Reckless Grace: a new and important memoir

Let’s welcome Carolyn diPasquale who’s on a WOW! Women on Writing tour with her new memoir, Reckless Grace: A Mother’s Crash Course in Mental Illness. And Carolyn has generously written an essay for us about whether women can age with grace. Here’s Carolyn:

Can Women Age with Grace?

“Your hair is so attractive. What color do you use?” a woman standing behind me in Dunkin’ Donuts asked when I was in my early forties. “Thank you,” I smiled, “but I don’t color my hair. This is natural.” Her eyes grew. “Really?” My takeaway from that exchange was that I looked old: My hair didn’t match my face.

When I was in my fifties, portly silver-haired gents started checking me out. This took me aback as I used to attract the hotties. It also proved that brunette hair or not I was looking my age.

My mind might have sidestepped these gentle cues. At sixty and still without one gray, I was waiting in line at a phlebotomy clinic when an elderly woman shuffled in. I let the white-haired, slightly hunched lady go first; however, I overheard her age: she was two years younger than I! I’d always prized my dogged brunette hair. Now, I wondered if it was messing with me.

Why should I have cared?

Why does aging, a natural, God-given process in life, cause women so much angst and shame?

At thirteen, my idols were Peggy Fleming and Olivia Newton John. Both twenty-two-year-olds were in the limelight, Newton John as a lovely pop singer and Fleming as a graceful figure skater. I couldn’t get my fill of either star. But as time passed, I noticed a disturbing change in their appearance. Whereas both women had a fresh, innocent look, now they wore false eye lashes and harsh black liner around their tired eyes. The hair they’d worn in a half ponytail or prim bun was now colored and processed, their once modest gowns, tight and revealing. I understood that the aging celebrities were trying to look young, but their efforts seemed to backfire. Which terrified me.

At 64, I wish I could say I’ve accepted my age, but I’m not there yet. I still cringe when I glimpse my varicose veins and arthritic fingers. Marvel at my crepey skin and hooded lids. Panic at my shedding eyebrows. I used to enjoy applying makeup. Now, even with a 12x magnification mirror, it’s become quite a feat. I used to wonder why elderly women sported lopsided lipstick or skipped their makeup altogether. Now I know.

A woman wants to be noticed and valued at any age. Beauty is power—it wasn’t Helen of Troy’s intelligence that launched a thousand ships—and when it fades, the other often follows. Especially in our ageist, beauty-oriented culture, people stop looking at and listening to silver-haired women. Some husbands and lovers leave. An aging woman begins to feel low, worthless, nonexistent.

How do we combat these bad feelings while living in this hostile culture? Can aging women recover their power? These are big questions that I can’t begin to answer, but I can share some thoughts that have calmed me.

First, excelling at something seems to help. It can be business, baking, gardening, law—any task that gives aging women purpose and joy. When I’m writing, I’m so absorbed in my work that I ignore my age spots and wrinkles; cultural messages touting youth and beauty are muted. I care less about pleasing others because I know my own self-worth. I guess it’s about self-approbation, finding activities that generate good feelings about ourselves to combat the bad thoughts that often assault us. My seventy-something-year-old neighbor Beverly single handedly fells towering pine trees. Her charming gardens draw B&B guests from all over the world. Emily, an eighty-year-old woman who runs the food pantry at my church, hefts boxes of food with her calloused hands, organizing them into ceiling-high mazes in multiple storage rooms. Because of her strength and no-how, she holds her white head high.

The realization that aging is normal further removes its sting. Despite the cosmetic commercials that suggest otherwise, we have an ordained lifespan of roughly eighty years. Our bodies were created to begin their slow descent in our thirties. Our skin was programmed to lose elasticity, our hair to turn gray. (Even mine finally is. No, I’m not coloring it; I’ve had a good run.) Therefore, I’m trying to repudiate any notion that I’m ugly, fat, or old. How quickly these thoughts intrude in the harsh light of a dressing room or while flipping through photos of myself. At these moments, I’m trying to be my own bouncer, ousting ideas from any source that induce shame or self-loathing. When I see spots, lines, or cellulite, I’m telling myself this is how I should look. These are the hands, face, and buttocks of a woman who’s had the privilege of living sixty plus years.

And when friends and sisters start talking smack about themselves, I’m challenging them to do the same.


Thank you, Carolyn, for your wise words about aging and how important it is to accept it and do things we excel in. Mine is writing. When I’m writing I don’t think about those pesky wrinkles I saw in the mirror earlier.

Book Summary

Fourteen-year-old Rachel guards a collection of secrets for ten years, journaling to vent her terror and loneliness.

What the single, working mother recalls is a far cry from what happens, as dramatically revealed in tandem chapters gleaned from Rachel’s journals. While the mother sprints from task to task, the daughter details the baffling emergence and frightening progression of bulimia, diabulimia, and borderline personality disorder; her eventual substance abuse; and heart-wrenching reasons for not seeking help.

Following Rachel’s fatal overdose years later, her mother, Carolyn DiPasquale, stumbles upon her daughter’s diaries. Shattered, she searches for answers, retracing her steps to figure out how parents and doctors missed three major mental illnesses.

Despite her loss, DiPasquale hopes her story lights a path for victims of mental illness while awakening all readers.

Publisher: E.L. Marker

ISBN-10: 1947966550

ISBN-13: 978-1947966550

ASIN: ‎B09W69TT11

Print length: 546 pages

Purchase a copy of Reckless Grace on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

About the Author

Carolyn DiPasquale grew up in Franksville, Wisconsin, graduating from UW-Milwaukee with a double major in English and French. In 1983, she moved to Rhode Island where she raised three children while pursuing her Master’s in English at the University of Rhode Island. Over her career, she taught literature and composition at various New England colleges; worked as a technical writer at the Naval Underseas Warfare Center in Newport; and wrote winning grants as a volunteer for Turning Around Ministries, a Newport aftercare program for ex-offenders. She has been an active member of the Newport Round Table, a professional writing group (founded in 1995), since 2013.

DiPasquale currently lives in Richmond, Rhode Island where she has started working on a sequel to Reckless Grace. She has also ventured into writing children’s books. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and baking with healthy ingredients, hiking and trapshooting with her husband Phil, and volunteering at the New Hope Chapel food pantry in Carolina, Rhode Island.

Visit her website to follow her updates. You can also follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

I wish Carolyn huge success with her book. And I offer her deep condolences. I lost a son by suicide also because of his mental illness and our ignorance in how to help make him better. Congratulations on being able to tell your and your daughter’s story!




  1. Madeline, thank you so much for featuring my memoir, Reckless Grace, on your lovely blog. Incidentally, you chose an important writing topic that really made me think.

    • Madeline Sharples says

      Thank you, Carolyn. for the great essay about aging. It is such an important subject.
      I wish you huge success with your memoir – that’s another very important subject.
      All best, Madeline

      • Carolyn DiPasquale says

        Madeline, thanks again for featuring my book and for your kind words.

        I’m so sorry you lost your son due to mental illness. How sad that he took his own life, and how tragic that this has become an all too common story! Please forgive me for not acknowledging this sooner. I must have missed this back in August when you first posted it.

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