Back to being 60

I was feeling a kind of pull, at 60. Some of it was to do with how I look and how I dress, how I present myself to the world. I was starting to ask myself, is it okay for me to wear this or that, to do this or that with my hair, my face, my feet? How do I want to look now? Do I have to make adjustments, for my age? Can I still trust myself to know what is okay, for me, including the age I now am and the direction in which I am heading, age-wise? Can I use my intuition and do and wear what I feel drawn to? I don’t want to dress like my children but neither do I want to dress like my grandparents, if they were still alive. And it’s not so much about looking younger; it’s more about empowering myself at any age.  I am an individual, independent in my thinking, doing and being, and part of that is the way I present myself to the world, and to myself in the mirror. This is part of self-care, for me, because it gives me pleasure and makes me feel good.

The pull I felt was challenging me, making me question this. I thought as it was doing this for me it must also be challenging all women “of a certain age”, pulling us towards that pigeon-hole, that category. And at 50, or 60, or 70 can we say how much care we give ourselves; how much are we able to love ourselves, in a doing manner, on a daily basis. How much do we give in to the pull to not care so much, to not pay so much attention, to scale down the pleasure and the fun; the feminine fun of clothes, shoes, hair, face creams and all of that stuff that can be so much fun. Look at how our grand-daughters, if we have them, love to dress up and put on our lipstick, eye-shadow, nail varnish. Do we give to ourselves the nurture, support, availability and actual caring that we have given and still give, unequivocally, to our children and grandchildren, if we have them.  Does it matter to us? Are we worth it?

Grieving

Grief is messy and hard. It doesn’t let up. You grow up an “I” person: I’m doing this or that, I’m going to such and such, I’m studying this subject etc. Then you meet someone and you find yourself becoming a “we” person: we’re buying a house, we’re having a baby, we’re going on holiday.

Then maybe that all goes wrong – or not – and you are again an “I” person, but not the same “I” person that you were before. Now you’re a little older and possibly a little wiser, or at least you have some life experience that you didn’t have before. You’re aware that you are now an “I”.

Further down the road you meet someone, again, and you find yourself back in the “we” mode. For me the “I” and the “we” jostled against each other for a few years and lately I settled into a “we”. But now I am again an “I” because the other half of “we” has left the planet. Gone for good.

Yesterday I visited my partner’s grave, in Clayton Wood Natural Burial ground, just by Ditchling in East Sussex. It’s a lovely place to bury someone you love, if you find that you have to do that. My partner loved nature and now he’s resting on the South Downs. He has a plaque with his name on it. That’s a very odd feeling, to see the name of someone who so recently was so very much alive, on a wooden plaque in a burial ground at the end of a grave and a mound of earth. But the plaque and the grave do have a presence that gave me a focus so that I sat and talked to him for a little while. Of course I know that he’s not really there but somehow it helped. I sprinkled some poppy seeds and chatted as I would if he were at home with me or we were sitting in the car going somewhere.

Then I went and had tea in a lovely teashop in Henfield, Norton House tearooms. I was hungry because I’m not eating much so I had a smoked salmon and cucumber sandwich and a pot of Assam tea made with loose tea, not a teabag, and a home-made meringue with whipped cream. It was all delicious and all of this, the visit and the chat and the tea, lifted me and I felt quite cheered up.

And then tomorrow comes and I wake up and it starts all over again. The pain and the challenge of grief and a new way of living. Variable and unpredictable and messy and very tiring.

How do I feel

I’m a speck of dust

floating in the light

of a sunbeam

shining through the window

 

How do I feel?

I’m one drop of rain

falling on a grey morning

on someone’s umbrella

 

How do I feel?

I’m a child’s breath,

warm and sweet

in the morning,

cuddled in bed

before the day begins

 

How do I feel?

I’m a bead of sweat

on a furrowed brow

anxious, tired, afraid,

alone

 

How do I feel?

I’m a flake of snow

trodden underfoot

on a winter morning

 

How do I feel?

I’m a single cell

in a human body

dying of cancer

 

“It is not half so important to know as to feel”

So said Rachel Carson.

 

Did you know

the most powerful antibiotic

discovered by Alexander Fleming

was in

human tears?

Pause for new thoughts

Well. Here I am, posting a blog about independent women. By which I meant women with or without a partner, or husband, or significant other, and as I had a partner myself I was not really making a distinction between women on their own and women not on their own.

But now I have suddenly become a woman on my own. My partner died six weeks ago, very suddenly and totally unexpectedly. We were together for nineteen years, some of that time rather bumpy. Nineteen years is a long time and his absence is huge.

And it is causing me to look again at what I have written and maybe soften a little. It makes a difference when someone is standing next to you in life and then suddenly they are not. It brings some understanding and compassion and softening around the edges for those of us who are truly independent, on our own without a life partner. I have my daughters and friends, to whom and for whom I am truly grateful and I still have the desire to build an online community of women of a certain age and encourage an independent spirit and approach but now independence looks and feels a slightly more vulnerable state. We are at quite a vulnerable age at over fifty and over sixty. We look back and see the roles we have played and some of the losses as well as the adventures. That’s what I’m doing now. Feeling sadness and loss as well as trying to find courage and a new way of encountering my life.

A personal journey

I was happy being fifty; that was a good day. I was happy with what I saw in the mirror, even though my life was beginning to fray at the edges and life in my fifties was often difficult and sometimes traumatic. When I approached sixty, ten years of emotionally-intense living had passed and I was very conscious of where I was in my life, both in terms of time – approaching my sixth decade – and how I was spending my time, earning my living, relating to my family and friends and how I felt about myself and my life. I told myself and everyone around me that sixty is the new forty. A generation ago, maybe even as little as ten years ago, forty was regarded as middle age: I would suggest that now it is the beginning of maturity. At forty we are probably not even halfway through our lives. We still have a lot of living and learning to do.

When I actually became sixty it was a bit of a shock: it’s amazing the effect that a number can have. Just going from being fifty nine one day and sixty the next seemed like a huge leap. I suddenly wasn’t sure where that leap had taken me, involuntary as it was, and how I felt about it. I could now draw my State pension and travel on buses free! What section of society did I now belong to? Had I become a member of the ‘greys’?  And if I had, what did that mean? Even though I thought it was great that I could get a discount on train travel when I bought my Senior Rail Card I inwardly shrank just a bit on presenting my ID to the clerk at the train station. “He knows exactly how old I am,” I thought. “I don’t know how old he is”. Then “Well, this is what sixty looks like”.

I looked around at other roughly sixty-year-old women and observed them. Of course, they come in all shapes, sizes and colours, hair as well as skin. And that was interesting, but also, in a way, difficult, because I was part of this group that I was observing, and I observed them everywhere I went, and so I did not have the objectivity of observing something that I was outside of and detached from. I was observing myself as well.

Some questions to get started

What do you do when you’re sixty? Or forty or fifty, or seventy? Where do you go with your life? How do you decide what direction to take? What are your choices, now?

Is this (for me) a mid-life crisis, rather later than most? A spiritual dilemma?  A family breakdown, when you no longer hold the family together and they no longer hold you together? What is this empty place in which I find myself and in which I am losing myself?

This can come at any time I think. Age has some relevance but it’s not all about age. A life crisis can come at any age. At thirty – what shall I do now? No husband, no children, but feeling the need and desire for both. At forty, with small children, alone or with a partner, with money problems, social pressures to conform, to be the person other people expect; saying “yes” when you want to say “no”, just sometimes. At fifty, children gone, possibly husband gone too, possibly not; identity problems within a relationship: “who am I now”? “where am I going now”?

Or at sixty, where I arrived four years ago.

Are you an independent woman? Am I an independent woman? What does it mean to be an independent woman? What is independence? Is it just the opposite of dependence? I have been thinking about this, before I was able to start the blog. What does independence mean for me; what difference does it make to my life?

Independence is usually fought for and hard won and then safe-guarded; witness what is happening in the so-called Arab Spring right now. The Egyptian people are having to fight again to have some measure of independence and freedom of choice in their government and some control over their lives, but they are in a different situation now than when the riots first began. And Syria is currently the scene of a tragedy that beggars belief. So it happens in steps. We don’t wake up one day and declare ourselves to be independent and therefore we are.

Independence, for me, means freedom of thought, of opinions; independence of being. Independent women have a sense of their own identity, even though it might sometimes wobble.