to hear of her passing but rest assured she is on the journey of a lifetime!

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Wednesday 29th of July 2015

Thank you Carol so much.

Lori Cipot

Wednesday 26th of March 2014

Thank you for a great article. I have found my courage to make a big change in my life and move from a small town in CT where I have lived for most of life. I will be moving to Charlotte, NC after Easter. I have met a few people and found an apartment. I will find a job when I get settled. At 52, with a daughter in college, I feel the need to start over and begin a new chapter in my life. I have many people who tell me how brave I am to make this drastic change. I just know I am so excited about the journey before me. The world is open to me and I intend to experience it!!

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Wednesday 26th of March 2014

Lori there is certainly a lot of ambiguity about moving to an entirely new place - and in midlife as well. Congrats to you! You mention a "need to start over" which may suggest you have been through something very difficult yourself. So brava on finding that courage!

Claudia Schmidt

Wednesday 26th of March 2014

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and after 18 months of treatment and surgeries, I'm now living out my life in a weird limbo of uncertainty so your post resonated with me. I usually feel 100% optimistic about any future concerns of recurrence, but every now and then, the doubt creeps in. For me, it helps motivate me to take advantage of what I have NOW and do what I can NOW which for me, means spending as much time with my kids, family and friends as possible. Ambiguity is an interesting thing for me, and I suspect something I'll live with for the rest of my life since I'll never know if it will come back, so need to just power forward or else I will become paralyzed with fear.

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Wednesday 26th of March 2014

What your comment makes me think of Claudia is that all of us, to a certain extent, never know what today will bring. But when you have gone through what you and many others have, that reality is so much closer. So much more vivid. That's what I have learned as I have watched patients sort through what remains of their lives after some disaster or trauma and put it back together. Knowing what they know now - and going on. Thank you so much for opening up and commenting. I wish you the very best.

Cathy Chester

Wednesday 26th of March 2014

I've lived with a lot of cancer in my life over the last year and a half. Finding courage through adversity is difficult but necessary, and as we get older we'll need courage even more.

You are so right on every point, Margaret. This is one issue that I think about a lot because I work with people in my community every day, as well as helping myself and my family.

I am so glad you wrote this post. Thank you.

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Wednesday 26th of March 2014

Cathy I am sorry to hear that you another illness in your life. Another reason to find courage. I guess we are in a similar business of listening - and trying to help. That part is an honor. You of course live it every day as well. You are more than welcome.

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