Response to 'The Signs of Ageing'

Lyn Cicada responds to the article The Signs of Ageing.

Lyn Cicada, 16 October 2001

I have no trouble finding great role models of older women. There is Mother Theresa, Roberta Black Goat, of the Navajo Nation, who was a resistance leader of the re-location of ten thousand Navajo people from their shared land with the Hopi Nation, Maya Angelou, Sister True Emptiness, a Buddhist nun and right-hand of Thick Naht Han, a co-teacher with him, Nancy Buckingham, a sixty-one year old woman who decided to stop chemotherapy for cancer and walk as fearlessly and lovingly as she could into the face of certain death, and thousands like her. What bothers me about the article you sent are the definitions of successful aging themselves. They are all about money and sex. Granted that these are important, but aren't our obsessions with them a part of the same sick cultural values system which tells us to keep "young and beautiful?"

Some of my heroines are women in this town, living at or near the poverty level.

Some of my heroines are women in this town, living at or near the poverty level and yet they work in their gardens, give comfort, advise from years of experience, and food to the needy, they recycle to live as gently on Earth as possible, they walk toward death with little fear, they take on the enormous task of raising their own grandchildren, they teach literacy or English as a second language, etc. They use their leisure time, not taking cruises, most of them cannot afford such things. But without them how poor our world would be! How many churches and synagogues and temples and charitable works would keep going without older women? I think many would simply collapse. The values in this article really bother me!

I like the poem about Wearing Purple and encourage all women to start NOW. As a forty-five year old with ovarian cancer I had some choices to make. As a poor woman, Medicaid would only cover chemotherapy. I am in chemo., but I called on the help of a male pharmacist in his fifties and a female herbalist nearing sixty to recommend herbs and vitamins to support my immune system while in chemo.

I have a maroon and gold Jester's hat, and a black and purple Tina Turner type wig.

Then there was make up and hair. I decided I would suffer too much by letting my nearly waist length black hair fall out a scary and sad handful at a time. I had it all buzzed off and decided that if I couldn't have my own hair I would have fun and wear any damned thing I wanted to. My sister, a year and a half older, helped in finding party wigs. I have a wonderful lime green beehive, a multi-colored curly clown wig, which looks like a rainbow, a silver wig which sparkles like a prism when the sun hits the tensile and which I have recently topped with a child's red feather boa because I have felt a little better lately and wanted to look like a bird. I have a maroon and gold Jester's hat, and a black and purple Tina Turner type wig. Once friends found I was really wearing these, they began to loan me their Halloween wigs and hats. It is Hysterical how many people Act as though nothing is wrong! Amazing! Nothing is out of the ordinary when my lime green beehive tops an olive green and white suit. But the one's who need to laugh, me, my oncologist, and the nurses who administer the chemo. and some other patients, do laugh. I get to vent frustration and anger harmlessly and observe the power of denial in action. I also get to cheer people who need a laugh as badly as I do.

There are classes offered in makeup, eyebrow tattooing is available for those who can afford it, and many other services are offered especially to Women to make us look like we don't have cancer and are not enduring chemotherapy. I decided I was not evil or to blame, and had nothing to hide. I don't like beings this pale or having a few stray hairs for eyebrows. But I am not a sinner because I have cancer and I am sick of our society's denial of disability, sickness, aging, and death! So I am pale and have tiny eyebrows. I have had to expand my self-concept to take in more than my former image of myself. If I can struggle to do this, (it is hard) the rest of the world can get over themselves and look at a little reality.

It is not shameful, blame worthy, or to be hidden!

As a Buddhist, I have come face to face with the Buddha's reminders to us to say to ourselves each day five things which remind us that we are all of the nature or kind of being to: become ill, keep changing, lose all that we now have, (including our friends) and die. This horrifies most Westerners. But the more I struggle to accept it, the better I get at living NOW, and the less I am afraid of dying. This is a slow process, and difficult, but it has helped me to see that what is happening to me is normal and should be expected. It is not shameful, blame worthy, or to be hidden!

I agree, sexual fulfillment continues on into old age, I know a woman in her eighty's with a boyfriend. And it's great If a woman has a successful career and money to cushion old age. That's where equal pay for equal work and recognition of women's contributions with money comes into the picture. But my heroines are women who just keep right on being themselves, involved in their communities as leaders and teachers and loving laughers. They walk as fearlessly as possible through old age, through poverty, through adversity, and into death! I salute them!

Read the article The Signs of Ageing.

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