The AARP Ethel Editor Talks What She's Grateful For
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What This Ethel Editor Is Most Thankful for This Week

You won't want to miss this.

Photo of The Ethel's editor, Shelley Emling

One of the best things about my job as Editor of The Ethel is that I get to read so many inspiring stories by some of the most talented writers I’ve ever come across. Countless freelancers have contributed material — providing the lifeblood of the newsletter — and I wish there were a way to personally thank each and every one of them. Unfortunately, I only have enough space to call out 10 standout storytellers. But I could not be more appreciative of all the hard work submitted by all our writers.

In addition, I want to thank the talented team behind The Ethel. What an honor to work with this team: Todd Albertson, Sami Amad, Caitlin DeFlaviis, Kayla Flick, Dian Holton, Zachary Kolsky, Andrew Wishart, and Katrina Zook.

Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank you, the reader. We launched The Ethel in August to help older women feel heard. Thank you for being loyal fans and for your continued support. Please feel free to email me with feedback (or anything else) at semling@aarp.org. And don't forget to follow us on Facebook.

A very happy Thanksgiving at the end of a very bizarre year,
Editor-in-Chief Shelley Emling

And now, here are just 10 of the writers I've been inspired by this past year. I'm thankful for:

Kristan Higgins, who wrote The Day I Stopped Being Attractive to Men:
"Back in the day — my 30s and 40s — men would (occasionally) offer to buy me a drink, hold the door, check out my cleavage. And then … they didn't. It just stopped. I kept up with the game, putting my hairstylist's grandchildren through college, wearing uncomfortable heels in an attempt at being chic, squashing myself into Spanx. It was exhausting. I'm ashamed to tell you how many antiaging skin care products I owned. How much money and time I spent every five weeks with Robert, sitting for eons with smelly gunk on my head so I could pretend I was still a brunette with chestnut highlights. And then … I stopped. I'm 54. My kids are both grown and wonderful, my husband thinks I'm beautiful and I have a great career. Why was I trying so hard?"

And for Hope Enfurbetter, who wrote Keeping My Ambitions to Myself:
"At my subway station, homeless people pushed carts, sat on benches, and propped themselves up against columns, seeking shelter and money on a freezing winter evening. I emerged from the train car, a middle-aged woman in sophisticated attire. Farther along the platform, a heap of a young man sat on the ground, his back hunched against the tile wall, head down, holding an artfully lettered sign saying 'PLEASE HELP.' It was my 27-year-old son, filthy, wearing a long skirt, his hair curly and wild, with a placid expression of equanimity across his face. Jolted, I knew he didn’t have a permanent place to live, since we kept in touch at least once a week. Yet I’d never seen him homeless on a subway station, particularly mine."

And for Nancy Davidoff Kelton, who wrote The Evolution of a Fabulous Long Friendship:
"When my father died, I called Sally right away. Her Krishna belief in an afterlife comforted me. So did her late-night reminders that 'he’s in a better place' — knowing the challenges he had faced with my cognitively impaired mother. I asked her to help me clean out my father’s Florida closet, arranging a time when she would be at her mother’s nearby. When we finished, she accompanied me to the nursing home to see my mother. 'Remember me?' Sally asked, bending over the wheelchair with a long, warm hug. 'Remember you?' Mom said. 'You two play together.' We do. We do."

And for Ann Brenoff, who wrote Finding Your Libido: I'm in My 60s and Having the Best Sex of My Life:
"By the time I lost my husband to heart and kidney disease, I had spent more years than I like to count being not just celibate, but without the comfort of the physical intimacy that had been the bedrock of our marriage. Hey, it happens. A lot, actually. About 20 percent of marriages are sexless. And if you drop in on any online group for spousal caregivers, one of the most frequent refrains is, 'Why can't he just hold my hand or say he loves me anymore?' What menopause started, my husband's health problems finished. I went from being an eager and willing lover to the never-never land of a dry and shriveled vagina — and eventually didn't really even care if I never had sex again. I figured it was nature's way of keeping me sane: It's a gift to no longer miss what you no longer can do. I had lost every ounce of sexual desire and I never believed for a minute that it would ever return. Boy, was I ever wrong."

And for Iris Krasnow, who wrote I Look at My Hands and See My Mother:
"It began to happen at 60 — a small jiggle with a lift of the arm, even though I lift weights. An awakening, troubling and true, that the fine lines from laughter have turned into grooves, that the tawny spots and bulging veins on my hands look more like my mother's hands. But I do not loathe these hands. They connect me with Helene Krasnow, who passed away in 2006 and whose hands I can still evoke in pristine memory, every detail, every change. I see the transformation as she moved through her well-manicured 50s into her mid-80s, when the veins protruded like purple worms and her fingers would reach, shaking, to stroke my face. These hands are my truth."

And for Abigail A. Beal, who wrote The First Time I Received a Senior Discount:
"When the woman rang up my drink, I noticed that she looked me up and down, from head to toe. It both confused and embarrassed me. But I knew that after being so sick, I looked worn out, not just a bit tired. I blushed, thinking I needed to make more of an effort when I left the house to make a good first impression. I picked up my coffee drink at the counter and got into Mom's car. Then I glanced at my receipt. 'What's this? I got a senior discount!' I was stunned. 'Some places give them,' Mom replied. 'Do I look senior discount–ish?' I huffed. Mom laughed. 'You're going to be 50 in two weeks. Honey, you look your age'."

And for Jennifer Nelson, who wrote Mourning an Ex-Family Member:
"My former brother-in-law died recently. He’s the first of my ex-husband’s siblings to pass. My ex kept me in the loop at the end, as did my kids, since he was their uncle, but I was no longer included in any of the numerous social media tributes — the way the siblings and their spouses, nieces and nephews tagged one another and contributed photos, memories and scraps of a life lost in their family. I’m not part of that family anymore."

And for Michele Harris, who wrote I'm 56 and My Partner Is 68. Here Are the Challenges We Face:
"Oddly enough, there is an actual definition of what constitutes a May-December romance. According to Psychology Today, divide your age by 2 and add 7. This gives you the minimum 'acceptable' age difference between two romantic partners. So, if I’m 40, I 'shouldn’t' date anyone younger than 27. Kind of like the dog-years formula for human relationships. In my personal situation, I am 56 and my significant other is 68 — 12 or sometimes 13 years apart. Let’s do the math. Yup, we’re technically okay but I’m not sure I agree that being a 68-year-old partnered with a 41-year-old doesn’t come with some very real challenges. And there’s also a difference, I contend, between a large age gap when you’re younger and when you’re older."

And for Melissa T. Shultz, who wrote I Still Remember the Girl:
"Hi, mirror, it's me. The two of us ... we go way back, don't we? Those really were the days. Not that I don't appreciate the present, and what I've learned along the way. I do. It's just the more you know, the more you stop to think. And now, I think, I think too much. Speaking of which, just when I was certain I'd memorized the shape of my curves, the twist of my hair, the stretch of my skin, it all changed. Again. It turns out you're not a magic mirror after all. And I am not, though I thought I would be, immune to the physical changes of getting older."

And for Amy Freeman, who wrote How the Bra Chooses the Woman as You Age:
"A bra that fits … that's what I'd been really looking forward to. The shop was chrome and glass. Silver cursive letters over the door read Oleanders: Purveyors of Fine Lingerie Since Day One. A single brassiere lay on a red satin pillow in the shop's window. Along each wall, rows of metal railings holding hundreds of hangers dangled bras in a dazzling array of reds, blacks and creams, the canary yellows exotic birds among domestics. The entire room crackled with a secret magic. 'Greetings,' said a rasping voice. I jumped. A tiny woman with leathery skin stood beside me, azure contacts gathering and reflecting the room's light. 'Hello,' I said, swallowing. 'Griselda Oleander,' she said with a slight bow. 'I've been expecting you. All Women of a Certain Age find their bodies rapidly shifting. Elasticity fades. For the bosom, gravity is a harsh mistress'."

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