My maternal grandmother, Stella, was born in the 1890s. She lost her brother in a typhoid outbreak, her friends in WWI, and her son died in a drowning accident at the age of 19. Stella was determined to bring up my mother with warmth and optimism throughout WWII and beyond and was a considerable influence on the determination of her four grandchildren (one of whom never even met her) to be positive and socially responsible. Her quiet resilience remains a guiding light in my life even though she died 45 years ago.

Since then, I’ve met and been influenced by many older women who show remarkable resilience. From campaigners to educators and brilliant business brains, through every woman who has gone through loss or pain I have seen the strength that is needed to live a full life.

Resilience is not necessarily about being tough, it’s about being able to get back to strength after a setback. This international day of older people the world is celebrating resilient older women. Part of the joy of being at Re-engage is that we encounter thousands of resilient older women. Women who’ve experienced losses and challenges but who remain positive and determined. Going to a tea party as we slowly emerged from the misery of lockdowns, I sat with women who have become firm friends through their Re-engage group. Their delight at seeing their friends again was infectious.

Resilience is about recovery and the ability to move on. My paternal grandmother, Edith, born into poverty in the early 20th century, was ravaged by mental ill health and then by its treatment. It was hard for her to be resilient in the face of the treatments and institutions where she found herself in the 1950s and beyond. Because her setbacks were linked to what was then considered the shameful area of instability and institutionalisation, Edith’s extraordinary resilience in managing to carry on, despite her pain, remained unacknowledged.

So, just as we celebrate resilience and the amazing women who have come before us and continue to inspire us, let’s remember and honour, too, the women who couldn’t fight back or bounce back but who are also part of our history and influence our future.

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