Friday, April 22, 2005

More about chicken salad sandwiches.

Gramps on Reverend Mother’s blog commented:
I think that lots of mature people have sub-clinical but significant anxiety and depression. We are anxious because our future seems scary and out of our control. We are depressed because many of our hopes and personal aspirations have been crushed by time and reality. Our response is to become rigid and globally negative. We withdraw into our increasingly narrow comfort zone and we are critical of anyone who forces us to deal with change. Our internal distress is high but because we want to be perceived as nice people, we express our unhappiness in small nastiness about unimportant things.

I am just bemused and amused. I think of it as a gift I can give to them when I deliberately "mess up" and then watch them fuss. =o) (This was a joke. Just in case someone didn't realize that.)

I try to understand these women. These are the invisible women -- older ones put out to pasture, with no purpose. They are disenfranchised and feeling worthless. We have come to an understanding – I listen to them, they tell me how to make the sandwiches.

Miss Betsey Sue* used to teach the 4 year old Sunday School. She started to have problems with her arthritis and vision. Some of the younger people to “help out” took over her class – she was displaced. Miss Mary Lou* loves to make crocheted do-ma-hickies. She was told that they “don’t sell” at the Fall Festival and we don’t need any this year. She entered a severe depression. Miss Martha Blue* used to take care of her older relatives, visiting the nursing homes to brighten others up; now she can’t drive and she has lost all purpose. There are dozens of stories from these ladies – maybe a group of 20 or so, whose families have grown up and moved away and they are alone in their widowhood. They used to be leaders of the church when they were younger, but now most of the members don’t even know their names. As women grow older, they lose that “sex appeal” that some get their self-esteems from, they lose the perception of competence, they lose their positions of authority, they lose purpose. This sounds patronizing to a certain degree, but they remind me of that song from “Music Man”:

Alma- Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,
cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more

Alma and Ethel- Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little,
talk a little, cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more

All the ladies- Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little,
talk a little, cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more

And of course I am always incredibly self aware (sarcasm, just in case you didn’t notice.) I was chewed out by an older lady earlier this year for “not noticing” her anymore. She had been sniping about the flowers – the ones on the right-hand side were pastels and the ones on the left were warm autumn colors – and she wanted to gripe about it. I realized that she wasn’t really upset about the flowers. I asked it her if there was anything else bothering her. She wanted to know if I was mad at her or if she had offended me – I just had relegated her to the “not useful to me right now” pile and I really was ignoring her. It really was my problem. I now deliberately look each of these ladies in the eye every time I see them and say “good morning” and call them by name. I also make it a point to shake their hand or hug them for physical contact. Some still resist, but most respond wonderfully. I now have dozens of crocheted do-ma-hickies in my house, 5 different chicken salad recipies, people to go visit with me when I do the hospital visits, I get lots of homemade baked goods (really good for the weight control program!) and babysitters (which I usually don't use for long periods of time). Some (note not all, some still have a prejudice towards male pastors) Some consider me “their” pastor. I consider that an honor.

I have been reading a lot about the hidden aggression of middle school girls. They are told they cannot be physically aggressive like the boys at this age, so they learn some really devious methods of aggression. I am seeing parallels in these older women. Why are they aggressive? Because they feel (note the word feel) threatened.

Dr. Schieb has written a wonderful book:
Challenging Invisibility: Practices of Care With Older Women
by Karen D. Scheib

Women older than 65 are a large subgroup of the average congregation, yet women are noticeably absent in the literature and training in pastoral care and counseling. They outnumber same-aged men in the general United States population by more than 40 percent, but are underrepresented in studies and disappear from the media, which offers few positive images of older women in television, movies, and advertisements. In an in-depth study of women over the age of 65, Karen Scheib asked women how they feel they are perceived in their churches. Their answer: “invisible.”

Karen Scheib believes that invisibility results from social, political, and economic factors that provide the context in which women age. This social context is not neutral toward aging, but defines or constructs what it means to grow old and to be old. Scheib draws on her extensive research; insights of gerontology, sociology, psychology, and anthropology; and her experience as a practical pastoral theologian to develop a new approach to pastoral care with older women, an approach that takes into account social context, as well as individual analysis, and theological reflection. She proposes a model of care and a set of practices that challenge women’s invisibility and assist congregations in creating an environment that values contributions of older women.

A short article by Dr. Schieb from the Circuit Rider magazine.

My rule #1 is “No behavior exist in a vacuum. Including mine.” And it doesn’t. Sometimes we can figure out where it comes from, sometimes all we can do is cope. I’m learning to cope. I struggle with this almost every Sunday. I still don't "see" these women. I get really, really irritated with them. I get mad and frustrated at the petty bickering. But I know one day I will *be* one of these women.

*not their real names.

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