Women Over 50 – Strangers Who Are Already Friends

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My stint in the hospital thirty-two years ago taught me something very important about women’s friendship. Women who’ve been through stuff, or are going through stuff – they share each other’s pain. Back in 1983 I was admitted to St. John’s Hospital on Fifth Avenue in New York City, almost seven months pregnant and in preterm labor.  One day I was a young lawyer with everything going for her and her life mapped out on a perfectly planned path, and the next day I was nothing – a bedridden disaster with no control over my life that was unraveling by the minute. Things went from shocking to bad to worse to hopeless to tragic. I lost my baby. I had never before felt such grief, guilt, failure.  But I also received something very valuable – the feeling of sisterhood, extended by the many women who didn’t just care for me and treat me as medical professionals; they felt my pain and they enveloped me with warmth.

In the first hour, there was the nurse who patiently held the little dixie cup between my legs and looked out the window and chatted with me amiably as the snow sifted down through the darkening sky onto the trees of Central Park and I, awkwardly balanced on a bedpan, tried to pee lying down; then my birthing class instructor who brought articles to my bedside every few days, things she’d printed out about halting preterm labor and about neonatal survival after preterm birth; the red-headed middle-aged woman who washed my hair every other day in a bin she slid under my head as I lay prone in the bed, who leaning close over my face, said each time in such a kind and sad Irish brogue, “Please God, let your little baby survive”; the head nurse on the afternoon shift, Lily, who time after time came striding into my room, as angry as I was at the nurses who forgot my medication or wouldn’t come to take the bedpan away; my doctor whose face had gone white ten days earlier when she’d examined me at her office and then sent me straight to the hospital, who gave me my last examination on the tenth day and, her eyes welling up, reached up and clicked off the drug that had been dripping into my arm to try to stop the contractions – no need for it anymore; Lily again who came right away when I begged for her, and said nothing but leaned down and gave me her hand to clutch, who stayed after her shift to walk beside me while I still clung to her, tears pouring down, as they rolled me out of my room and down the hallways to delivery; and the woman I was paired with “after” in the middle of the night, who I thought was asleep as I tried to muffle my crying, and who, when I finally became quiet, asked me, “Are you OK?” and who chuckled just barely when I said “Yes” and then “No,” and who then said “Me either.” We lay in the dark in the wee silent hours on either side of the curtain that separated us and told each other what had just happened to us – I’d lost my first baby, a son; she’d just had a hysterectomy after years of hoping for children but conceiving none. Neither of us said things like “it was god’s will” or “maybe it was better this way;” we were just sad and feeling it fully, holding hands figuratively with our words. I never saw her face; we didn’t bother sharing our names. In the morning she was gone. I will never forget her.  No one but another woman feeling the same loss as mine could have made me feel so understood and so loved.

All of these memories were brought floating to the surface  by Rita Wilson’s story of women helping her when she was not – and then was – diagnosed with breast cancer, and again by Paula Wooter’s post on her blog, How to Become A Cat Lady Without the Cats. Paula had just completed three weeks of daily radiation treatments for breast cancer, and she wrote, “I was affectionately known as ‘Woot’ by Sam, Paul & Amanda, the radiation technicians. They were quick to tell me I had ‘the best name, EVER!’ I’m guessing it tickled their fancy to say they were treating Wooters’ Hooters.”

In a crisis, your medical caretakers and your co-sufferers are your friends, plain and simple. They know the shit that’s going on, and they don’t worry about what to say. They’re in it with you, walking by your side, giving you their hand, feeling your pain.

In the last several years, I have come to understand that every woman in my over-50 world is in it with me, walking my path.  It’s a given that she’s been seasoned and softened and hardened and opened to a greater level of understanding by her own trials and losses over the years. When we meet we bond; we are already old friends. We don’t necessarily share our tragedies or our disappointments at all, but we know they’re there without having to know a damn thing. Some women are naturally the information-givers; some the advisers; some the huggers; others the doers; all have learned to be, at least at times, those who let us talk and don’t interrupt. Women of a certain age evolve into Strangers Who Are Already Friends.

Such is womanhood past fifty. All of it new and all of it familiar, all of it unexpected and all of it accepted.  It’s good.

And that’s what we honor and celebrate at Women At Woodstock.

14 thoughts on “Women Over 50 – Strangers Who Are Already Friends

    • July 14, 2015 at 5:33 pm
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      Thank you so much, Mimi.

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  • July 11, 2015 at 10:28 am
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    this is a beautiful post and my eyes welled up with love and sadness and joy and grief and understanding and devotion. i’m so glad i know you.

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    • July 14, 2015 at 5:32 pm
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      You too, Janet. You too.

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  • July 11, 2015 at 1:13 pm
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    Anne, what a beautiful, heart-wrenching post. I was especially touched by your description of your relationship with the woman in the other bed and wonder what ever happened to her. I’m sure, like you, she has lived a good life, with all the ups, downs and memories, like the one she shares with you, that make us uniquely ourselves. Hugs, girl.

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    • July 14, 2015 at 5:32 pm
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      Thank you, Lynn. And I too wonder what happened to the woman on the other side of the curtain, yet in a way I feel that I’ve met her again over and over, at our gatherings.

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  • July 11, 2015 at 6:34 pm
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    How well you described and experience of intimacy and trust born out of being as you say “on the path.” Your friend on the other side of the sheet, and the Irish lady were there just when you needed them. We find that over and over again in our lives and post 50, we’re a lot more comfortable with that. The women I met at Woman at Woodstock came from the place of we take all of us with us. When we are present to expressing our selves and our lives, we do instinctively and authentically most specifically where it feels safe and is encouraged. In that space, anything can happen and does.

    Enjoyed this, Ann.
    Love,
    Peggy

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    • July 14, 2015 at 5:31 pm
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      Thank you so much, Peggy. You say it so well. Somehow, our gatherings at Women At Woodstock are, as you say, comfortable and authentic, and we do “take all of us with us.”

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  • July 17, 2015 at 9:50 am
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    I’d never thought about the intimacy of we women of a certain age have gained quite in this way until you pointed it out Ann. Experiences we have had are not exactly the same, yet with the wisdom we’ve gained, I believe we are more confident in pulling from our own journeys to reach out to each other. And we’re not so weirded out about accepting encouragement from others – though I’m a work in progress on that part.:)

    Thanks for sharing your story – that couldn’t have been easy.

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    • July 17, 2015 at 8:37 pm
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      Thank you, Veronica. And you must keep working on accepting encouragement from others – you’ve earned it!

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  • July 24, 2015 at 12:46 am
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    Veronica has me about 90% convinced I should attend this year’s Women at Woodstock gathering. My husband is always amazed at how much I learn about other women’s lives within a short time of meeting them. (He didn’t find out that one of his close work colleagues was separated until 7 months after the fact!) During my life, people have said I’m reserved, but I find that I feel safe to share with most women of a certain age and that I can readily relate to their life stories.

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    • July 26, 2015 at 7:21 am
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      You are so right, Suzanne. I think that by the time a woman hits 50 (or so), she’s accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience and, therefore, compassion – and she’s started to let go of the superficial aspects of ego and competitiveness – and while all this is happening, she’s finding she has more time available for her own thoughts and pursuits than she’s had for the past twenty or so years. It’s powerful, and when we all gather in one place, magical things happen! I hope I’ll be meeting you in November!

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  • August 4, 2015 at 7:32 am
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    Thank you for this. I feel our sisterhood every day in sometimes small, and sometimes huge ways!

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    • August 6, 2015 at 7:34 am
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      As do I, Kim. One thing that really proves this point is the “Interesting Women Lunch” that I put together from time to time. I simply invite the interesting women I’ve met lately, along with interesting women I already know (all over 50) to meet for lunch. The ease and camaraderie is instant, even though most of the women are strangers to each other when they arrive. It’s like we’re all, already friends!

      Reply

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