Between a Rock & a Hard Place

It’s June! In the northern hemisphere, that means it’s finally summer pretty much everywhere, even in the Pacific Northwest. Well, some days at least. June is a big month in my family. I will be 72 this week, on the summer solstice. It’s also the birth anniversary month of my mother, my son, one of my grandsons, and my sister. My birthday is sandwiched between Father’s Day and my father’s death anniversary. It will always be between a rock and a hard place, a celebration accompanied by grief.

I wasn’t present for my father’s death, it came suddenly, with no time for goodbye. I lived far away, and we were emotionally distanced too. My mother’s death was a different story, as you know. There were years of anticipatory grief, of living with a long ending. I was as present as it is possible to be. Back then, I often wished I were less present. Now, I’m glad I was here.

A friend is accompanying both of her parents on the long journey. Recently her mother had a crisis that landed her in the hospital—on a holiday weekend, of course. You want your parent not to suffer; you want them not to die. You’re grateful to be with them; you’re resentful. You want them to live forever; you want your life back. All legitimate emotions; the very definition of between a rock and a hard place.

Aging is the same. I love being seventy: the freedom to do what (and when) I want to do; and the option to simply be, to sit in the chair in the corner window and read and nap all afternoon if I want to. Lately a squirrel, eternally hopeful to be able to jump from the deck rail to the bird feeder hanging from the overhang, has taken to sitting on the window ledge and—from a foot away, through the glass—looking me in the eye, begging for access. I look back into its big brown eyes, and say, “sorry, no.” (I wonder if I should put out a squirrel and chipmunk feeder.) To live and be in these moments is a gift. It’s not only having time to do so, but having the will not to tell yourself you should be doing . . . something, there’s a long list. It takes practice.

I’m grateful for the freedom, and the energy and good health (I know I’m lucky in that) to hike in the mountains and drive to the beach; and I did both a couple weeks ago—ahead of what turned out to be two days of jury duty, my first. And, I’m slower, my body aches sometimes. I wonder if every pain is a forever one. I’ve been treating myself to a monthly therapeutic massage; surely at 72, I have earned that treat, and my body thanks me for it. Sometimes I notice my brain is slower to kick in, and I forget little things more often. My hearing aids need an adjustment. I wonder when the cataracts will show up—not if, when. Is joint replacement in my future? But I’m not borrowing those troubles right now.

Another friend, closing in on seventy, is approaching the milestone with dread. One thing she noted in a recent blog post is that the grandchildren who have been such a blessing, and for whom she moved to a new state, are older now, and have less interest in the “old people.” I get that! Mine are so busy, they never visit. (Fortunately, I can still drive the two hours to visit half of them.) They no longer want to come to Camp Gigi. The younger one has apparently outgrown the “pretend stories” he used to ask me to do with him as soon as I walked in their door. I assured my friend, and myself, it’s not about our age, it’s about theirs. But we thought we had it all figured out, this grandchild immersion, and now we have to pivot again, find new interests, new joys, new ways to spend our time.

Remember that movie, Sliding Doors, how one’s life might be different if an alternate decision had been made at some point in the past? Or maybe it wasn’t even a decision you had control of. Had a particular event in my past happened differently—had I missed, or not missed, the metaphoric subway—my entire present would be radically other. I love my life and wouldn’t want it any other way. And, sometimes, I keenly feel the loss of what might have been.

[*Spoiler alert* If you haven’t seen, or don’t remember, Sliding Doors, in the end Gwyneth Paltrow dies in the alternate universe story, the one that seems like the better life. Things eventually turn out really well in the real scenario; plus, she lives. So, you just never know.]

Maybe we’re always between a rock and a hard place. If we are lucky, we learn to fully occupy the space we are given; maybe stretching it out to its fullest capacity, maybe being content just as it is.

You probably recall the rock climber whose arm got stuck between a rock and a hard place, who saved himself by leaving his arm behind. His name is Aron Ralston, and he offers this:


May your boulders be your blessings. May you be able to embrace them.
And may you find what’s extraordinary in yourself.


What might you need to leave behind in order to live your life more fully? Or add? Where do you feel stuck? Leave a comment below, and/or journal about it.

🌿  🌿  🌿

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Bonnie Rae

Joy and grief are constant companions. Inseparable it seems and I don’t know that we can have one without the other. I wouldn’t have it (or want it) any other way. Anything that settles like a rock in my stomach or puts my tummy in a twist or leaves me longing or pining, are all good things. It’s like the tiny atoms that keep the heart alive and responsive. A little bit of lightening in the storm. I know well this place you speak of between a rock and a hard place. I like to think that there is room for all of it. With you in spirit as you remember your Daddy and celebrate summer with a birthday. You are weaving a beautiful tapestry of your life, with gratitude in every thread. So glad for the time you make for me as I travel my own road. Happy Birthday with love ❤️

Susan Johnson

Happy Birthday, Gretchen! I love this post and have been pondering it all morning. It was you who taught me “Your now is not your forever.” And, as you know, I leaped out of my miserable place as quickly as I could. At almost 76, I moved myself to another city. Interestingly, I find some of the same things that made me miserable where I was are still with me. Hello! And the voice inside me, as I file my nails, says, “Beware of the Jabberwocky.” Perhaps we create some of the hard places for ourselves. We set our expectations too high, we are (or become more) fearful, we care too much about how people treat us, we doubt our ability to tackle challenges in areas about which we have no knowledge, experience or natural talent, we find ourselves channeling our Mothers in ways we vowed we NEVER would. We MAKE our miserable now our miserable forever. Taking honest stock of oneself is so valuable. Waging constant war against negative self-talk and celebrating positive achievements is vital to happy aging. Having a friend or friends to share the journey with is the greatest gift. Thank you for being there for all of us, Gretchen!

Lynet Uttal

Third Act? Sounds interesting! Say more, please.

Last edited 1 month ago by Lynet Uttal

Once again, your words sorted out strong feelings in a way that I could acknowledge. Sometimes it seems life is truly a never ending roller coaster of events, anniversaries, body memories and then, the quiet times finally come for a moment. I have recently returned home after years of being a fly-in grandmother and staying for months on end in a big house with three children and three dogs felt very much as if the past and now were melting together! My red-haired grandson is the image of his father and uncle and sometimes it seems time goes sideways. I don’t remember being so tired when our boys were the same age! My twin granddaughters entered their tweens as I was there and they put me into touch with my own “girly-ness) as we navigate learning to shave under arms ( quite an experience) to helping pick out outfits for slumber parties and yes, funerals. Life is such a mosaic of experiences and emotions.

Take care,

Nancy friedland

So many rocks, so many hard places, and yet we navigate through the canyons again and again. Thanks for shining a light on it all for the rest of us.


I am going to have to leave behind my only living sibling, who has treated me with considerable hostility since the death of our mother in March (I was her primary caretaker; he is the primary trustee). I will soon be leaving my home town and my home state forever. I will start with a bout of travel while the family home is on the market and then I will fetch up in Washington to begin my new life.

Lynet Uttal

I also have two angry sisters after my mom died. I don’t know why but it saddens me everyday.

I had tried to avoid this, but my mom’s death triggered something. I worry about them but they don’t want anything to do with me for now. I am too full of my own grief and being discombobulated to address it right now.

Is there a support group for this?


I live in Kensington, CA just north of Berkeley in a beautiful 1926 house with a bay view. I’ve been lucky to live here much of my life and have loved it here from using the Berkeley library to swimming at the Berkeley Marina to shopping at the local farmers markets. But who can afford to buy a house in California? Not me. I’ll be moving to Port Angeles after the Kensington house sells.


It’s a beautiful area and I’m in love with Lake Crescent.

Lynet Uttal

Another wonderful post that spoke to me, especially the comment about how growing grandchildren are less adoring. They are becoming independent and don’t need to show me everything. I am enjoying every moment of it.

Happy birthday!!
Thank you!

Sonja Svenson

Your thoughts echo mine from several months back. Life is all about choices; more emotional maturity would have helped me make better choices when I was much younger. As I live with the choices made so long ago, I try very hard to not linger on regrets. What I have learned at 72, even strong, independent women sometimes need solace…and accept it when offered.