In her thoughtful, inspirational look at aging, Stewart, an educator and therapist, uses folklore and professional insights to explore the 11 graces that bring fulfillment to our later years. She begins each chapter by describing the characteristics of the grace, sharing a folktale that illustrates the trait, then listing questions to ponder, along with her own reflections on the story.
In “Authenticity,” she writes about being at home in our own skin; in “Self-Transcending Generosity,” she touts human interconnectedness. In “Courage,” she describes integrity in the face of fear; in “Creativity,” she encourages a return to playfulness. In “Contentment,” Stewart talks of mellowing emotions; “Compassion” involves openheartedness. In “Necessary Fierceness,” she urges ferociousness when needed; in “Simplicity,” she counsels letting go. In “Remembrance,” she addresses coming to terms with life; in “Agelessness,” she celebrates our not being defined by age. And, finally, in “Wisdom,” she brings the graces together.
Each chapter concludes with a list of books that further explore the theme. This beautifully written treatment of aging is suitable for both private contemplation and small study groups.
In cultures where elders are valued, the greeting “You look old today” is seen as a compliment. This is not the case in the United States, where aging is often seen as an embarrassing decline into misery, especially for women. In Winter’s Graces, retired psychotherapist and psychology professor Susan Avery Stewart tells a new story of aging that celebrates the many gifts and graces it bears.
To tell this story, Stewart had to confront her own deep aversion to growing old. Despite having the example of a wonderful grandmother and reveling in folklore depicting courageous and vital crones, she faced a common dilemma: while she’d absorbed the culture’s negative stereotypes of aging and didn’t want to think of herself as “old,” pretending to be younger than her years would deprive her of authenticity and haunt her with the fear of being found out. In her sixties, she despaired at beginning to feel “invisible” until she realized that this cultural invisibility gave her the delicious freedom to be fully and audaciously herself.
Acknowledging that the winter of life can bring losses that shake us to our core, Stewart reveals eleven gifts that only reach their fullest expression when we become elders: agelessness, authenticity, compassion, contentment, courage, creativity, necessary fierceness, remembrance, self-transcending generosity, simplicity, and wisdom—all characteristic of a fully developed human being. This is the good news about aging, together with decades of scientific research showing that the devastating physical and mental decline we’ve come to see as inevitable is not the norm but the exception.
Written primarily for women in their fifties and sixties who may be dreading what later life might bring, the book gives tips and tools for cultivating positive attitudes and health-promoting behaviors that can lead to elder years marked by engagement, adventure, service—and yes, passion.
In rebuttal to all the negative press about the adversities of aging, psychotherapist Stewart focuses on the many encouraging trends among older people, such as increased self-acceptance and tolerance toward others and the ability to ride life’s ups and downs with equanimity and humor. Intended as a celebration of late-life adulthood and of older women, this work zeroes in on the gifts, or graces, that can accompany this period. The author points to audacious authenticity, necessary fierceness, and self-transcending generosity, describing all in detail and how readers can refine and develop these traits. VERDICT A joyous, optimistic addition to works about aging.