In my living room is a huge framed modern style painting of a killer whale. I bought it many years ago on my first visit to Seattle. Only recently did I learn why as a woman back then entering menopause, I might have been drawn unconsciously to that killer whale.
According to an article by Faye Flam in Bloomberg View, it seems that the only species known to have a post-menopausal stage of life are humans and both pilot and killer whales. Even more amazing perhaps is that the whale pods are matrilineal. All offspring stay with their mothers throughout life. The post-menopausal females lead the pod and bond closely with their sons to find food. The females live to be about 100 whereas the males die off at about age 40.
Age 100? What about us human females? In a New York Times article by Gina Kolata on the dropping rates of dementia reported in a large scientific study, she brings us aging humans some good news. The research found that rates of dementia in people 65 and older fell by 24% over twelve years. In 2012 only 8.8% received that diagnosis. I do know several women in their nineties, and our own UU religious educator Sophia Fahs lived to be 102. And at our Santa Rosa UU Congregation we have a special women’s group for women over 80. The group has about a dozen women, some in their nineties and none of us suffering from dementia!
What comes after Crone?
All these facts about aging whales and humans suggest to me that we need to name an additional life stage. Maiden, Mother and Crone do not quite cover the decades beyond some 20 years of Cronedom. Maybe when women reach the age of 75 or 80 we should be honored as Whales, women possessing an even more powerful wisdom than we did as Crones.
The ocean, with its beauty, its power and its amazing creatures has always been a source of wonder for me. I’m 86 and I’ve been a Crone already for 26 years. I just might like a new title of Whale! In case that image is not exactly how you wish to see yourself, consider this finding of the dementia study that the scientists found puzzling. It seems that overweight and obese people have a 30% lower risk of dementia. Here’s to us Whales!
-Rev. Shirley Ann Ranck
(Rev. Shirley Ranck is one of the founding members of CUUPS and served on the board for its first decade of existence, stepping down in 1996 to serve as it’s first Executive Director. She is the author of Cakes For the Queen of Heaven which is an women-honoring UU Religious Education course which examines pre-Judeo Christian cultures that may have worshiped the female as divine. This course has been used in approximately 800 of the 1,050 UU Congregations. She is also a retired UU minister who served congregations in Alabama, California, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Washington and British Columbia, Canada.)