70? Old? Us? Could it be? We didn't plan it this way, but here we were, two life-long friends, reunited geographically as we turned 70. Both once again on the U.S. mainland, we could more easily visit and share the next era of our lives -- just as we had shared our adolescence and early adulthood before moving far apart. But what did we know about "old?"
As we neared 70, we both faced major moves with our spouses, significant career alterations and new family involvements. We wished for a road map, but knew of none for the years ahead in this new era of extended longevity. What we did know was that the average life span for women in America was now 81, and many of us could expect to live to 100. What were women in their eighth decade doing with their time? What were their hopes, dreams, expectations? What does "old" look like these days? We decided to find out.
We began by reading all we could about women and aging. Wading through reams of literature that typically heralded decline in later years -- ill health, depression, the wheels falling off -- we dubbed our search, "Look at all the pills on Granny's night stand." Little described the vitality of the older women we knew and strived to be.
We decided to converse with women directly by starting a blog we named 70candles.com. The comments and posts began to arrive, slowly at first, then gathered momentum, as women began to talk and lend support to each other on our site. Women reaching their 70th birthday, idly searching the web for comfort, found us and shared their feelings about that moment in their lives. Others shared personal anecdotes, told tales about ageism, described retirement struggles and financial calamities. Many more offered encouragement and spoke of new projects, gratitude and resilience. he entries were rich with honest emotions, sensitive observations and yes, good humor.
We began to wonder what would happen if we were to gather together women in their 70's to discuss these topics face-to-face. We knew that many of us were proud participants in women's groups in the 1960's and 1970's; we were the first generation of women to enter the work world en mass. We knew that ours is a gutsy and voluble cohort. Maybe others would be as interested as we in discussing this new, unchartered decade. We gave it a go.
What ensued was a series of "70 Candles Conversation Groups" in cities around the country. What exciting, fascinating, moving and humor-filled discussions we have had! We saw that women our age do, indeed, enjoy talking about this time in our lives. We share common issues, common joys and challenges, and it turned out to be both hilariously funny and deeply poignant to share topics rarely aired. Many spoke of continuing such conversations beyond that initial experience. In future blogs we will share some of what we've heard.