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Reviews

"Old and Smart is a freeing book. It is honest, intelligent, alive and wise. It makes me look forward to my next birthday and the next and next. . ."
-Sandy Frances Duncan


Canadian Press: North Americans need better attitude toward aging: Writer
North America may be the only culture that suffers from a deep denial of aging, says Betty Nickerson, a Vancouver Island writer and broadcaster.

"This may be the only culture that does not respect old age, or know that the elderly are the keepers of the stories, mysteries and tribal lore of the culture," Nickerson, 73, told delegates at the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Gerontology recently.

Four years ago, in a bid to eradicate what she sees as society's prejudice of older people, particularly women, she spearheaded a movement called Amazing Greys.

"These are the majority of older women who, contrary to popular belief, manage their own lives, see doctors only when necessary and are capable of enhancing that part of their personality that is competent, self-actualizing and as alert as can be expected in our mixed-up North American society," she says.

Nickerson wrote a book titled Old and Smart: Women and the Adventure of Aging.

She also holds annual workshops for what she calls her "age mates." They,have grown from modest beginnings at her home near Nanaimo, B.C., into events held in other part of Canada and the U.S.

"The very first thing those who work with the elderly must learn is that we are not victims, not helpless, nor useless," she told delegates, a number of whom are social workers, therapists and adult daycare staff.

"It is not well-meaning of you to have older women weaving strips of cloth in your therapy sessions. Instead they should be encouraged to do I what they know best - make quilts together, use those skills they know we'll to fulfil themselves."

Nickerson said there is an "enormous gulf" between a society like ours and pre-patriarchal societies where elder women are founts of wisdom, law, healing skills and moral leadership.

In those cultures, "our wrinkles would be badges of honor, not of shame."

To demonstrate some of the ancient rituals honoring older women, she presented a croning ceremony for delegates.

Rite of passage

"A croning ceremony is for a woman entering the final stage of life from 50 on up and who wishes to celebrate her aging and her life with trusted, caring persons," she explains.

The ceremony involves giving a woman support so she feels positive about her aging and value her nurturing and caring role.

It provides a rite of passage that enables an older Women to shout out to the world, "I'm older, I want to celebrate my maturity, my experience and my wisdom."

In an interview, Nickerson said baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, will be more attune to valuing the elderly.

"I have great hopes for the boomers as they come along because they have altered every other phase of our lives," she says. "And they are the ones who want to know about. the mysteries of aging and to know that it's not that terrible.
-Judy Creighton, The Canadian Press

Author Addresses Age
This fall, 200 women who call themselves the Amazing Grays will gather on Vancouver Island to celebrate their energy, creativity, and wisdom. They will dance, sing, drum, tell their stories, read their poetry, display their crafts, and attend workshops.

According to B.C. author Betty Nickerson, founder of the Amazing Grays and author of the newly released Old and Smart: Women and the Adventure of Aging, the 200 women are working toward developing a new, more positive vision of ageing. She says they are becoming, a community of elders who recognize how much they have to offer and share.

"What I find among them," she told the Georgia Straight, "is an enormous reservoir of skills, talents, wisdom, interests, abilities-all those things that go into making up a good society. And to waste all that is just a tragedy."

Nickerson formed the Amazing Grays three years ago in response to the hundreds of letters she received following an earlier, self-published version of Old and Smart. She says it was apparent to her that women needed to find ways to get together to share their experiences and support one another through what she calls the "unscripted adventure into age".

"We are pioneers in a new age that has much need of common sense and even greater need of wisdom. We are foremothers of millions of older women who will appear as our 'baby boom' daughters age. What we create in our maturity will be our gift to them," she writes.

"Science," she said, "has been kind enough to give us an extra 20 to 30 years of life, but what can we do?" Certainly, the 73-year-old author, sociologist, mother of three, doting grandmother, environmentalist, public speaker, weaver, and former child advocate knows something about embracing life.

Nickerson believes that society's attitudes toward ageing urgently need readjustment. Old and Smart addresses with frankness, and often with humour, many of the issues faced by women as they age: their changing gand healing, sexuality, children, memory, spirituality, and money. She encourages women to nurture themselves and support each other, and she offers much practical, sage advice. At the same time, Nickerson weaves into the discussions stories of her own life experiences.

Particularly moving is her account of a near-death experience during the delivery of one of her children Forty years later, she can barely speak about the baby who died a couple of days after birth, but the near-death experience altered her feelings about dying. "One of the reasons why there is so much despair over being old in this society is that we are so inordinately afraid of dying, of death. The greatest thing that ever happened to me was a near-death experience I had when I was 33. Once I went through that and came out on the other side, there's absolutely nothing I'm afraid of anymore. And being liberated from that fear is quite rewarding." She has a great deal of compassion for the challenges confronting younger women, who are faced with ever-diminishing opportunities, and she says she worries about the future of the world, urging us to do things more simply and thoughtfully, to live consciously and "lightly" on the earth.

If you think you have to be 65 or older to enjoy this book, you might be interested in hearing about the 17-year-old who wrote her to safe gave my mother a copy for Christmas, she gave it to my grandmother, and my grandmother insisted that I read it, then we all went to Scotland." Nickerson laughed and shrugged when she told this. "I'm not sure, but it does sound like a way of connecting generations."

You don't have to be approaching retirement to attend the annual gathering of the Amazing Grays, either. There's a special designation, AGIT, which stands for "Amazing Grays in Training", for younger women. "Come, and bring your mother," said Nickerson.
-Yolanda Stephen,The Georgia Straight


Book Review: Old and Smart
Betty, Nickerson's book Old and Smart: Women and the Adventure of Aging is a remarkable work, written when the author was 72.

Published by Harbour Publishing, the book's nineteen chapters cover every aspect of achieving the utmost out of life as an "Agemate" (Nickerson's name for elders) in a humourous and intriguing fashion.

Starting with Chapter 1, Don't Believe Anyone Under Sixty, Ms. Nickerson documents the truly awesome contributions we older people have made and continue to make. She cites some extraordinary accomplishments some of the over 23 million North American women over age sixty-five have made to our society.

This book was written mainly for and about women; however, it is a book that could well be read by men and by people of either sex under or over the age of sixty-five. There are valuable insights and practical solutions to many of the challenges that face us all from one viewpoint or another not only as women but also as sons, fathers, brothers, grandchildren, as well as those of us who are about to become seniors or have already reached the Agemate criteria.

As the author states: "Celebrating age is choosing wholeness" and she goes on to make suggestions that will help most of us derive the most pleasure out of advancing years. Betty Nickerson reframes the popular concept of aging equals negativity. Rather she presents to us an equation that spells hope, challenge, and excitement as we enter what she attests could be the most productive and fulfilling phase of our lives.

Quoting Jesse Jackson, the African American activist, the author in illustrating mind over matter in her chapter on The Healing Mind attests that we do have a choice about how we feel. To paraphrase: You may not have chosen to be down but you do have a choice about whether you try to get up.

There is nothing Pollyannaish about this book. Ms. Nickerson has researched her material thoroughly from a wide source. Her examples include some seemingly hopeless cases of illness or despair that responded so positively to "mind over matter" that the results appear to be nothing short of miraculous and certainly worthy of consideration if we find ourselves in such major threat to situations.

The "Care and Treatment of Doctors" is something that could be suggested as required reading for all ages and certainly essential when one faces chronic illness. Ms. Nickerson is eminently qualified to comment on the medical profession from her perspective as a former laboratory technician and also as the wife of a physician not to mention her experiences as a patient.

The author quotes from Ivan Illich's book, Limits of Medicine: Medical Nemesis:

". . . One of every five patients admitted to a typical research hospital acquires an iatrogenic (doctor caused) disease, sometimes trivial, usually requiring special treatment and in one case in 30 leading to death. Half of these episodes resulted from the complications of drug therapy; aihazingly, one in ten came from diagnostic procedures."

This chapter goes on to explain how to protect oneself from such tragedy and deals also with medication, how to choose a doctor, patients' rights, and "Real Health" - the desire to live and the joy of thriving.

Suggestions for positive and attainable goals are given in the chapter on food, "Give us this day our daily bread"; "The Memory Of" (failing or otherwise)- "Ways and Means", i.e., resources financial and otherwise; and "Troubled Waters" which deals with loneliness, emptiness, feelings of worthlessness, and the loss of a spouse.

For all ages "Go Softly Into, That Bright Light" could be illuminating. This chapter is a sometimes comforting contemplation of death in its many forms, most poignantly that of war. The author points out that as Agemates our need is to "grasp every prospect for sanity in an insane time" in order to bring about peace.

Addressing herself specifically to women the author states: We need not question our qualifications nor the quality of the changes we can bring about. We do not have to make mistakes as awful as the mistakes made during centuries of patriarchy.

Last but certainly not the least informative and entertaining chapter titled: "Follow Your Bliss" could apply to people of all ages and is worthy of close study which may lead some readers to deep contentment.

If you wish to enjoy with an intelligent and delightful companion an adventure that will take you through the decades from the 1930's to the present day read Old and Smart. If you feel nobody needs you anymore, or you are depressed at job loss or looming retirement, read this delightful book. It will doubtless inspire, inform, and amuse you.
-Hilary Prince, Voice for Island Seniors