The Freedom and Opportunity of Menopause — Living Fully in the Afternoon of Life

Someone asked me the other day what was the best part of my summer holidays and I said, “Oh, that’s an easy one! It was connecting with friends who go way, way back — back to childhood, back to high school, back to my university and seminary days.” Connecting with family and friends across Canada, in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. It is fun to catch up with these dear friends and family and learn what they are doing in the second half of their lives and how they are making a difference.

This morning I read a wonderful article in The Atlantic Monthly by Liza Mundy called “The Secret Power of Menopause.”  Mundy notes that most of us do not realise how unusual it is that “non reproductive females persist.” In most species females continue to bear offspring until they die. Not so with the human species. Many women, at least in the west, live long past menopause and enjoy many years of productive living after they have raised their children.

In fact, some years ago anthropologist Kristen Hawkes came up with the “Grandmother Hypothesis.” In her research on the Hadza and other tribes, Hawkes deduced that women were able to bear and raise multiple children only because of the presence of grandmothers — post-menopausal women who could find and feed infants who had been weaned but who were too young to find their own food.

Very few other species enjoy such a long postmenopausal life. One exception, Mundy notes, is the killer whale. She refers to the work of Darcey Steinke, who observes that in the ocean non-reproductive females play a vital role in guiding their young to the best salmon, thus ensuring their survival. As she writes, “The wild matriarchs have given me hope. They are neither frail nor apprehensive, but in every way leaders of their communities.”  I love that!

It reminds me of what Carl Jung said long ago: “The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, its meaning and purpose are different…”  Now, in the second half of life, we too can play an important role by sharing the wisdom of our years in helping to guide the next generation.

 

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