My sister claims I must have a lot of karmic debt to pay off since the past five years of my life have been mostly spent taking care of the sick, dying, and aged — first helping with my mother, then my life mate/soul mate, now my father — but I have a hunch it’s more that I’m going through my crone stage a bit earlier than normal. Although “crone” has become a pejorative term, crone is one of the mythological stages of a woman’s life (maiden, mother, crone). Crones cared for the dying and were spiritual midwives at the end of life, the link in the cycle of death and rebirth. They were healers, teachers, way-showers, bearers of sacred power, knowers of mysteries, mediators between the world of spirit and the world of form.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Something to look forward to becoming — a wise woman — and yet crone is a word few women embrace, and no wonder since over the centuries, crone has come to mean “ugly old woman.”
It seems strange that there are so many derogatory words for ugly old women — witch, hag, crone, harridan, battle-ax, beldam, shrew, termagant — yet not a single derogatory to word to describe ugly old men. (At least, I can’t think of any.) And why are such wise women considered ugly, anyway? Apparently, after men have had their way with young maidens, then used up their youth in bearing and rearing children, they somehow expect women to still be attractive. Nowadays, of course, with creams and lotions and make-up and hair-dyeing and all the other beauty treatments available, most women do retain at least a semblance of their youthful looks. And yet those ancient terms for “wise old woman” still retain their pejorative connotations.
But no matter what she looks like or what she is called, a woman who calmly listens to the crotchets of the old folks, who patiently sits by the bedside of the dying, who deals with life’s unpleasant chores with a minimum of complaint, has an aura of beauty. I would be willing to be that no one who is ministered to by one of these “crones” thinks she is ugly. I bet her beauty shines through to them, if no one else.
I also bet she isn’t aware of her beauty. Like me, she is probably simply doing what needs to be done as calmly as possible.
It seems odd that so many of us who have lost our mates end up taking care of aged parents, but perhaps we are the ones who have the patience for dealing with the slow and inexorable ways of age and death.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+
February 15, 2013 at 5:09 pm
February 15, 2013 at 8:23 pm
Thank you, Dellani.
February 15, 2013 at 10:09 pm
I have recently begun thinking of myself as entering the crone stage as well. My children are older and as I continue to deal with the impact of chronic illness, I find it gives me no pass to the unpleasant tasks of everyday life. But I find it a welcome and peaceful state. My years of experience have come to bear on the daily chores, as guidance to my growing children, as support to my aging parents, as encouragement to others who have the same infirmity as I. There is a stillness that comes from accepting that certain things are no longer possible. Some part of me seems to have always existed at this state and only now is pleasantly surprised to see the rest of me has caught up!
February 16, 2013 at 2:36 pm
I thnk that’s the key, learning to accept that certain things are no longer possible. It keeps us from comparing ourselves and our lives to an impossible ideal, and is certainly a lot more stressful.
February 16, 2013 at 2:03 pm
My very outspoken and strong female friend M. has always embraced the term crone and I never really knew what the term meant (except for that “woman of a certain age” sort of thing). I think it is a wonderful concept, to be a wise caregiver. Women are just not respected at any age. It has infuriated me since I was 21 and could happily have lapped up male attention, but was always aware that it wasn’t about ME but about some false values society has. I’ve always hated the whole view of women in society, that lack of respect. I don’t know what the answer is, but I will say that women are very guilty of self-disgust and that disgusts me. Just the other day I heard my 30-year old colleague talk about her wrinkles, to which I replied “give me a break”. This self-absorption and self-hatred is so tiring and sets the tone for everyone else. Ugh.
February 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm
It’s a hard thing to do, to go our own way rather than get caught up in the ideals of youth and beauty that are foisted on us all our lives. I’m learning (finally!) to see that no matter what shape my body is in, it’s the perfect shape for me. Maybe that, along with caring for the dying, makes me a crone.
I wonder what life would be like without mirrors?
February 16, 2013 at 4:31 pm
Pat, I have wondered the same and think that experiment where you cover all your mirrors for a week is likely pretty mind-opening. 🙂