The wisdom of Betty Fergie (my Grandmother)
I’m devoting this blog to my beautiful grandmother, Betty Fergie, who passed this March. I was very close to Nan and she was undoubtedly my first spiritual teacher and directed me onto the path of the seeker from an early age. Nan would speak to me about all different avenues of religious and philosophical thought, without preaching one as superior to another. She taught me that service and compassion were of utmost importance when moving through the world, and that an open mind and heart were the tools required to make that happen. Before Nan passed she was able to write her own eulogy which was true to form given her beliefs that the birthright of every being on this planet is to have self-agency and autonomy; that we all have the right to speak our truth. Even to the very end. One of my favourite lines from her last words was…. “Apologies to all the priests, clergymen and spiritual friends who haven’t been asked to speak today. I just couldn’t choose!”
I had the privilege to be one of the people who did speak at Betty Fergie’s send-off and wore a brightly coloured springtime dress in honour of her view that life was to be celebrated. It also stood to symbolise her understanding that we experience this embodiment briefly, and when it’s time, we move back into formlessness. Only to be reborn again to have another crack at the service and compassion gig. Betty embraced this cycle with an understanding that the purpose is to take us deeper and deeper into relationship with our true Selves. That each cycle allows us to shed our limitations, dissolve our ignorance and grow towards oneness. The last time we spoke I was sharing some news and she said, "Ah, the things you learn when you're packing up to leave..." Now that'sa wise soul.
Here were Betty Fergie’s top tips for life that she shared in her eulogy…
Everyone should write their own eulogy.
Give your life in service of others.
Read to understand life.
Read history so you don’t waste time reinventing the wheel, and remember that history was written by men!
Spirit should be a large part of life, but go easy if “spirit” comes in bottle.
Gratitude, be grateful.
Be surprised, be amazed by the little things.
Turn the TV off at 75…and never turn it back on again!
You know that question: If you could have any four people at a dinner party whether alive or passed who would they be? Well I’d invite my Nan, Albert Einstein, the tantrik yogic sage Kshemaraja and Richard Gere (he’s a Buddhist so he could add to the philosophical discussion and… he’s also very pretty). How awesome would that party be? My Nan would talk and laugh it up with the best of them for sure. She did, after all, live a few lives in one…
At the funeral we celebrated Betty’s journey through her many careers: librarian, law secretary, Board of Members for the Future Foundation and, after doing three years of study (at 85!), she became a herbalist. She taught me to be open to the constant changes and personal evolution within one life time. That we are never done. That we are not stuck in stone. That we don’t have to have it all worked out by a certain age. And that life moves and we move and evolve with it. The more we accept that, the more easeful life becomes.
While I was facilitating the Divine Feminine Retreat in Bali last month I told the story of how the stages of a woman’s life mirrors the lifespan of a rose. When the flower is at the stage when the petals are falling off, the last stage of its life, the rose hip—the medicine—is extracted from the flower. Equally, when a woman reaches that final stage she becomes the medicine for family and the community. Her wisdom is rich and full and she shares it with her tribe.
This is the stage of the crone. In our modern world we think of the word ‘crone’ as something horrible because we have been programmed to think of older women as undesirable or having nothing left to offer. But it actually comes from the root word for ‘crown’. It’s the time when the woman becomes the queen of her life. Noble, wise and in her true power. My Nan was definitely the matriarch, the Queen of our lives, and her wisdom was fully felt by her adoring family. Especially by my mother and I.
Even though words cannot really convey what you meant to all of us I want to thank you, Betty Fergie, for being so incredibly loving, accepting, open and strong. You have influenced my life and path so very much. So, I feel it’s appropriate that the words I end this with are your own. Your poem that you wrote at the age of 70, whereby you gave yourself, and anyone who read it, a proverbial kick up the arse for wasting precious time…
Soliloquy at Seventy
Suppose I lived to seventy four
Or who could tell, it may be more
I hope I’ll never have to say
Why didn’t I start that yesterday?
In retrospect from ninety four
To grieve for wasted days of yore
When I thought I had too little time
To learn and grow, expand and climb
When thirty years have slipped away
I hope I’ll never have to say
Such wasted time, hours, days and years
Wasted with hesitations, fears
Lack of confidence, too much TV!
Can that procrastinating soul be me?
I must start now to change my ways
Before the next growing phase
The wings of time are ever fleet
And efforts grow and challenges sweet
I’ll read and write and create and do
Keep vital although the days are few
Life’s next great stage must surely come
I’ll not sit back and ho and hum
And watching the passing of the days
With mind a blank and eyes a-glaze
The creaking hinge hangs long, they say
Oh yes, that’s it. I’ll start today!
~ Betty Fergie
I’ll start today too. Who’s with me?
Yours in Yoga