5 Lessons About Being A Strong Woman, Learned From My Great Aunt

Keep reading, keep learning, and stay in the game.

5 Lessons About Being A Strong Woman, Learned From My Great Aunt Oleg Golovnev / Shutterstock

Most of us are lucky enough to have strong female figures in our lives that we can look up to. These women instill in us values that we carry throughout our lives and inspire us to reach deep within us to find strength.

That figure comes in the form of an activist or a celebrity, but sometimes, it can be your own family member that can teach you something.

Here's what my great aunt taught me about how to be a woman, and how I stick by these values today.


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1. There is a great healing power in female friendship, at any stage of life

Ida’s, my great aunt, home care worker, Laura, hadn’t shown up to help her shower and get dressed. She’d left a message on Ida’s house phone saying she was so sorry, but she’d be running late; her family needed her.


Ida enjoyed Laura’s company. A pretty Jamaican in her mid-thirties, with laughing eyes that belied a messy personal life, Laura seemed to relish the advice that Ida would give her, mostly about relationships. Theirs was the last new female friendship of Ida’s life. They shared an intimacy that had been built from necessity but grew to be about shared vulnerabilities and mutual fragility.

Ida was good-natured about Laura’s late arrival; she seemed happy to have a little time alone with me. I offered to help her get dressed, but she didn’t let me finish my sentence — she’d never had any interest in letting me help her with any of the mundane stuff of life, most especially showering and dressing.

2. Domestic rituals matter; they’re grounding and calming.

Ida shuffled into her tiny, Manhattan-sized kitchen, and slowly retrieved two chocolate puddings and two spoons. Chocolate pudding served with tea had been a ritual of ours for a long time.

Her hands shook as she made the short, painful trip from the kitchen to the dining room table. She was wincing as she walked. I walked behind her, teapot and teacups in my hands.


3. Create a beautiful space for yourself and fill it with objects that bring you joy.

Ida had a stubborn streak, which revealed itself most strongly around issues of hosting guests and around the management of her home. Every detail of her space was important to her.

She once told me that if something in your home doesn’t make you smile, you should get rid of it. Matisse and Picasso prints hung above us, green plants were in bloom on every windowsill, and Vivaldi’s "Four Seasons" echoed softly from her sound system.

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4. Trust the wisdom and intuition of older women.

They tell you to stop seeing "that" man, not because they want to deprive you of fun, but because they understand a terrific amount about how men and women function.


Ida adjusted herself in her favorite chair. She wanted to know what I’d been up to since I’d last seen her. I mentioned that I was still seeing the same man I’d been seeing.

She told me in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t the kind of man who’d marry me and that I shouldn’t get my hopes up that he would. I ignored her sound advice then, I was too young to know what she knew about life.

5. Keep reading, keep learning, and stay in the game.

There is always something new to learn, and there is always something you can teach another woman.

Once the advice-giving was over, we began our Scrabble game. She was clearly uncomfortable, but she was determined to carry on as though she wasn’t. I wondered, with a sadness, whether this would be our last game together.


We pushed our empty chocolate bowls and spoons to the other end of the table, along with the teapot and cups and several well-thumbed copies of the New York Times. Ida had the mind of an NYU grad student; she’d taken "Senior" classes there until just a few years ago. Her body had been giving up on her lately, but I hadn’t appreciated just how sharp her mind still was until we began playing.

We laughed together about her choice of words — Fox, Earl, Kings. She laid down the word "Hoer" and told me with confidence that it was a word: a garden implement. Ever the city girl, I’d had no idea.

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Her fingers shook as she laid down each tile. We were almost done with our game when Laura let herself in and came over to us, giving an Ida a quick kiss on the cheek before going into the bedroom to make the bed. Ida swiftly won the game.

Six days later, on New Year’s Eve, family members began to gather in Ida’s apartment for Ida’s annual New Year’s party. This year was different — more solemn than usual.

We’d planned nothing beyond being with Ida, ordering Chinese food and watching the ball drop on TV. That week, Ida’s health had deteriorated rapidly. She insisted on a party, despite her lack of strength.

When I arrived, I wasn’t entirely surprised to see that she was fading in and out of consciousness. In bed in a lace nightgown, her eyes were closed as I held her hand. It was just the two of us again.


I had a vivid memory all of a sudden of a trip we’d taken to Disney World when I was four. Ida had bought me a luxurious pair of Minnie Mouse ears; I’d never wanted to take them off. We’d shared a room in the hotel; it had been my first "Girl’s Weekend."

I told Ida how much I loved her, how much she meant to me. I held her hand in the brightness of her bedroom. December sun streamed through lace curtains. I kissed her forehead, muttered “I love you” and a quiet “Thank you.”

Ida passed away in the early hours of New Year’s morning. I like to believe that she waited until after the ball had dropped, until after midnight, because she never liked to miss a party. She knew this would be the last party of her lifetime, and she stayed until the end.

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Amy Schreibman Walter is an American writer and teacher living in London. Her articles have appeared in Huffington Post and Parent Co, among others.