“Grace and Frankie”: Helping Me Cope with Those Moments of Life-Shifting Change

I’m leaving a space I love, a space that feels so ‘right’ for me. It feels like I’m losing my identity.

I am watching the new show Grace and Frankie on Netflix, a story of two 70-something women whose lives suddenly take a dramatic and completely unexpected turn. The series has been hailed as groundbreaking, especially since there are so few portrayals of what it’s like to get older in a society where we are living — and loving — longer. The characters’ pain is significant and I don’t want to belittle it, but I’m a little tied up having my own non-fictional crisis right now.

You see, I’m someone at a point in my life not so different as the characters portrayed by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. And I’ve had a lot of big decisions to make recently.

I decided to sell my house; it’s way too big for one person and I have a larger mortgage payment than I want for this stage of my life. I made the decision in February to put my house on the market. Weighing the pros and cons it made sense to find a small place to live-financially, logistically and ideologically.

This seemed like a brilliant idea at the time; but now that the house is under contract I’m awash in regrets and self-doubt. How can I let go of my home and the family memories? Why am I still single? How will my possessions fit in a smaller house? (My current house is a little over 3000 square feet). Where will I live? Can I handle apartment life?

I’m finding it difficult not to wallow in my own personal drama without considering the pain others are experiencing, like those who are living the real life version of Grace and Frankie.

Everything was going smoothly and then I got emotional as I faced all the letting-go this requires. Leaving my home of sixteen years, the childhood home of my deceased husband. Leaving a space I love and that feels so ‘right’ for me. It feels like I’m losing my identity—I can’t really see myself anyplace else—at least not on the budget I’ve set for this next phase of life.

“It’s brutal to wake up one day and discover your life has been turned upside down. To wonder what to do next and how to cope with this new thing, this life that’s suddenly not what it was the day before.”

These are feelings I hadn’t really expected, so I’m having problems processing them.

Feeling pretty sorry for myself, I “ran away” to the beach to try to forget that strangers were traipsing through my house—the house that had been part of my life since 1975. That’s when I discovered Grace and Frankie. The story is about two women, Grace played by Jane Fonda and Frankie played by Lily Tomlin, whose husbands disclose in the opening scene that they’ve fallen in love with each other and plan to get married. Grace and Frankie are 70-something women whose husbands, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, have shattered their neatly packaged lives. All of a sudden, my self-absorption seemed trivial in comparison to what these characters were going through — a situation that I’m sure a fair number of real life couples are living through, as well.

It’s brutal to wake up one day and discover your life has been turned upside down. To wonder what to do next and how to cope with this new thing, this life that’s suddenly not what it was the day before. I experienced that with my husband’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at age 41 and again when I realized I wanted a divorce. And that’s where Grace and Frankie are as the story starts. How do you move forward when things are falling apart? Admittedly my life isn’t falling apart, but I am suffering an identity crisis of sorts—leaving the home that has become integral to my view of myself.

Grace and Frankie are trying to put together new lives. Frankie loved her husband—she’s devastated by the loss of her best friend. Grace admits that she didn’t really have much of a marriage and initially she seems more concerned about image and status than her husband’s betrayal. The two women, as different as they are, find themselves living together in the families’ jointly owned beach house. It’s tough going initially as they struggle to find their way as single women, coping with aging and all the other parts of life that come unhinged with divorce.

As I make my way through the show, as well as my own life changes, I am reminded that our identities are not defined by the size of our house, the status of our partner’s business, or whether we even have a partner. In the midst of a significant crisis we can count on our own resilience and our core strengths. I have navigated plenty of crises in my life and survived. It isn’t really a question of surviving. As Grace and Frankie realize, you put one foot ahead of the other and you get on with life. So, why does my selling of a mere house feel so significant? Does it have to do with my age? Is it the feeling that life, once again, has not turned out the way I imagined? I think that’s where we get all tripped up. We have this idea of how our life is supposed to turn out.

Surely our identities are not based on the superficial bits and pieces of life? Each new opportunity can be just that—an opportunity to discover something new about ourselves and the world around us. Grace and Frankie don’t really like each other. Grace is a social climber, uptight and snobbish. Frankie is a hippie, replete with bells and incense and moments of spontaneous interpretive dance. The tension is palpable. As the series progresses they come to appreciate one another, finding commonality in issues around aging, dating and more. More importantly they come to see themselves as women who have lots left to offer the world.

I’m only sixty, that’s not terribly old. I’m selling a house not suffering a major life crisis. Small potatoes compared to what women around me face every day. I can almost hear Frankie telling me to snap out of it.

Walker Thornton is a writer, sex educator and public speaker, with a Masters in Educational Psychology and over 10 years experience in the field of sexual violence against women. She is a strong advocate for midlife women’s sexuality, encouraging women to ‘step into their desire’. Kinkly.com ranked her blog, WalkerThornton.com, #5 in their top 100 Sex Blogging Superheroes of 2014. Walker is the Sexual Health columnist for Midlife Boulevard and writes about sex and the older adult for Kinkly.com and Boomeon. You can connect with her on her website www.walkerthornton.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

  • Great post, I had never seen let alone heard about this show – thanks for sharing #WomenofMidlife

    • Antionette-the show has an interesting perspective on aging, friendship… I enjoyed it. 13 episodes, all about 30 minutes in length.

  • Wonderful post, Walker! I am right there with you.

    • Mindy–change! It’s always a bit uncomfortable, isn’t it. I’m finding that being open to new experiences is exciting as long as one remembers to embrace all aspects-even the unknowing.

  • Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com

    Hi Walker! I think one thing I’ve learned is that we all need to be compassionate and gentle with each other, and especially ourselves, when facing so much change and turmoil. What might look like a piece of cake to someone else, might be horrendous to another. We really can’t know. What we can do is to remember to be encouraging no matter what and to remind each other that “this too shall pass.” Probably one of the best things we can do is to find the humor in the situation, learn from it and go on. I haven’t yet watched Frankie and Grace but I’ve heard good things about it. It sounds like something we can all appreciate. ~Kathy

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