By Patricia Morrison Coate | for Olympic Peninsula News Group
SEQUIM — Empowerment. Said aloud, even the word alone packs a punch.
The take-away from her recently published book “Women, We’re Only Old Once!,” author and registered nurse Bertha Cooper said, it is just that.
“I think it’s empowering women and making a transition to a quality aging life,” said Cooper, who also writes a column for the Sequim Gazette.
The 18-chapter book has been a decade-long labor of love for the now 77-year-old Cooper, who began contemplating aging in her mid-60s.
“I developed the concept through my curiosity and my own questions on aging,” Cooper said.
“My career in health care was mainly around and in service for the elderly who were ill or disabled.
“I liked my work, which was service to improve their quality of life. When I approached my own aging, I knew what could go wrong but I didn’t know about what was natural. What were our questions and apprehensions?”
Cooper said she saw that women in America are not encouraged to age but rather to stay young — in appearance, at least — through a multitude of marketed anti-aging products.
“Aging is a stigma and I didn’t like that; it shouldn’t be the mindset,” she said. “What’s a three-letter word for ‘old woman’ in a crossword puzzle? ‘Hag,’ and it’s not a compliment.
“I wanted to be part of changing the image for women that would be the beauty of aging. I wanted to be honest and frank with myself about what was natural aging.”
Every minute, every hour, every day humans are aging from birth but it doesn’t strike a chord until your hands suddenly begin to look like your mother’s, words and names are misplaced and what once was firm now is sagging, Cooper said.
“Aging does bring a decline of the body but it doesn’t mean we aren’t useful and valuable people,” Cooper explained. “I knew from my health career we have a choice in how we approach aging, how we build quality of life based on choices we make.
“We have to accept then how we manage our own aging as women socially and sexually and importantly how we come to understand losses that would be irreplaceable.”
In researching the book and seeking her own answers, Cooper relied heavily on local experts and interviewed several dozen women, whose stories she wove throughout the book.
“I’m so grateful to the women I interviewed and these experts,” Cooper said.
“Women, We’re Only Old Once!” is organized into four parts
Cooper highlighted each one. She noted that the book is not necessarily a must-read from cover to cover but can be selectively read for what’s relevant at the time of an aging experience or returned to as a reminder.
“Part One is about coming to terms with aging, acceptance and how to go about doing it well,” Cooper said.
“Developing a vision of what we want to be and the understanding of the losses that will happen. We’re making a transition like we did with puberty and menopause. Really, we’re making another transition to a different capacity.”
In the book, Cooper stresses that women bring along their life experiences that have made them who they are. She points out that there are some things to let go of and some things to keep, but to honor all of it, the good and the bad.
On the path
“Part Two is the important foundation for making choices before and while we age, recognizing things that are happening in our bodies,” she said.
“Early in the process I began interviews with women — at least 50 — 33 individuals and a couple of groups so I had a foundation of other women who realized they wanted to talk about aging.
“I wrote it over time with my friends and those stories threaded through the book.”
She devotes a chapter to diminishing endurance, energy and power, recognizing, “something is going on, but it’s not illness, it’s aging. It’s not a disease — it just happens naturally.
“I talk about mental fitness. Forgetting names does not mean it’s the first step toward dementia, and dementia doesn’t happen to most people.
“We all have trouble finding words. It’s not dementia; it’s aging. Those words and that name eventually come up.”
She also discusses the decreasing capacity for handling stress, saying, “We need to plan so we have room for unexpected stress. We’re managing losses and understand how these losses impact our daily lives,” so it’s important to have several close friends and a network of family and friends.
“Part Three is about relationships and what we continue to manage — ones which to continue or not,” she said.
“The chapter on love relates to who a woman loves and what women want to be doing in their love lives, physically and emotionally, their sexuality and how that changes for them.”
“I consider Part Four to be the finale, the soul of the book,” Cooper said. “It brings us to, ‘This is the end of our lives,’ and deals with relevance and importance in all our lives.
One chapter deals with losses that matter that take a piece of us, such as loss of a career, lover or pet.”
Cooper also discusses her conversations with women on spirituality, what role it plays in their lives and concludes with their vision of aging.
She wholeheartedly encourages women who read the book to develop their own visions.
For those whose interest in the book is piqued, Cooper said the three primary reasons to read it are to learn about aging, for affirmation that their journey is on the “right track,” and to realize that if something is not working in their lives how to make corrections.
“It’s never too late to make corrections,” Cooper noted.
Patricia Morrison Coate is a freelance writer living in Sequim. She formerly worked at the Sequim Gazette for 13 years as a writer and special sections editor. This story first appeared in the Gazette, which is a sister paper to the Peninsula Daily News.