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Our magazine: ‘plus’

Every three months, the Members of Christians on Ageing receive a free copy of the organisation’s magazine.  It is called plus and is a means of communication between the Executive Committee and members, between members themselves, and a source of information and reflection on issues of age and ageing.

Our members consistently say that one of the reasons for maintaining their membership of Christians on Ageing is plusfor the variety of its articles, its support in Christian living and the sign-posting it gives to further reading or information.

The Editor is always happy to receive suggestions for articles or even a finished article to be considered for publication in a future issue.  Contact the Editor by e-mail: info@ccoa.co.uk

 To whet your appetite here’s an article that has appeared in plus

Ageing

Some thoughts of a Married Woman, in her Seventh Decade, in the Second Decade of the Second Millennium.

 In my 30’s and 40’s, in my spiritual and academic Epiphany, my ‘wisdom’ was to grow old gracefully or ….disgracefully…… keeping my options open. In my middle 60’s I now know the folly of the assumption that there would be a choice!  I had fully expected that by maturity, I would be a spiritually and socially evolved being and without the pressures of raising five children and running an eight bedroomed farmhouse; I would have learnt the balance of the Benedictine life of work, rest and play, (or pray?); I would have opportunity for ordered time and space; be economically sound, with resources for scheduled holidays with my husband, WEA classes for intellectual stimulus, Pilates for bodily fitness, and retreats of solitude for the soul.

Despite having been the mother who considered that her children were self-sufficient from an early age: (Harriet I think is exaggerating when she says ‘I was doing my own ironing at 5, peering up over the edge of the ironing board); I discover I now have what feels sometimes like a basketful of challenging puppies again, and having to relearn what Clarissa Pinkola Estés reminds us of in Women who Run with the Wolves that we do have to be brave enough and kind enough eventually to ‘kick them off the teats.’

In my 30’s, with oestrogen pumping round all day, and energy abounding, I was known as the old woman who lived in a shoe. Well five were a lot weren’t they? Five? A lot? Now, minus the blessed oestrogen, there are 5 children, all their spouses, a husband, 5 grandchildren and 2 sets of parents in their 90’s living 3 or 4 hours away; (so far then, 20); none of them needing total care of course, but responsible consideration and assorted levels of support.

I was considering this phenomenon with a wise woman the other day, and we shared these two insights which I offer for consideration. Firstly she said, “Well Ann, your children are all now having their midlife crises!” What an astonishing observation. Am I that old? Then we realised that we are probably the first generation of professional working women, who, past conventional retiring age themselves, are not only still working, but caring for long lived parents;  cherishing husbands of long marriages, (my friend who remained unmarried until late forties, considers a marriage of 45 years as the equivalent of 3 life sentences); children, (one of whom has had cranial radiotherapy damage after leukaemia for the last  20 years), in- law children, (one with MS , one with late diagnosed cancer, with no mother of her own and 2 small children), and grandchildren in school holidays, as their mothers work  outside the home full time.

Without describing the details of the last 4 weeks of late November and December, after my far from trivial or unnecessary ‘missions of mercy’, three of my grandsons 4, 6, and 10 were delighted to receive as their completed presents, hats and scarves, all crafted miraculously on time, during that period. They were labelled, ‘Knitted …with love by Grandma in Yorkshire’; Knitted … with love by Grandma in Morocco’; and Knitted with love … by Grandma in Cyprus’.  The last was bright red with green fringe on the scarf, and green tassel on the beanie hat. He told his Mum later, “I do love my hat even though it looks like a tomato and I hate tomatoes.”  And yes, they are a joy!

So are books, and especially classical music, without which I do not think I could survive. One of the joys of ageing is being able to say without embarrassment, that my favourite piece of music is Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. I will sit in my car, running late and out of petrol, outside the petrol station to hear the end of that on my car radio. It reaches the passion in me, which with the decline in oestrogen manifests as somewhat elusive these days.

But God, please, oh please, much as I love, respect and admire the spiritual wisdom of Tagore, do not ask me to sing another song! I keep thinking I have sung my song, and then you ask me to sing another.” Sometimes, as I look behind me at the coffin on the trestles, in my role as celebrant or minister for the funerals I am invited professionally to lead, I think, “Yes, I am up for the Big Sleep.” I am in no way suicidal when I say this, but tired, and aware of having lived a full and rich life. I recall a story a friend shared with me 40 years ago which I did not understand then. She said that the greatest ambition of her tired, busy, loving, grandmother, was to lie down, put on a clean starched pinnie, cross her hands and go off to that big sleep. Is that morbid? It doesn’t feel to me like that, but gratitude somehow.

Will continuing into even older age bring different issues? Of course, and I struggle alongside my parents, as they struggle themselves with issues of loss, independence and failing health. Do I have fears for that stage of my life? Of course, and also of dying. I think it was a famous comedian who once said, “I am not afraid of being dead. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

I have been working recently on some writing on the spirituality and psychology of clothing and I realise that for me in extreme old age, and possibly dependant by then, it would be unbearable to not be choosing my own clothes with which to express who I am still inside. All my life I have been dogged with criticism about my choice of apparel. My father when I was about 16 in church, whilst swinging my white pointed stiletto sling back from my toe in church whispered, “ Why can’t you be more like Wendy H?” (stout brown lace –ups).  My swish new coat in the early 1970’s in which to push the coach built pram round the shops, was described by a friend, as “Very ‘Ann Bowes’, but I wouldn’t be seen dead in it.” Then in my late 50’s the rural dean just mentioned to his congregation, “Ann isn’t going to be ordained. Her clothes aren’t suitable!

However, I affirm the words of Linda Grant in The Thoughtful Dresser that women above a certain age can’t afford to turn beige in an economic recession.  I have a queue in my will for my full length purple velvet coat, having been requested by a wide variety of unknown ladies, from a North Yorkshire rambling party,  met in a tea shop on my way to see the bishop (yet again), to a shop assistant on ‘Cheese’, in the M and S Christmas rush.

I mentioned gratitude in ageing thus far, with much to be thankful for and greater awareness as I age that even in the dark times, there is usually blessing. I have overwhelming thankfulness for my children, my sisters, my women friends; and for my enduring marriage which has survived and grown through most of the major traumas which a marriage can face. I have an appreciation of continuing good health without taking that for granted. With the collapse of our life business of publishing and bookselling, we have lost all our money including our home, but miraculously we still seem not to be in need of anything. We know indeed the Yorkshire wisdom of, “There’s no pockets in shrouds.” What is my greatest joy in life? Going back to the beginning and being able to listen to and learn from my grandchildren. To conclude, here is the latest gem!

Recently I was to preach for about the 4th Sunday running from the lectionary Gospel passages, about Jesus honouring the wisdom of children above that of adults. So, getting a little over stretched on an innovative and insightful approach to this, I thought ”I will go to the other primary source” and ask my grandsons why they thought Jesus believed children to understand more deeply some things, than did grown- ups. Why did Jesus think children were wiser? The six year old took only a moment to consider. The reply…. “Well, kids have more space in their brains for things like God and Jesus and angels. They have more space in their brains to learn new things because grown-ups brains are stuffed full of memories!”

My most surprising discovery in ageing has echoed T.S Eliot; that actually life is a circle. I am getting towards the end and recognising that I am returning to the beginning and knowing it for the first time.

Ann Bowes

 I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument

– while the song I came to sing remains unsung. 

RabindranathTagore.

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