This International Women’s Day I am honouring the women I have met through our Cherished Pets Community Project since we began in 2015.
I have been blessed to connect with some extraordinary women, who have lived seemingly ordinary lives. And yet each one of them has become a hero to me with Her own story to tell. One of my favourite things is to share a cup of tea with one of these women and hear Her story. It always leaves me feeling inspired and blessed.
I’m talking about women in our shared community, who are now in their 80s and 90s, who have experienced a real life and all it brings: love, loss and connection; hardship, celebration and challenge; change and transition. Who have birthed and raised children (or not), created families, built homes and friendships, volunteered in communities, lost loved ones and worked primarily in “traditional” female professions. “I was just a Secretary”, “I just did administration”. “I never really did anything important”, she would say to me. Oh yes you did is my reply.
These are women who managed to live on the smell of an oily rag but still made ends meet, went without and made do, knew their neighbours, waited patiently for the good things in life to arrive, repaired what was broken, grew their own vegetables and made their own relishes, baked cakes from scratch and lived on stew. These women learned to save, go without, follow their dreams and appreciate the simple things in life. Instant gratification was not an option.
These are women with a wicked wit and sense of humour, who can laugh at the mundane and see opportunity in despair. Who get it. Who are wise, strong and resilient.
I remember Maureen, sharing the trauma of her stillborn baby being whisked away from her by a severe Matron in a Catholic hospital in the 50s. “All I wanted to do was hold my daughter and they said that wasn’t good for me”.
Beryl, whose funeral I attended last week, who had not been able to bear her own children but had chosen to support and provide a safe home and full heart to multiple foster children and was an exemplary community citizen. She was wicked, tough and stubborn and she was loved by her kids.
Anna, a proud German woman who had loved her Lithuanian husband deeply, (“There was only one man for me, and he was it. I miss him every single day”. He had passed 25 years ago.) Anna had worked during the War as an airplane mechanic, because all the men were off fighting. She knew about plane engines! How cool was that.
Evelyn, my very dear friend and first CP client, who had dreamed of being a ballet dancer, but real life got in the way. She loved her holidays, had been to China in the 90s, and still managed her annual trip to Queensland until just a few years before she died.
I have been disturbed and at times shocked by the number of women who have shared with me stories of domestic violence. “One time he threw me so hard against the wall that I couldn’t breathe”; “He was a good man deep down, but you learned to steer away from him when he had hit the bottle”; “I was quite glad when he died because he did not treat me well”; “Actually he wasn’t a very nice man. He made my life difficult and it was a relief when he died as my life could start again”. “You just had to suck it up and get on with it. You couldn’t leave back then and you couldn’t talk to anyone about it”.
These are women with substance. Grit. Resilience. Determination. Women with full and kind hearts willing to share. These are the women who contribute to the local Church, CWA and senior citizens groups.
Today I applaud our “ordinary” elderly women, living in our neighbourhood, tottering up to the supermarket with their trolleys, or serving tea at Probus, or sleeping their days away in a nursing home waiting for a visitor. They ALL have something to share. Take the time to connect with them.
I ask them about the women of today: “The young ones have so much more opportunity, but don’t lose sight of what really matters in life. Relationships, connection and balance. Living within your means and taking time to pause”.
To the young women of today, our women elders are our greatest fans, cheering us on from behind their knitting and craft. Take time to pause, connect and listen. You will be surprised by the wisdom that exists right on our doorsteps.