FemmeNoir Online
On Aging
Home | What's New | About FemmeNoir | Commentary | Leaders & Legends | Articles | Herstory | Lesbian Horoscopes | Arts & Entertainment | Fashion | Multimedia | In Her Own Words | Poetry | Coming Out | Resources | Archives | Message Board | Calendar | Mailbag | Contact Me | Photos | Entertainment Guide | Favorite Links | Search | Redbone Press | Pica 12
On Aging
Angela D. Odom

As I watch my hair flame red and turn gray upon my head, I think about getting older.  I know I’m ONLY 45 and to some, I’m considered “young stuff,” but I’ve seen many things and have experienced much; so much so, my mind is more aged than my body portends.   There is a poem by Nikki Giovanni entitled The Life I Led.  On the CD I have with this poem, The Way I Feel, the words of the song sung in the background is I’ll never grow old. 

I know My upper arms will grow

Flabby it’s true

Of all the women in my family

My mother and I have been conducting a little experiment.  One day my mother noticed, while she and I were out once, people tend to not address her directly; instead, they address me directly and not her.  This annoys my mother to no end.  Initially, I could not  believe it was actually happening; however, over the past few months to a year, whenever we are out together, I have found her words are very true.  A few weeks ago, while at the Volvo dealership picking up HER car, my mother requested a conference with the service manager to discuss HER car.  After addressing her for a few seconds, he stopped addressing her and began talking to me – no, it is not my car.  I turned my body, my eyes, and my focus toward my mother in an attempt to likewise redirect his focus back to her.  It was, after all, her car and he was no spring chicken either. 

Every time my mother and I go out together, especially for lunch or dinner, I make it a point to never address the people serving us, particularly if she is the one requesting napkins or something more to drink.  It is my attempt to force them to address the woman sitting across from me – the older woman with the gray hair – out of respect for our elders. 

i know that the purple veins

like dead fish in the  Seine

will dot my legs one day

and my hands will wither while

my hair turns grayish white  
i know that one day my teeth will move when

my lips smile

and a flutter of hair will appear below my nose  
i hope my skin doesn’t change to those blotchy


What is particularly disconcerting is to hear women in our community complain about going places where older lesbians frequent.  “They’re too old.”  “They’re too slow.”  “There are too many old women there.”  These “Old” women remember Stonewall.  Some were beaten in the streets for wearing men’s suits or clothing.  Some were sent to mental institutions because it was thought they were mentally ill and now, they suffer indignities in their own communities and are not addressed or given the time of day because they’re “Old.”  My mother is getting older.  I am getting older.  If we are fortunate, we will all get older – please treat me with dignity.

i want my menses to be undifficult

i’d very much prefer staying firm and slim

to grow old like a vintage wine fermenting

in old wooden vats with style

i’d like to be exquisite   

When my friend, Christine was ill with cancer and subsequently diagnosed as terminally ill, a female doctor (shocking) sent her home with enough medication to further destroy her liver and kidneys and oops, they forgot to send home with her a kit to check her blood glucose levels – something they had been doing every day while in the hospital.  Christine being a brilliant woman chose palliative care over hospice.  When she returned to the hospital, I made sure to bring the bag of medication with me to shock the senses of the doctors there.  Just as I thought, the emergency room doctor was shocked and the young female doctor – Ms. Condescending “help me help you” – was apparently forbidden to see Christine again.  You see, it’s not only bad to grow old; it is also bad to be old and sick.  You become a member of the throw-away society.  Some of the doctors and nurses who cared for Christine refused to address her sans to say “why do you want chemo?  You’re terminal.  Go home and write your will.”  I thank God for the one doctor who did address her directly and chose not to have Christine go out in a fog with the false belief it would be easier on him and others.  This doctor had already walked the path with his own father who was diagnosed with lung cancer.  His father played golf up to one week prior to his death.  This doctor believed you should manage the pain, but touch not the person’s life force.  I am truly grateful for him.

I think i will look forward to grandchildren

and my flowers    
all my knicknacks in their places

and that quiet of the bombs not falling in cambodia

settling over my sagging breasts

When I looked at my friend lying in her hospital bed dying, at the young age of 56, what were her dreams?  Did she have youthful dreams of a young girl playing in tall grasses, or did she have mature dreams on the wisdom of the ages.  As her eyes met mine that early morning, her eyes spoke of peace and tranquility.  I, 44 and she 56; 12 years held their distance between us and, as we had walked many days, months and years together, her glance was my signal it was now time to take our final walk together and make our forever farewells.  In the end, I learned the young can learn much from the old as Christine not only taught me how to grow old gracefully, to maintain a childlike demeanor, to enjoy always each day of your life and more importantly, the symbolism hidden in the death of Socrates after drinking the hemlock – it is the wisdom of death and the death of wisdom.

i hope my shoulder finds a head that needs nestling

and my feet find a footstool

after a good soaking with Epsom salts

i hope I die warmed by the light

that i tried to live.

At this year’s National Black Lesbian Conference, there was a conference within a conference entitled the Black Lesbian Elder Speak Project.  I wanted so much to see or be a part of this event, older Black lesbians coming together had to be a beautiful site to see.  Hopefully, women talked with them, asked questions and showed respect to these women who lived their lives during the harshest of times.  I am also encouraged to see the GLBT community working to establish retirement homes, centers and communities for older lesbians and gays because we truly need this. 

One never knows when one may find oneself in a nursing care facility.  My brother was recently in one and each time I visited, I heard an older White woman screaming from her bed “nurse, nurse, nurse, nurse,” constantly.  No one came to her bedside, no one cared about her needs, no one responded to her – she continued to scream.  Many did not have the luxury of a visitor and on one occasion while visiting my brother, the police arrived and my brother asked “was someone else raped?”  Sad but true in a many facilities, an older woman is still fair game for a sexual predator.  Many there came from wealth, great homes, made lots of money in their youth, and retired well off, but when you are old you can easily be taken advantage of by people who know you may not know what you are signing.  They will put you out of your home and off to a nursing facility you will go with Medicare footing the bill – no home, no family, no money and perhaps, no one will visit you.

As my hair flames red before turning gray, I wonder about my life at 65 – if I should be so lucky – will I have suffered a stroke, find myself in a facility such as the one my brother was in, realize someone adjudged me incompetent and became conservator/guardian over my estate, disappeared with my money and now, here I am?  Working in the legal industry, I have seen this story play out more times than I care to say.  If we don’t take care of each other, we may find those who never thought well of our lives, feeling even less inclined to feel guilt over ripping us off.  If we don’t take measures while we are competent to protect our property (wills, trusts, etc.) and our welfare (power of attorney for healthcare), we will have no recourse when we are considered incompetent.  If we do not take care of each other – older and younger lesbians of color – we may find ourselves members of the throw-away society and placed out of sight and out of mind.  It is nice to be a young GBF today in search of love, but one day, you will be an old dyke in search of a home if you do not take steps today to ensure you and your sisters have adequate healthcare and facilities for tomorrow.  It can happen to you.  There is a day marked for some when the goblet of hemlock is presented for us to drink to our destiny.



The Real Reason Patients Don't Get Proper Health Care
A new study says doctors don't follow patient-care guidelines. That's only part of the problem 

Being Out at 65
Gay retirement communities are catching on fast

FemmeNoir (c) 2004