‘Aging is just more living’
Lenora Madruga Chappell has always tackled life’s challenges head-on, and she never considered aging something to fear.
She had, after all, lived to tell about the cancer that took her left leg and part of her pelvis at the age of 32. She had survived divorce, single parenthood, poverty and the whirlwind of instant celebrity after her books, “One Step at a Time” and “The Next Leg of the Journey,” became national and international bestsellers.
And, with her second husband, love was sweeter the second time around. She was enjoying life with her usual spunk and sass. She figured it would take a whole lot more than a little thing like turning 70 to steal her joy.
When the aches and pains, nuisances and annoyances of an aging mind and body blindsided the Grants Pass resident, she had to make a choice. She could be a victim or a victor in what she calls her “third act.”
She was determined to not merely survive the next few decades of her life, but thrive. She chose to maintain an upbeat attitude and approach the advancing years with a strong will and a zest for living
The notion of accepting aging with grace “hit me like a bolt of lightning,” she said.
Chappell began to wonder how other women of a certain age were navigating their own journey. She asked 10 of her closest friends and acquaintances, and her older sister, to “get real about aging.” She sent them a questionnaire to stimulate their brains and imaginations and spark a frank discussion about the aging process. She also dared to ask, “What scares you most about growing older?” Are you worried about losing your looks, your money or your marbles?”
The end result of her “research” is Chappell’s third published book, “Women of a Certain Age.” Now 79, she started the book just 18 months ago, weaving personal anecdotes both humorous and heart-wrenching with the other women’s poignant, very personal essays.
Five Southern Oregon women contributed to the newly released book, including Diana Coogle, an Applegate-based poet who earned a Ph.D. in English one month before her 68th birthday and married for the first time at age 74. Her poetry and around-the-world adventures are woven throughout the narrative.
Other local women featured include Susan O’Leary, Melinda Haldeman, Sharon Carter, and one simply referred to as “J.J.”
Getting the women, mostly in their 70s, to contribute to the book was the easy part, Chappell said. “Sitting down to write it was the hard part.”
With her first two books, Chappell had only to stay true to her own story, her straightforward approach and unique optimism to life’s challenges, but with “Women of a Certain Age,” she had to ensure that the other women’s voices were heard as well, she said.
“They are ordinary women with extraordinary stories,” she added. “They were generous in sharing their most intimate experiences.”
Chappell also had to be transparent in answering questions about self-image, lost/found love, sex and sensuality, friendship, faith, physical challenges, menopause, fears, relationships, finances, risks taken/avoided, values and legacy. She explored the good, the bad, the ugly and the beauty of growing older.
“I then integrated the other women’s narratives with my own awkward, funny, inspirational anecdotes,” she said. “I learned from these women. What they shared was powerful. I appreciated their perspectives. Together, I hope we impart a certain wisdom, a certain comfort, a certain sensuality not despite, but precisely because of the experience of growing older."
Chappell is now on the road in California promoting the book. She has invited the other women to join her at various book signings. The hope is that their parallel stories will resonant with other women (and men) and inspire others to embrace the joys of growing older.
“Writing the book helped me, I hope it helps others,” she said.
As with the cancer, she is not letting aging “use me.” Instead, she is “using it.”
“Aging is just more living.”
More information and links to purchase "Women of a Certain Age" can be found at www.lenorchappell.com. The book is also available on Amazon, Kindle, Target and Barnes & Noble.
Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at email@example.com.