The Elderwoman Newsletter

Issue #22, November, 2008

Welcome to the November 2008 issue of the Elderwoman Newsletter
- an e-zine for 21st century elderwomen committed to radical aliveness.

Well, this newsletter is being sent out a bit later than usual this year. That’s because Sky and I were away on vacation until the end of last week and I haven’t properly come down to earth yet. The downside of vacations is all the email that piles up in one’s absence like snowdrifts against a wall.

Not that I don’t enjoy email – it is the lifeblood of my communication networks – but when it piles up like that I find it a bit daunting.

The summer in England was a washout this year – both literally and figuratively – so it was wonderful to be able to escape to the Mediterranean for a few weeks and soak up some longed-for sunshine. Those of you who are members 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 the sun. But for those of you who aren’t, if you are interested, here’s the link to it.

And speaking of Elderwomanspace, our very own social network has its first birthday this month. If you haven’t joined it yet you are missing something truly wonderful. We have 275 members now and the site is permanently buzzing with activity. If you have lost your invitation, just let me know and I will send you another.

Elle 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.

It is a somewhat smaller issue than last time, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. 

Many Blessings,



by Elle Tyler  
When the doctor told my mother that she had two to three weeks to live, it took my 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 in the face of her ultimate departure, I was not allowed to cry.

I 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, all while 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 negativity.  At 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 edge off the fear.  She was a survivor…always 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 but a chance for remission…to live for a little longer…a day.., a month,..  a  year…it was anybody’s guess… there were no guarantees.  

But, she took the gamble.  Without missing a beat, she signed on, and I wheeled her up to her room where she put on the hospital gown 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 heart 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 volunteers, all kinds of teams of specialists, surrounded her and tried to put the pieces 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 that bed.

What 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, anticipating 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 “ When 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 physical 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 wanted a mother who would let me cry and even cry with me, a mother who would honor, respect and appreciate me. 

There were moments when I got a glimpse of what that felt like.  Before being hospitalized she had allowed me to direct her into my world of holistic healing.  She 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 instructions 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 will 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 too familiar.     I would feel the energy drain from me as I made my way down the long dark hallway… always anticipating what I would see when I opened the door.  Would she be sitting up, alert and eager for my visit or lying down attached to the oxygen mask and IV tubes?   My heartbeat always quickened as I entered the room.  And yes, it’s a new day and my mother is alive…her will to live still stronger than any stray leukemia cells trying to ambush her body.
My 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 father had reinvented himself three times during their marriage: from a college professor to a wholesale liquor distributor and now, at 87, completing 41 years as an investment counselor at Smith Barney.  He loved to work.  And she loved taking care of him, all the little details, from having food on the table, to making his 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 their judgment.


My 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 talked about her obituary and funeral service and precious belongings that she wanted 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 arrangements again.

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 be there with her.  It was easy to put a halt on other activities.  This was my priority.  I was going on this journey with her.  She was going 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 strangely 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 this 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 without ever questioning her life.  She would pass knowing she had done her best, and I would know that too.


They 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 always will.

Elle Tyler (aka Ellen Whyte) is an actress, drama therapist and photographer.  She has facilitated writing groups for seniors in New York City through JASA, DOROT and Creative Alternatives.   Contact:  premasun(at)


back to top

We 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 and grandparents.  We realize that what children say is important to their mood, attitude, self-esteem, and ultimately, their success.  But what about us?  How do our verbal expressions affect the way we growing older?

 For the last three months, I have been carefully listening to my 60- or 70-something friends, especially during unguarded conversations.  Without my friends’ knowledge, much less their conscious intention, they are programming themselves by the following statements.


 I’m too old to learn (Spanish, the piano, etc.).”  

 Fortunately 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 painting.  The 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 adapt ideas quicker than younger people.  By taking the risks of learning something new and exciting, we extend our boundaries and continue the adventure of life.


 “I hate my (neck, hands, wrinkles, thighs, etc.).”

Although the title of a book that is supposed to be funny, this sentiment, with its implied self-hate, murders 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 love and encouragement.  It 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% water! Aging and gravity are natural; let’s honor the process – body and soul.


I have to (take my medicine, exercise, meditate, etc.).”

Words like have to, should, ought, and must are heavy words, full of guilt, blame, and shame. We rarely follow through when using such words because we feel obligated to do something rather than excited.   In 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 it.


“I can’t remember (her name, that word, etc.). Another darn senior moment.”

This slang phrase reflects the current ageist stereotype that associates growing older with deficiency and memory loss.  It’s not necessarily 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 memories when, in fact, the blame lies in a weakened neural trace, because we have not accessed the information in just this way in a long time.  I have replaced this self-fulfilling prophecy with “I can remember anything that I want to remember.” which affirms the act of remembering – another, but unheralded, senior moment.


“Look where you’re driving, you old hag (or old fart)!”

The older person driving too slowly or too cautiously is our future self.  If 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 being slow, feeble minded, and useless.  If we try to see her courage, beauty, and determination, then we are allowing ourselves to grow into those positive traits instead of the negative ones.


In Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, my favorite philosopher Richard Bach wrote, “Argue for your limitations and sure enough, they’re yours.”  This is true for anyone, at any time, at any age.  What we say aloud to others, and inwardly to ourselves, not only reflects our attitudes and fears, but also forms them. If repeated often with enough conviction, the 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 that you envision and that you see all around you. 

Berta 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 available through and bookstores.


Interesting article from The Guardian

‘93-year-old debut novelist gives home to friends from care homes’

Another insightful blog post from Margaret Morganroth Gullette
‘ “Relentless Attrition” Starts in Thirties?!’

… and in case you missed any of them, here’s where you can find the New York Times series of articles on Ageing:


‘CRONE: women coming of age’

Our new magazine is almost here!

After many frustrating delays, the first issue of Crone Magazine, the magazine designed for – and written by – elderwomen like you and me is rolling off the presses as I write this.

Click here for more details and to take out a subscription. I hope you will all subscribe and become a part of this wonderful new venture.

(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 fun.)        
'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 see them.

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 friend:
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.


How 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 Quiz
Count all the ones that you remember not the ones you were told about . Ratings at the bottom. 

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 
 . Home milk delivery in glass bottles with cardboard stoppers 
7. Party lines
8. Newsreels before the movie 
9. P.F. Flyers
10. Butch wax  
11. Telephone numbers with a word prefix (OLive-6933) 
12. Peashooters 
13. Howdy Doody 
14. 45 RPM records 
15.  S&H green stamps 
16 Hi-fi's
17. Metal ice trays with lever 
18. Mimeograph paper
19 Blue flashbulb
20. Packards
21. Roller skate keys
22. Cork popguns 
23. Drive-ins
24. Studebakers
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 making it up! But I'll bet some of my fellow English elderwomen remember the same thing - Marian )

An Amusing Miracle


‘The Danish painter Axel P. Jensen once denied being superstitious, because, as he said: “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. She had a wooden figure of the holy Antonio standing in front of her next to the sewing
machine, and she prayed to him all the time, because he is the patron saint of all girls, and he provides a husband if they are just pious enough. One evening she lost patience. She felt that all the piety made her an old maid and flung the holy Antonio out of the window. Shortly after, a man came up complaining of being hit on the head by Antonio. That man
became her husband.” ’

W. Dansgaard
(from Frozen Annals)

What tune was top of the hit parade on the day you were born?
You can look it up at a website called: 


(Thanks 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 the song lyrics were dopy in those days, weren’t they?!!)


painting by Rose Gallagher

– 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 will suffice,
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!

Alice Theriault


Contributions 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 month?" 

"Outstanding," Fred replied. "They taught us all the latest psychological techniques: visualization, association, etc. It was great." 

"That's great! And what was the name of the clinic?"

Fred went blank. 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 thorns?"

"You mean a rose?"

"Yes, that's it!" He turned to his wife, "Rose, what was the name of
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 to go crazy looking for the jewelry."

The Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, November 2008
The Elderwoman website:
Marian's e-mail: marian(at) 

NB: replace 'at' with the @ sign, and please remember to insert OKEM in the subject line to make sure you get through my three layers of spam filtering!
Unfortunately, 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

back to top