50 Candles: Turning 50 and Releasing the Road Not Taken

Marking Milestones, Ritual Moments

Turning 50 - Blowing out my 50 candlesThe festive room overflowed with friends and family as I watched my eldest son carefully light each of the 50 candles that had been bound together and adorned with sparkly silver ribbon. And all I could think was, “OMG we are going to set off the smoke alarm!” And while my lacy jade green dress and I were both thankful for the Spanx that restrained my stomach, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would still be able to inhale sufficient oxygen to put out the gargantuan blaze before me.

Fifty candles generate a lot of flame.

When I turned 40, I dubbed myself “Grateful Linda.” Grateful Linda embraced the mantra “growing old is a privilege denied to many.” I have known too many people whose lives were undeservedly cut short and I realize that every candle on my birthday cake should be wholeheartedly celebrated. My Facebook page is bursting with adages advocating graceful aging.

You know the ones I’m talking about:

“Age is just a number.”

“With age comes wisdom.”

“Time is precious. Use it wisely.”

So I composed my “Before I’m 50 List” and included entries like:

    • Work out regularly. And I’m not talking sleepy-time yoga. I mean like lifting weights and stuff.
    • Explore Italy by foot.
    • Earn an MBA to prove I’m clever (and please my Dad.)

I had this getting older thing under control. Easy peasy. No problem-o. Piece of cake.

Everything was going along tickety-boo.

Then I turned 49. Suddenly, I only had one year left to do all those things I was supposed to do by 50. Within no time I was planning my birthday bash, but my “Before I’m 50 List” was still missing crucial ticks!

I needed more time. My dress would never fit. My candles were only half-lit.

I was not enough yet.

Fifty candles means that there are more years behind me than in front. Referring to myself as “middle-aged” is a tad ambitious. I am not in the middle – I have climbed the mighty mountain and am well into the swift descent. I am only five years away from those iconic golden arches offering me a senior’s discount.

This realization spurred a downward spiral towards the dreary place I vowed never to visit. I became that person. You know, the person who grumbles about creaky knees and hips. And wrinkles. The person who whines because she can’t find one of her twenty-three pairs of dollar store readers that inhabit every room of the house. And let’s not even talk about hot flashes and belly fat.

I began to complain about the very gift that too many people are denied: growing old.

Who was this person and where did Grateful Linda go?

So now I was feeling old and shallow and guilty. While chatting with a girlfriend one day, I confessed my feelings and referenced my incomplete to-do list. “But Linda,” she said, ”think about the things you did do that were never even on that list.”

So I thought.

Instead of looking at what those 50 candles didn’t represent, I had to look at what they did. I decided to make a different kind of list. While I might not have accomplished all that I thought I wanted to, the unexpected paths that distracted me turned out to be the most inspiring and fulfilling walks of my life.

Grocery bags may have been the only weights I lifted, but I did overhaul my diet and now eat only whole-ish foods (red wine is a whole food, right?) and feel better than I have in years.

I may not have toured Italy, but I did share a breathlessly exciting moment with my husband as we leaped off a mountain together in Switzerland.

No fancy MBA degree graces my office wall, but I did discover my authentic calling. And it cracked open my soul and gifted me with the creative life I’ve always dreamt of. (Bonus: My Dad is still proud.)

So there I stood, face-to-face with the intense heat of 50 flaming candles, surrounded by the people who decorate my life belting out the world-famous birthday song. And it dawned on me: I am enough already.

I smiled and inhaled as deeply as my compression garment would allow and, with one mighty puff, I extinguished the blazing inferno.

The road behind me brought me to this very moment and while the unknown road ahead is still scary, I trust it will lead me well.

Grateful Linda is back.

* * * * *

Linda Stuart is a Life-Cycle Celebrant / Ceremony Officiant located in Toronto, Ontario.

Iain, Lighting my 50 Candles

My eldest son, Iain, lighting my 50 candles


Turning 50 - 50 Candles Extinguished



  1. Ethel

    Linda, you have always been enough and more!

  2. Holly

    Tears! But introspective ones. Thank you for sharing your journey as we all likely share similar stories! Much love ?.

  3. vonna

    Linda you look beautiful at your bday party. Who cares how old you are, you will always be fabulous. You are my favourite modern writer. Your way with words is wonderful. Much love, Vonna

  4. Lorraine Hull

    Congratulations on celebrating your journey & belated happy birthday from Liverpool, UK…



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