My sister claims I must have a lot of karmic debt to pay off since the past seven years of my life have been mostly spent taking care of the sick, dying, and aged — first helping with my dying mother, then my terminally-ill life mate/soul mate, now my elderly 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+