Feminists claim that aging is basically a feminist issue with unique challenges for women.
Though not a feminist, I feel inclined to concur at least in demographic terms. In fact in the 80 plus age group, there are fewer than 40 males per 100 females.
The unique challenges that women face in later years include widowhood, loneliness, depression, poverty, and institutionalization.
Widowhood is a reality that awaits most women in their later years.
This is especially true in the Asian communities, where the norm is for women to marry men older than themselves by at least five years.
A similar age pattern also exists in the present generation of seniors in the western world.
This practice combined with the comparatively longer life span of women predisposes them to the increased risk of widowhood in later life.
Among the losses of aging, loss of spouse is deemed as the gravest by older individuals.
Widowhood involves not merely the loss of a spouse, but several losses, including loss of role of wife, loss of companionship, and even loss of identity for some women.
My mother’s neighbour, ‘Mrs. Varghese’ describes her husband’s sudden passing as an event that turned her life upside down.
For 20 years, Mr. Varghese had managed their finances, paid bills, and maintained their vehicle, house and the yard.
While still grieving, she had to face the daunting challenge of taking over a horde of unfamiliar tasks.
Looking back at that period in her life, she recalls how she finally sought the help of her adult children, and gradually learned the techniques of banking, financial management and home and car maintenance.
She confesses, “Honestly, I never thought at that time that one day I would be able to manage everything on my own. I never realized I had it in me!” Surely, she had to learn everything the hard way.
For ‘Mrs. Joseph’ the hardest challenge she faced after Mr. Joseph’s demise was the extreme loneliness in her life.
She says, “Suddenly I felt friendless; all our married friends left me. They never invited me to their parties, and never visited me. With my husband gone, I was no longer welcome in their group.”
That was the time when a former friend, a widow herself, contacted Mrs. Joseph. This friend was able to understand precisely what Mrs. Joseph was experiencing and their friendship steadily grew from that point.
Another unique challenge older women encounter is associated with caregiving.
While the majority of aging women provide free childcare for their grandchildren and also care for their ailing husbands, they end up without a caregiver for themselves.
As Mrs. Joseph says, “I was the primary caregiver for my husband in his final days, but who is there to care for me? I will have to go to a nursing home”.
We humans are a resilient species, and we can overcome any challenge that life presents to us, as can be inferred from the testimonies of Mrs. Varghese and Mrs. Joseph.
Nevertheless, a heightened awareness of oncoming challenges will enable us to be better equipped for the future, and also help our families and friends to provide the right support at the right time.
Padmaja Genesh, who holds a bachelor degree in medicine and surgery as well as a bachelor degree in gerontology, has spent several years teaching and working with health care agencies. She has been a board member of Red Deer Golden Circle and has been a resident of Red Deer for the past six years. Her column appears every second Sunday. Please send your comments to email@example.com.