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Hundreds of `crones’ meet in S.L. to share fears and joys of growing older

SHARE Hundreds of `crones’ meet in S.L. to share fears and joys of growing older

They call themselves crones because they like the word. Crone implies a halo of white hair. Crone implies wisdom - a woman who approaches the last of life with equanimity, having learned what is worth worrying about and what is not.

The crones gathered in Salt Lake City last weekend. They think it's fitting to meet in fall, the fallow season. This was their sixth annual convention - or "counsel" as they spell it.This year there were nearly 300 crones, from around the U.S. and Canada, staying at the University Park Hotel. Proudly, they introduced themselves. "Hi, I'm Marilyn, from Seattle. I'm 72." "My name is Colleen. I'm 59."

The crones meet in order to honor themselves for growing old. They have practical knowledge now. They like to tell each other their stories, listen and advise and give each other standing ovations.

They also like to be assigned topics for discussion. Many of these crones have been teachers. This year's topic: "How Shall I Live, Knowing I Will Die?"

Kaye Chatterton helped plan the counsel this year. She and two other Utahns, Ramona Adams and Shauna Adix, planned the first-ever Crones' Counsel held in Jackson Hole in 1993.

A challenge for the planners is to encourage spirituality, to have meaningful discussions and rituals, without excluding anyone's beliefs.

Some crones claim a religion; there were Methodists, Presbyterians, Buddhists and a number of Unitarians at this year's counsel. Others have some form of meditation. Some have both or neither.

If they have anything in common, these crones, it is their heritage. They are mostly white, middle-class, educated. They are the descendants of women who pioneered and farmed this country. Chatterton wanted rituals that reflect their own ancestry - nothing pagan or wiccan, she said.

She sought help from her friend Julien Puzey, a local artist. Puzey not only wrote ceremonies, she brought along her Labyrinth, a huge design on a piece of canvas, which aids the meditation of those who walk its path.

On Saturday there was an elders' ceremony. The crones lined up in order of age, walked through large cutouts of a female figure and formed a circle with older women at the center, youngest women passing before them to honor them.

They had a guided meditation. Each crone pictured herself in a meadow, along with the women who went before. She pictured her mother, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, all waiting to welcome her.

In addition to the ceremonies, there were daily rituals, rituals that have been part of previous Crone Counsels. The morning began with tai chi - a stretching exercise as well as a meditation on one's place in the universe.

After breakfast, the crones gathered for general storytelling sessions. They caught up on each other's lives with tales of love and loss. Yet each speaker seemed serene. "Acceptance gives meaning to the last stage of life," notes Chatterton.

The rest of the day was spent in small groups, where some felt comfortable enough to reveal their deepest hurts. One woman cried as she admitted she doesn't want to be alone when she dies. She fears she will be.

On Sunday, the last day of the conference, the crones talked about what they want to leave behind, how to live so their works might outlast them. They wrote their good wishes on scraps of paper which will be buried at the base of a tree they will donate to Red Butte Garden.

As they said goodbye, conference planners handed each woman a bag of flower bulbs - a symbol of the beauty that will live on even after they are gone.

But more important than the gifts were the promises they made to each other. They concluded the counsel by announcing what their legacy will be.

One woman promised to work on zoning rules for retirement homes so that, in the future, pets will be allowed. "In Scotland," she said, "the hospice workers pass out kittens." There, no one ever dies alone.

Another promised to show love and acceptance to everyone she meets. Others promised to keep fighting world poverty. To learn to play the piano. To consume less and be more mindful of the environment.

One 43-year-old woman vowed to go back to her elementary school class and teach the children not to be afraid of life. "The world is a wild and wonderful place," she said. And we can live vibrant lives until the day we die."

It's a lesson she learned from a bunch of old women who come together every year to give thanks for each other's company on this, the final stage of life's journey.