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Recognizing older women and their wisdom

There are women in my life in their 80s and 90s. I am old, but these women are living my next step. I’m so grateful for their wisdom, insight and for my friendships with them.

One teaches me patience and just letting things unfold. Another, how to plant perfect garlic. A woman who is caring for family members is so full of love and dedication – I watch her nurturing and dependability. Another lives simply and is the independent woman of the ages, living off her land. Another is my oracle, always understanding how life works, how people work and how our lives really mean something. She is also preparing for death, and how valuable is this? Another just knows how to have fun!

What a gift these women are. Gifts in action. What grace. They probably don’t even realize how much of an impression they make on us younger elders. Sharing stories with them, it’s fascinating to see how they’ve loved and lived, and given me a taste of what to expect next. It feels so natural to learn from the previous generation, and really, never stop.

I’ve always believed in children’s developmental stages and how kids always look to their older friends and classmates to see how to be when they’re a bit older. It’s so helpful, and in fact many educators use this as a learning tool, grouping kids of different ages together to learn from each other. This is powerful learning – role-model learning. I think that’s what I’m doing. I have my own way of defining and expressing what I learn, but the truths are there to be had, a foreshadowing of what’s to come.

These women all came of age in the 1930s and ’40s, just before my baby boomer years of the ’50s and ’60s and the women’s movements. They know depression, wartime and stoicism. Some have physical ills of some sort, weaknesses, and/or medical issues. But they also have so much appreciation for their many years, so much experience, ways to overcome their challenges and an acceptance of reality. A sort of softened lens they look through as they face the final years of their lives. They have their lifetimes of experience and lessons to draw from, and have more psychological insight and compassion than in younger years.

They are fortunate to be able to make choices as to how they live, and do what is true for them. Their lives are meaningful, soul-satisfying. It seems like there is more fulfillment in their lives, as they have learned how to cope. They look at losses as gains, and are trying to make sense of their lives as they approach the end. Truth is important, and seeing things as they really are. If not now, when?

Some would call these women crones. This term can be negative, so I like sages – full of wisdom, compassion, humor, outrage, decisive action, maturity – but they are also imperfect mortal women in the late third phase of their lives aware of their nearness to death. They know that the vitality, creativity and influence they’ve had is passing, and their time is limited and precious.

So what can we learn? It is different for all, but I’m more aware now of what examples these women are to me, and how they play a meaningful role in my life as I head into their old, very old life stage. It feels like a very magical place.

“When the Grandmothers speak, the Earth will be healed

When the Grandmothers pray, wisdom will be revealed

When the Grandmothers sing, the Earth will be made whole.”

– Circle of Grandmothers Newsletter

Martha McClellan has lived in Durango since 1993 and has been an educator, consultant and writer. Reach her at mmm@bresnan.net.