Category Archives: Aging

Circle of Life

For 25 years, I have been the Young Friend. What I mean is that I did not fit in especially well with most of my peers as a kid, so I gravitated toward the adults, who understood and appreciated my quirks.

In the back of my mind, I knew I was playing a dangerous game: If all your friends are 20+ years your senior, there will come a moment when you are left alone. When you reach that moment, you face a question: What do I do now?

I have a few friends my age. Some go way back; some are newer. The older I get, the more I find I have in common with my peers. Age is a great equalizer. But I have always cherished my older friends. And I have always known I couldn’t keep them forever.

Nearly five years ago, my friend Laurel died unexpectedly. I treasure the years I had with her. We had a host of things in common and delighted in discovering them, usually over sushi. She was nearly 30 years my senior, but we might as well have been sisters. I miss her.

In late November, while I was busy surviving COVID-19, one of my oldest and dearest friends, Anna, lost her battle with lung cancer. Anna was my sophomore English teacher. She was my parents’ sophomore English teacher. She was also one of my biggest cheerleaders. If not for this godforsaken virus, I would have headed back to Illinois to see her the minute she told me she was sick.

When I got word that she had slipped away, I wondered: What next? What do you do when you’re the Young Friend, and your Older Friends leave you?

The answer is: You become the Old Friend. I started grad school this semester (something Anna had long nudged me to do), and I soon befriended a young classmate. The book in this picture is a Christmas gift she sent me, along with a sweet note that sounded a lot like something I might have said to Anna or Laurel.

I still miss them. But I am not as lost as I thought I’d be. I understand my role now, and I honor them by fulfilling it. I have always loved circular plot lines, and Tiara’s gift completes a circle.

This new role is strange, yet oddly familiar and eminently comforting. I embrace it. As Sandy Denny said: “I do not fear the time.”

Embracing the Cailleach

As I prepared for my hysterectomy, I kept seeing articles about how to cope with sorrow and regret. I can understand young women mourning the loss of their fertility, but at 44, I can’t see grieving for organs that hurt me for decades. If a person treated me the way my reproductive system did, I’d be shopping for hydrofluoric acid and Rubbermaid tubs.

Apparently some women my age are devastated by the notion of reaching menopause a little ahead of schedule. They fear losing their femininity — or worse, their value — along with what’s left of their fertility.

I blame our society. We portray postmenopausal women as feeble, unattractive, or daft figures to be pitied, patronized, or ignored.

I’ve been researching a lot of Celtic folklore lately, and one thing I’ve found striking is its reverence for older women. The youthful goddess Brigid ruled the spring and summer, but the Cailleach — a Gaelic word that translates to “hag” or “crone” — governed the winter months. In the stories I’ve read, the Cailleach is a strong, creative, sexually confident goddess, unfettered by the threat of pregnancy, the discomforts of menstruation, or the demands of motherhood and imbued with the wisdom of experience.

Imagine what would happen to the patriarchy if women took our cues from such a figure. Imagine what would happen if we stopped apologizing for our own longevity, quit measuring our worth by fertility or looks, and embraced the freedom and power that come with age.

There are legitimate reasons to be upset about a hysterectomy. It hurts. It’s tiring. It’s expensive. One in three women will have hysterectomies by age 60 — a number I imagine would plummet if our government could be arsed to spend as much money funding research into fibroids and endometriosis as it spends on security to protect Donald Trump while he farts around in New York and Florida. (Perhaps I’ve read Gloria Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate” essay one too many times, but I can’t help suspecting that if a third of all men had to have reproductive organs removed by age 60, we’d declare a national emergency.)

But while I’m frustrated that it was necessary, I can’t quite bring myself to regret a surgery that ended 30 years of pain and inconvenience and accelerated my entry into the comforts of cronedom.

I am not afraid of aging.

I am not afraid of becoming the Cailleach.

Bring it.

Emily