Photo courtesy of Tamarack Verrall

CANADA: Age Is Nothing to Fear

In a culture that puts restrictions on aging women, Tamarack Verrall believes celebrating aging is a political act.

Old women are here to be part of the change, not hidden history.

I don’t feel old. Maybe it’s the word “old,” the images it conjures up in people’s minds. But I guess I am getting up there in age. Late 60s. Not really old, but not young.

I love my age. I don’t love what people have been taught about aging, especially about women as we age. I don’t love how old women are treated. I don’t love being underestimated, dismissed as out of date—or worse: disrespected, reviled, hated, seen as a dispensable burden on society.

I’m not the only one who faces these restricting attitudes. I rage and weep at the way old women are treated worldwide. I read of women who are thrown out to the street as they age, kept indoors as indentured labour, forced into widows’ huts, beaten, kicked, spat on, ridiculed, labeled a witch, labeled outcast, murdered. Silenced.

This cruelty ignores the beauty of what aging really is. I love that I can look back on my life and understand experiences better; I can see the patterns of how each step has led to the next, how each step has given me the knowledge to do what I do now. Each chapter has led to deeper understanding of who I am and what I have to offer. Every change has taught me something about what I am capable of, what my purpose is in this life.

I love how I can see how far we have already come in my lifetime. I love that I can sit with a woman older than me who can describe changes over the past 200 years drawing from the stories of her mother and grandmother. I love that we have the knowledge and experience to understand how far we have yet to come and question where we might be right now, were we not up against such resistance.

Together, we can see and understand this resistance more deeply and figure out how to undo it. Old women are here to be part of the change, not hidden history.

My hair turned grey in my mid-forties. I cringed at first as I began to experience the dismissal of “older” women. But then I embraced this change, and found new ways to counter patriarchal responses to age in women.

With every year, the reactions are enhanced: the dismissals, the assumptions, the disgust, the scorn. What matters more to me is the fear I see in young women.

I am still learning what this aging is. Looking into a mirror I surprise myself. I look different. My face, my skin, my body has changed and continues to change. Some things I used to do physically, I don’t do now. But inside I am still that 7-year-old girl running in joy along the shoreline of a lake. I am still 14, poring over stacks of books. I am still 21, learning how to formulate new plans.

Our communities suffer from the hatred and fear of old women. My heart goes out to old women everywhere who are mistreated. Old women have perspective, stories, experience, ideas, love to give. Old women deserve respect and love from the community.

By celebrating ourselves at every point in our lives, including in our aging, we take a strong and necessary stand. This is a personal and political act against the silencing of women. It is a strong and necessary stand against the pressure to look young, the pressure to equate our purpose in life with being desirable and available to men.

When we celebrate, recognize, and include old women, we bring to our discussions the full story of our times. I celebrate my sisters in World Pulse and beyond who are writing about and exposing the cruelty toward old women—and taking action to stop it. I celebrate news and photos of old women being freed, loved, listened to. I celebrate the important conversations we are having about how long we have been taught to fear aging as women.

For myself, I continue to grow, and marvel, and be grateful for what each year brings. I am grateful for the love across ages that exists here within World Pulse. I am grateful for the freedom we are collectively creating as women of every age to enjoy and explore our lives, our bodies, our ideas, our changes, our metamorphosis, as we celebrate each year for what it is.

I am grateful that, as women of every age, we are creating the freedom to enjoy and explore our lives, our bodies, our ideas, our changes, our metamorphosis. Together, we are celebrating each year for what it is.

I am grateful for the open discussions we are having with each other. We are gathering all of our perspectives from the years we have each survived. It takes all of us, with all of our ages, all of our ideas as they have changed and grown over time, to fully celebrate womanhood.

We are building a powerful and intergenerational sisterhood together.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe everyone has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

 

 

Region North America
Story Awards: Aging 28Send Me Love

Comments

Hi Tam, Your are a wonderful aging woman. It is said there is wisdom in old age which is that great wisdom your are sharing to younger change makers like me.Keep up with the great works

in Sisterhood

Veronica

Great mama Tammy.age is just a number and ur mindset about getting old.I admire ur wisdom and courage handling the issues that old people face in our society. Cheers!!!!

Dear Tamarack,

I start seeing white hair on my head, I like it.

The color of my hair does not define who I am or what I can still do. We, as women, need to take ownership of our lives and show it to the world.

I loved reading your comment.

Kadidia Doumbia

Dear Kadida,

Your comment made me smile. I also have enjoyed my hair as it slowly turned white. What caused some shock and dismay was the way I experienced a shift in how others "saw" me. So yes, undoing the stereotype became part of my life. So glad you enjoyed this piece.

Hi Tamarack,

You are doing great things in your old woman years!  

Something that inspires me as I get older are the stories of the grandmothers in Africa who take over raising their grandchildren when parents are stricken with AIDS. The strength and determination of these old women shows me that I can make a difference to the survival of the land and the people where I am.

Thanks to you for introducing me to World Pulse.

Patricia

Hi Pat,

Thank you "old friend" in both senses. I also continue to be inspired by women who are truly old and continuing to do amazing feats. One of my mentors is 85, still working full time and a half, making films and showing them internationally. 

So glad you have joined us here within our amazing World Pulse!

 

Bonjour Christelle,

Je vous remercie de vos mots. Je souhaite changer l'attitude envers les vieilles femmes. La sous-estimation des vieilles femmes fait partie de ce système patriarcal. Cela crée la peur de vieillir et le renvoi des vieilles femmes.

Hi Tam,

You are the youngest woman I ever meet in World Pulse. Age is just a number. You are the most brilliant woman ever.

I had a neighbor, he was 100 +. He always undo and redo his fence, cut the trees, made his garden, restless man. He died...this year. He was not bend, he was skinny. 

I know many youth, who doesn't want to walk 5km with me. One of my friend hated me because i asked her to walk three kms with me. She made herself old. After work, from friday afternoon- Sunday morning, she never comes out of her bed. She is in her late thirties. Another friend, in her late twenties, she give excuse to her office and skip most of Fridays, then she is in bed for three days.

Tell me who is old?

Around my city, the girls in rich families...or all the youth from high class, became  too old before their ages.

You are the youngest Sister of mine in World Pulse.

Keep fit.

 

With LOVE

Lily

Mulatwa Mosisa

My dear sister,

You really made me smile. I loved reading about your neighbour who stayed so active to 100. It is so important not to underestimate what is possible. It s very sad to see young people settling into unhealthy lifestyles with little physical ability. The longer you are inactive, the harder to regain health. I continue to push myself, it is sometimes tough but always worth the result. Your friends are lucky to have you urging them on. Thanks for the encouragement!

 

Hi Tammy. ..I love old people, they have a lot of experience. ..my grandmother  is the best person  in the world..I enjoy quarreling  with her. ..she has always been there for me...don't  worry. ..people  don't  know  the importance  of age ..age is experience 

Hi mba,

Thanks for your comment, it warms my heart to read about you in heated discussion with your grandmother. So glad you recognize the joy and depth in our important discussions across wide age spans.

Beautiful Tammy, you are so graceful...Thank you for being an inspiration and talking about aging this way. You are a reminder that aging with grace, understanding and pride ought to be the norm. Thank you for sharing... I appreciate you.

Best the best possible version of yourself you can be...

Dear Tam,

While reading your post, I was remembering my grandmother, who is a little older than you. I really love to sit and listen to the stories of her time and believe me, all the time I hear a story , they gives me new dimension towards life. To look into this world from totally new perspective.

Having such people in our family is a huge blessing from God. You are one of such inspiring person, who wants to make people realize that being old is more beautiful. I am really proud of you and I wish once I gets old, I also do write a post like your ones.

May you live many many more and I hope to read such wonderful thoughts from your side in the future too. Stay blessed and energetic as you are:)

 

" It takes a huge effort to free yourself from memory, but when you succeed, you start to realize that you are capable of far more than you imagine "

Dear Sarah,

I loved reading about your connection with your grandmother, I had a close connection with both of mine, which I cherish. Yes, different dimensions on life, and looking at how we are evolving, through a longer lens. I continue to learn a lot from family and friends in their 80's. My father is almost 90 and full of energy, and I hope to follow in his footsteps.

I love the quote you sent. We can get stuck in the past and lose out on seeing new possibilities.

 

Tam, if the world around us only really knew what it is to age.  Me? 65 this month, and having a long career as an advocate, facilitator, trainer, program manager, service coordinator I am thankful to be a long time Buddhist so my perspective now that I am 'still' can be acute with mindfulness and loving-kindness.  I've thought to be a "Later in Life Coach"!!  To work with older women who feel invisible, who perhaps never felt "seen" or appreciated.  To explore what 'lights them up' and coach them along to embrace those things.

For some older women I know in this Western culture, they are stunned at becoming what they call invisible, in that as younger women when considered a 'thing of beauty' … now… no one turns to look. No one cares.  There's only the stigma, oh.. an old lady.

My 80 year old neighbor, petite, solid white hair, is what I call a spitfire.. she teaches voice, is a professional actor and gives 4 hour tours the architect Frank Lloyd Wright's home in the hills of Wisconsin. It's 4 hours of talking and walking up and down hills, through fields and various structures. She also shovels the snow, mows the grass, plants flowers, power walks the neighborhood. She's no nonsense, says it like it is. We go out to dinner together. I tell her, I see her as a woman… not an old woman…I will treat her no other way. Then in horror I witnessed our 65 year old, rather loud, neighbor (male) come over when we were talking on day, and he bent over, gingerly took her hands, and with a very soft voice talked to her as if she were frail. This getting old is a place no one can really know until they get here. And then, no one can really understand because they simply can't know. A dream of mine that I toy with from time to time is HOW to organize women of age to stand up and HAVE a VOICE.  Like a forum where we all get to be seen, heard, and people will by default have to respond with "OH THERE YOU ARE!!"  Perhaps in this global forum we can encourage women of age, the spitfires out there, to congregate and explore how to establish a movement! 

However, sure… many of us are simply tired. Or ill. Things do start to fall apart physically. Our minds forget.  So although I can't relate to still feeling in my mind like I'm young (as my now 95 yr old mother kept saying as she aged… felt she watched her body change while her mind stayed the same.) I am a survivor of many things and marvel in my good fortune in this moment to be free!  All of us were "something" as we moved through life: quiet introverts, big energy extroverts, playful, dancers, artists, writer/poets, mothers, daughters, sisters, warriors, care takers, counselors, teachers, builders, followers of all religious and spiritual beliefs and practice, explorers and adventurists, researchers, doctors, nurses, fire fighters and police!! Where DO we all go as we age, and haven't died yet?  Why doesn't this world care more where "this old woman" has been, gone through, learned and survived from!? Contributed? Still viable!!?

Yes sisters, I am not working now (though available to train for one small company should they call on me) and I sit in what I call my "Era of stillness".  As a Buddhist I reflect on all this, the moment, letting go… etc. yet…. there is this conundrum with no answer to it.  Like a koan with no ready solution, waiting for enlightenment!  

I have always been an avid dancer! I not only love it, I am remarkably good at it (I dare say!). To dance the way I love to and can, I feel I'd have to wear a bag over my head if I were to go out to a dance venue as … once again… I would be the 'old lady' on the floor "Look at that old lady dancing!" for my age. If they couldn't see or label my age, they could perhaps appreciate and enjoy the art of my ability to dance. 

By the way, I ride a motorcycle, and over the past 20 years have taken numerous, long distance, solo trips around Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, out to Colorado, through Wyoming to South Dakota and back to Wisconsin, out to New Hampshire and back ~ alone.  For my 50th birthday, I took my first solo bike trip up north, took ferry over to Michigan, road up the coast of the lake and got a room looking out over the water as my celebration. Sat on high dunes for hours over looking the lake, listening to Native American flute music, writing in my journal and eating local cherries. I went to Hawaii to turn 58, and rented a motorcycle on Oahu and on 'my day' road the perimeter of the entire island, alone. 

Maybe we, as older women, can start a movement of story telling about our lives!! That's what we can do!!  Say "Here I am"… hey, I'm over here… right in front of you…. guess what I've done in my life!?"

And for those who are survivors of deeply hard times, abuse, cultural genocide, patriarchal dominance and control, poverty, disability, fighting for their children's well being and to have a meal!  These are poignant stories, strength, emotions and life strategies that older women NEED to have the VOICE to tell!!!  The ears to listen.  The society to learn from. 

For women who may have not had opportunity to leave their nuclear family, or community, as an older woman there are millions of moments to reflect on, besides the pain, of the moment their first born child looked them in the eye, recalling the smell of the sun on fresh washed fabric laid out or hung to dry, the things and people that brought laughter.  These are deeply important 'stories' as those who travel around the world.  These too are stories locked forever in a woman who has become old.

Oh I could go on and on and on… as you can see!!!  THIS is what older women have to offer ~  a l o t.

In peace, and thanks for opening this door Tam!!  Wish we could have tea together!! You've stimulated my creative thoughts regarding possibility once again. Most thankful.  If you are interested to communicate via email, I'm at vraeclark1@gmail.com.  Anyone reading this on WP who might want to share stories with…. let's start conversation here!!  And or privately, I'd love that. 

By the way, I too am a spitfire as well!

Warm regards ~

~ V (Veronica)

"I see you"

In peace and solidarity ~ strength

Namaste,

Veronica

Hi Veronica,

I am so moved that you have responded with your own story, and with so many great ideas of how to carry this conversation forward. The word "stunned" is apt for the surprise that comes when all too many young people both men and women shift the way they speak to and make assumptions of old women in particular. I love your ideas of ways to work with old women to bring their stories forward, and to empower their ideas. Yes, old women remaining and/or becoming in closer contact and discussion with each other and as a strong united voice in our communities is important, and so lacking because of all the reasons you outline here so well. This summer as I travelled I had the extreme good fortune to meet with a number of First Nations grandmothers who are in close connection with each other, speak freely about their matriarchal roots, and despite the damage done by settlers to undermine this, these women remain strong leaders in their communities, and very connected with each other. They posed the question to me, why is this not happening in your community? It made me reflect on all the ways we are pushed aside, and on the not so long ago burning of women labeled witches in Europe, beginning with the women herbalists. My foremothers. The fear of and dismissal of old women is carried in so many ways, in so many countries. The Grandmothers I had the chance to meet have been an inspiration to me on a new level.

I love that you ride your motorcycle on great adventures, that you are a deep thinker and a dancer, and that you intend to bring old women together to share stories. This is undoing the patriarchy and freeing up beautiful, stifled energy. I am sure we will have a tea someday, and look forward to being in touch from here on.

I also suggest that you repost this beautiful story on your aging, under your profile. It will hopefully get more visibility!

In sisterhood,

Tam

Dear Tam,

Thank you for sharing this powerful piece on old age. It has really encourage my heart with what I have seen and still seen old people especially women are passing through in this part of the world. Women are always tagged witches when they are old and everybody will be running away from them, nobody want to relate with them as they used to before. Old women are always very lonely and this is the reason why having old women home where old women could be brought together to recreate with themselves is part of the vision for my center. One day we are all going to be old and been old is not a sickness at all. Age is actually in the mind and not in the face and I love to continue to see myself as that agile girl of 16 when I was full of energy and always ready to take anybody up. I am so encouraged by this post and you are such an inspiration Tam.

Warmest Love

Busayo

Busayo ObisakinWomen inspiration Development center Ile-Ife, Nigeria busobisaki@yahoo.com womeninspirationcenter@gmail.com http://womeninspirationce.wix.com/widcng

Busayo, my dear sister,

Now that I have been able read about women globally through our beloved World Pulse, I have learned so much about how old women are treated everywhere. I have been so affected by reading that the word "witch" is still so commonly used, as excuse for the dismissal, and all too often torture and murder of old women. I have become so much more aware of the casting aside of old women, seen as extraneous, no use if not bearing children or unable to do heavy work any longer, of the loss of homes and property...It is for these women above all that I have written this piece. I am so encouraged by the attention being paid by World Pulse sisters to this issue, and am especially moved to know that this is a big part of what you yourself are working to change, by creating home, love, kindness and respect to old women in your country.

Much love dear sister,

Tam

Salut Tam

En lisant votre histoire je me retrouve avec ma grand mère avec qui je passe des heures entrain de m'expliquer leur mode de vie. en comparant avec le leur je trouve souvent que c'était très riche malheureusement les non sages ne savent pas puiser dans cette bibliothèque riche en couleur et en rayon.

Marie Rose

SHAKALILI Marie Rose

Chere Marie Rose,

J'aime la façon dont vous décrivez la richesse des histoires et de la sagesse de votre grand-mère. C'est ce qui détruit le renvoi actuel de la sagesse des vieilles femmes. Merci!

Dear Francisca,

Thank you so much for your beautiful words. It is heartening to meet you and so many here who respect age and do not dismiss women because of age.

In sisterhood,

Tam

Hello Tam,

Thank you for this empowering write up. i celebrate people like you who speak out against the pressure of looking young. many women are psychologically traumatized with ageing. 

Thank you for being a voice to the violence.  

Dear Clodine,

Yes, so many are traumatized, and we are all looking deeper into the horrible treatment of old women, which is behind the trauma. No one wants to be sent to the sidelines of community, or worse, ridiculed, impoverished, even murdered. This is a huge problem that needs to be addressed along with all of the other ways that women and girls are so horribly treated. Celebrating age in ourselves and with each other is a great step forward. Thank you for your caring and supportive words and attitude, dear sister.

Tam

 hi Tam

i have not seen any guys here yet altho they might be up there but anyway i wanted to let you know that am totally with you. its true that as an  89 year old i would be able to relate to the old thing. I like to study about indigenous peoples, almost all of whom have traditions of honoring the elders. But ESPECIALLY the women. This is because before civilization started among all those old traditional foraging people those societies were matriarchal , and all women, all the time got a lot of respect. And look at who are the strong leaders in the Majority World! Yes, women, but also old  women. People a lot like you!

my name is Paul, but that screen name means "woman hollering" in Spanish. i think.

 

Hi Paul,

How nice to have your response. You are the same age as my father who is one of my strongest supporters. I appreciate your support. As you know, discrimination against old women is still rampant in our neighbouring countries. I have had the wonderful chance this summer to meet with a number of First Nations Grandmothers who speak about the strong matriarchal leadership and respect that they have historically and in present day within their communities. I believe that the burning of especially old women as witches in the not too distant past (well into the 1700's) in Europe and North America has had an effect that lasts to today in the ridiculing of old women.

Thanks for being there and speaking out,

Tam

Tam,

You remind me of my mother: she is seventy, learning French, which she started last year. She goes to gym every day she can (when she doesn't have French class, of course).

I have long since learned the wisdom of listening to older women. They are often strong women, wild women who can't be tamed or cowed, not anymore. Sadly, some are not; but many of them are, if only we listen.

May we live much longer still, with a happy, young, generous heart and mind!

Dear Andrea,

I loved learning about your mother, and I also love your comment "strong women, wild women who can't be tamed or cowed, not anymore". This is so true. I have always had the strength to speak out, but there is something about not seeing the changes that could have been in place half a century ago, mixed with knowing that I will not be here for another half century to be working on this, that galvanizes my determination, and cuts through being told to be patient. I love seeing women of every age find her voice and not accept another generation of excuses.

In sisterhood,

Tam

Hi Abiodun,

It was so good to meet you, too, and that meeting all together in Antigonish was very special. I am home safe and sound, thanks, with such good memories, and gratitude for the new connections. I look forward to staying in touch through our wonderful World Pulse network.

In sisterhood,

Tam