to the November 2008 issue of the Elderwoman Newsletter
- an e-zine for
21st century elderwomen committed to radical aliveness.
FROM THE DESK
||Well, this newsletter is being sent out a bit
than usual this year. That’s because Sky and I were away on vacation
end of last week and I haven’t properly come down to earth yet. The
vacations is all the email that piles up in one’s absence like
against a wall.
that I don’t enjoy email – it is the
lifeblood of my communication networks – but when it piles up like that
it a bit daunting.
summer in England
was a washout this year – both literally and figuratively – so it was
to be able to escape to the Mediterranean
a few weeks and soak up some longed-for sunshine. Those of you who are
of the Elderwomanspace Network or who read my blog may
have already seen the
report I posted online, with pictures, about our October vacation in
But for those of you who aren’t, if you are interested, here’s
the link to it.
speaking of Elderwomanspace, our very
own social network has its first birthday this month. If you haven’t
yet you are missing something truly wonderful. We have 275 members now
site is permanently buzzing with activity. If you have lost your
just let me know and I will send you another.
Tyler kicks off this issue with her
poignant story, ‘No Tears’, (illustrated with her own, beautiful
photographs) followed by some words of wisdom from that
Californian wisewoman, Berta Parrish.
is a somewhat smaller issue than last
time, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.
by Elle Tyler
the doctor told my mother that she had two to three weeks to live, it
breath away and my eyes involuntarily filled up with tears. After the doctor left the
room to gather the
latest test results, I turned to my mother.
She looked up at me and, with her old familiar
voice of a drill
sergeant, barked, “NO TEARS!” Even
the face of her ultimate departure, I was not allowed to cry.
had never seen my mother cry. She
had been through multiple surgeries in
her life: a hysterectomy, gallbladder removal, hernia and parathyroid
operations, and ultimately, a double mastectomy.
She had nursed my father through a life
threatening heart attack and my brother through infectious hepatitis,
trying to help me deal with the loss of my unborn child. She had never cried; never
shed a tear. Never
wallowed in fear or dread or
least, I never saw any
display of emotion. Was
the 5PM scotch
an attempt to cover, conceal or protect her heart?
She would say, “No, it was social,” that she
liked the taste; never that it might have dulled the pain or taken the
the fear. She was a
bigger than life.
||But now, here she sat
in a wheelchair.
A decision had to be made.
They could offer an experimental drug
treatment; forty volunteers so far, pages of devastating side effects
chance for remission…to live for a little longer…a day.., a month,.. a year…it
was anybody’s guess… there were no
she took the
missing a beat, she
signed on, and I wheeled her up to her room where she put on the
and settled in for eight weeks of chemotherapy and every other medical
procedure: tests to examine her lungs and colon and blood and urine and
and kidneys and liver and bladder.
Specialists were called in to interpret her
blurry vision, scratchy
throat and mouth full of sores. Day
after day, an array of doctors and nurses, physical therapists and
all kinds of teams of specialists, surrounded her and tried to put the
of her medical puzzle together.
I would sit in a chair
by her side watching
her sleep. Observing
her breath, always
labored, I scanned her body full of bruises and sores.
She was no longer bigger than life. She was so tiny lying in
was I yearning for in these last
days? I know I
longed for something
cathartic and meaningful, something to bring us closer.
In between her naps we would reminisce, and
sometimes in the silence, I would watch her eyes appear to glaze over. At those moments I waited,
something profound or nostalgic…a memory or a question.
I would reach for her hand and sit patiently
until the words formulated in her mind.
And then she would look into my eyes, and with
complete focus and
concentration she would ask me, “What happened to your highlights?’ or
did you get a stomach?” or some other external observation. It would always take me by
surprise that she
could be in such a weakened state and still notice and comment on a
imperfection…usually one I hadn’t even begun to obsess about yet. At these moments I had to
laugh. I couldn’t
be defensive anymore. I
had to accept that the level of our
communication might never be what I had longed for.
But, day after day, I came in hoping to
transcend our limitations. I
mother who would let me cry and even cry with me, a mother who would
respect and appreciate me.
|There were moments
when I got a glimpse of
what that felt like. Before
hospitalized she had allowed me to direct her into my world of holistic
accompanied me to my
Chinese doctor, who prescribed special herbs to bolster her immune
system. She then
came to meet a cancer specialist who
prescribed countless supplements along with a meditation tape with
on visualization. She
did it all. She
followed my lead. I
would like to believe these treatments gave
her the extra time that she had. I
never know, but it was during these times that I felt validated. Sometimes I reflected on
how far we had come
in our acceptance and appreciation of each other.
Yes, it had happened late in our
relationship, but that was better than not at all.
The days started to
blend into each
other. The hospital
corridors were all
I would feel the energy
drain from me as I made my way down the long dark hallway… always
what I would see when I opened the door.
Would she be sitting up, alert and eager
my visit or lying down
attached to the oxygen mask and IV tubes?
My heartbeat always quickened as I
room. And yes, it’s
a new day and my mother is
alive…her will to live still stronger than any stray leukemia cells
ambush her body.
mother had made a
choice. She was not
ready to leave my father. They
both knew it was not suppose to end this
way. Quite frankly,
she felt he would be
lost without her. My
reinvented himself three times during their marriage: from a college
to a wholesale liquor distributor and now, at 87, completing 41 years
investment counselor at Smith Barney.
loved to work. And
she loved taking care
of him, all the little details, from having food on the table, to
doctors appointments and filling his prescriptions.
She had total control over their social
calendar and packed his bag when they traveled.
My father had never toasted a bagel or
scrambled an egg. How
could he survive without her? And
so, she decided to endure anything and
everything that the doctors prescribed.
Never questioning…complete trust in
brothers flew in. We
sat around her bed and
she delegated. She
didn’t want the top of the line when we
bought the casket…but still something special.
My brother said, “You mean you don’t want the
Mercedes, you want the
Lexus?” She said, “Exactly.” We
about her obituary and funeral service and precious belongings that she
us to share. Even
in what appeared to be
her last days, my mother was completely lucid and in total control. When she
finished talking, she asked us to
go down the street and buy her a chocolate milkshake.
She needed to close her eyes and rest. We never spoke of those
The days and weeks
passed slowly. The
diagnosis and treatment were constantly
changing, fear and sadness turning to optimism and hope. Days filled with the
unknown…no answers to an
endless array of questions.
Like my mother, I too,
had made a
choice...to be there with her. It
easy to put a halt on other activities.
This was my priority.
I was going
on this journey with her. She
to have me by her side, day and night, giving her my warmth,
understanding and love. She
would have, at her death, what I couldn’t
claim at my birth. As
I rubbed my
mothers parched and callous feet, the intimacy of touch seemed
unfamiliar. Had she
ever wrapped her
arms around me or cradled me close to her heart?
It didn’t matter now.
I knew my mother loved me and that she did
the best that she knew how. At
moment, all our misunderstandings were forgiven.
I was able to see my mother as separate from
myself, and all my longing to be understood and validated dissipated. My mother was going to die
questioning her life. She
knowing she had done her best, and I would know that too.
say we choose our
parents…that we each
fulfill some karmic lesson for each other.
My mother was a pillar of strength.
Through her actions she taught me to be strong
and think positive. I
learned the importance of loyalty and to
always come through in a crisis. My
mother had an immense joy of giving and never stopped sharing. Strength, Generosity,
Loyalty and Love: These
parts of her live on in me . . . and
(aka Ellen Whyte) is an actress, drama
therapist and photographer. She
facilitated writing groups for seniors in New York City
through JASA, DOROT and Creative
Alternatives. Contact: premasun(at)aol.com
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Become What We Say
by Berta Parrish
“Watch your language!”
We may have
heard those words as youngsters or we may have spoken them as parents
realize that what children
say is important to their mood, attitude, self-esteem, and ultimately,
success. But what
about us? How do
our verbal expressions affect the way
we growing older?
the last three months, I have
been carefully listening to my 60- or 70-something friends, especially
unguarded conversations. Without
friends’ knowledge, much less their conscious intention, they are
themselves by the following statements.
“I’m too old to learn (Spanish, the piano, etc.).”
the latest neuroscience
research proves that brain cells grow throughout the lifespan. Even faster if we
challenge ourselves with
something novel, complicated, and physical, such as dance steps or
surprising plasticity of the brain
supports that old dogs can, indeed, learn new tricks.
Due to years of reflected experience, more
related facts, and multiple perspectives, we actually comprehend and
ideas quicker than younger people.
taking the risks of learning something new and exciting, we extend our
boundaries and continue the adventure of life.
hate my (neck, hands, wrinkles, thighs,
the title of a book that
is supposed to be funny, this sentiment, with its implied self-hate,
any acceptance of our changing bodies and faces.
Sure, I’m not as slim, curvy, smooth, or
moist as I used to be; nevertheless, my body deserves to hear words of
has served me well
these many years and should not be victimized by the cultural bias. If life-affirming words
such as love, gratitude, and beautiful can affect the formation of
ice crystals, imagine what they can do to our bodies which are 70%
and gravity are natural; let’s honor the process – body and soul.
“I have to (take my medicine, exercise, meditate,
like have to, should, ought, and must
are heavy words, full of guilt, blame, and shame. We rarely follow
using such words because we feel obligated to do something rather than
contrast, words of choice,
such as prefer, choose to, and want, energize us.
Instead of meditating because I should,
I meditate because I want to. I prefer to exercise this morning rather
than skip it. This
subtle shift changes our entire attitude
about committing the time and energy to any practice or habit, thereby,
insuring that we will actually do
“I can’t remember (her
word, etc.). Another darn senior moment.”
slang phrase reflects the
current ageist stereotype that associates growing older with deficiency
memory loss. It’s
true. The neural
traces in our brain are
created and strengthened through repetition.
Therefore, the adage “use it or lose it” is
more accurate. In
most of our “senior moments,” we trying to
retrieve information that we have not used recently; we blame our
when, in fact, the blame lies in a weakened neural trace, because we
accessed the information in just this way in a long time. I have replaced this
with “I can remember anything that I want
to remember.” which affirms the act of remembering – another, but
“Look where you’re
old hag (or old fart)!”
older person driving too slowly
or too cautiously is our future self.
she is an old hag now, we will become one later.
If we are tolerant and compassionate towards
her now, we’ll react the same way towards ourselves later. The reason that we
consider her an “old hag”
is that she is catching our projections (unowned and denied fears) of
slow, feeble minded, and useless.
try to see her courage, beauty, and determination, then we are allowing
ourselves to grow into those positive traits instead of the negative
Illusions: The Adventures of a
Reluctant Messiah, my favorite
philosopher Richard Bach wrote, “Argue for your limitations and sure
they’re yours.” This
is true for anyone,
at any time, at any age. What
aloud to others, and inwardly to ourselves, not only reflects our
fears, but also forms them. If repeated often with enough conviction,
unconscious will help make whatever we expect happen.
We are in control of what we say, therefore,
what we become. So,
watch your language
and grow into the vibrant, beautiful, mindful, and compassionate woman
envision and that you see all around you.
Parrish lives on the central coast of California and is the author of Wise Woman’s Way: A Guide to Growing Older
with Purpose and Passion, published by Morro Press and
Amazon.com and bookstores.
article from The Guardian
debut novelist gives home to friends from care homes’
insightful blog post from Margaret
‘ “Relentless Attrition” Starts in Thirties?!’
… and in case you
missed any of them, here’s where you can find the New York Times series
articles on Ageing:
women coming of age’
Our new magazine is
many frustrating delays, the first issue of
Crone Magazine, the magazine designed for – and written by – elderwomen
you and me is rolling off the presses as I write this.
for more details and to
take out a subscription. I hope you will all subscribe and become a
this wonderful new venture.
OLDER THAN DIRT
(This one has been around the Web for a while, so you may have seen it.
But someone sent it to me again recently and I have included it in case
you missed it, as it’s
'Someone asked the other day, 'What was your favorite fast food when
you were growing up?'
'We didn't have fast food when I was growing up,' I informed him. 'All
the food was slow.'
'C'mon, seriously. Where did you eat?'
'It was a place called 'at home,'' I explained. 'Grandma cooked every
day and when Grandpa got home from work, we sat down together at the
dining room table, and if I didn't like what she put on my plate I was
allowed to sit there until I did like it'.
By this time, the kid was laughing so hard I was afraid he was going to
suffer serious internal damage, so I didn't tell him the part about how
I had to have permission to leave the table. But
here are some other things I would have told him about my childhood if
I figured his system could have handled it:
Some parents NEVER owned their own house, wore Levis , set
foot on a golf course, traveled out of the country or had a credit
card. In their later years they had something called a revolving charge
card. The card was good only at Sears Roebuck. Or maybe it was Sears
AND Roebuck. Either way, there is no Roebuck anymore. Maybe he died.
My parents never drove me to soccer practice. This was mostly because
we never had heard of soccer. I had a bicycle that weighed probably 50
pounds, and only had one speed, (slow). We didn't have a television in
our house until I was 11, but my grandparents had one before that. It
was, of course, black and white, but they bought a piece of colored
plastic to cover the screen. The top third was blue, like the sky, and
the bottom third was green, like grass. The middle third was red. It
was perfect for programs that had scenes of fire trucks riding across
someone's lawn on a sunny day Some people had a lens taped to the front
of the TV to make the picture look larger.
I never had a telephone in my room. The only phone in the house was in
the living room and it was on a party line. Before you could dial, you
had to listen and make sure some people you didn't know weren't already
using the line.
Pizzas were not delivered to our home. But milk was.
Movie stars kissed with their mouths shut. At least, they did in the
movies. Touching someone else's tongue with yours was called French
kissing and they didn't do that in movies. I don't know what they did
in French movies. French movies were dirty and we weren't allowed to
If you grew up in a generation before there was fast food, you may want
to share some of these memories with your children or grandchildren.
Just don't blame me if they bust a gut laughing.
MEMORIES from a
My Dad is cleaning out my grandmother's house (she died in December)
and he brought me an old Royal Crown Cola bottle. In the bottle top was
a stopper with a bunch of holes in it. I knew immediately what it was,
but my daughter had no idea. She thought they had tried to make it a
salt shaker or something. I knew it as the bottle that sat on the end
of the ironing board to 'sprinkle' clothes with because we didn't have
steam irons. Man, I am old.
many do you remember?
Head lights dimmer switches on the floor.
Ignition switches on the dashboard.
Heaters mounted on the inside of the fire wall.
Real ice boxes.
Pant leg clips for bicycles without chain guards.
Soldering irons you heat on a gas burner.
Using hand signals for cars without turn signals.
Older Than Dirt
Count all the ones that you
remember not the ones you were told about . Ratings
1 Blackjack chewing gum
2. Wax Coke-shaped bottles with colored sugar water
3. Candy cigarettes
4. Soda pop machines that dispensed glass bottles
5. Coffee shops or diners with table side juke boxes
6 . Home milk delivery in glass bottles
7. Party lines
8. Newsreels before the movie
9. P.F. Flyers
10. Butch wax
11. Telephone numbers with a word prefix (OLive-6933)
13. Howdy Doody
14. 45 RPM records
15. S&H green stamps
17. Metal ice trays with lever
18. Mimeograph paper
19 Blue flashbulb
21. Roller skate keys
22. Cork popguns
2 5. Wash tub wringers
If you remembered
0-5 = You're still young
If you remembered 6-10 = You are getting older
If you remembered 11-15 = You are old
If you remembered 16-25 = You're older than dirt!
(When I tell people that I
never tasted a banana till I was nine but for burthday parties my
mother used to make banana
sandwiches out of parsnips with banana flavouring they think I must be
it up! But I'll bet some of my fellow English elderwomen remember the
same thing - Marian )
An Amusing Miracle
painter Axel P. Jensen once denied being superstitious, because, as he
“quacks, ghosts and miracles are facts one meets
frequently. We knew a needlewoman in Firenze.
She ran to all church weddings, wanted to get married by all her heart.
a wooden figure of the holy Antonio standing in front of her next to
machine, and she prayed to him all the time, because he is the patron
all girls, and he provides a husband if they are just pious enough. One
she lost patience. She felt that all the piety made her an old maid and
the holy Antonio out of the window. Shortly after, a man came up
being hit on the head by Antonio. That man
became her husband.” ’
(from Frozen Annals)
tune was top of the hit parade on the day you were born?
You can look it up at a website called:
THE #1 SONG ON THIS DATE IN HISTORY
to Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By for alerting us all to this
fun website. My
song turned out to be ‘There’s a Small Hotel’, sung by Hal Kemp. Gosh
lyrics were dopy in those days, weren’t they?!!)
painting by Rose
– two poems by Alice Theriault
Cascading to my ankles,
Rippling to my knees,
The stuff of what I used to be,
Is not now what one sees!
My excess baggage tags along,
It sticks to me like glue,
Perhaps if I aerobicize...
This pear shape just won't do.
No alabaster skin to touch,
Or raven locks to swirl,
In place of these are drooping jowls,
And silver gray to curl.
Is this state known as prime of life,
Or am I growing old?
No magic potion
Could we put time on hold?
On passing by, I quickly chance
A gaze into the glass askance,
The vision appearing seems to be,
A quaint facsimile of me!
My facade, I fear, has a little droop here,
A little droop there---oh, I should care!
Life is more than measuring drift
And wayward slant of gravity's shift!
Now come inside my hallowed walls
Where rapt thoughts dwell and mind enthralls,
To muse away many a vibrant hour,
My brain is heady with boundless power!
For quickening beneath this cover of skin,
Still waters run deep, (soon to rage), kept in.
So welcome to each new sag and line,
With youth's demise, pure wisdom is mine!
for this newsletter are eagerly sought. Please send in your writings,
your thoughts, your poetry, a book or website you have found, an
announcement or news item that you think would be interesting to
others, a comment on one of these articles, a subject you'd like to
see, an anecdote, something that moved you - whatever snippet you want
to share. Don't be shy.
Two elderly couples
were enjoying friendly conversation when one of the men
asked the other,” Fred, how was the memory clinic you went to last
replied. "They taught us all the latest
psychological techniques: visualization, association, etc. It was
He thought and thought, but couldn't remember. Then a smile broke
across his face
and he asked, "What do you call that flower with the long stem and
"That's great! And what was the name of the clinic?"
"You mean a rose?"
"Yes, that's it!" He turned to his wife, "Rose, what was the
that memory clinic?"
A woman decided to
have her portrait
painted. She told the artist, "Paint me with diamond rings, a diamond
necklace, emerald bracelets, a ruby broach, and gold Rolex."
"But you are not wearing any of those things," he replied.
"I know," she said. "It's in case I should die before my
husband. I'm sure he will remarry right away, and I want his new wife
crazy looking for the jewelry."
Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, November 2008
The Elderwoman website: http://www.elderwoman.org
Marian's e-mail: marian(at)elderwoman.org
NB: replace 'at' with the @ sign, and please
insert OKEM in the subject line to make sure you get through my three
layers of spam filtering!
the filters are a necessity to stop
my in-box flooding with spam.
- oh and when you write to me, please remember that my name
is spelt MARIAN
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