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Crabby Old Lady - A Poem

This poem is floating around the Web here and there. According to some, it was found among the "meager possessions" of an old woman who died in the geriatric ward of a Dundee, Scotland hospital, and was later published in the News Magazine of the North Ireland Association for Mental Health.

That all may be apocryphal. I can't find any reference, except in relation to the poem, of the publication or its organization. Those who retrieved the poem did not record the woman's name nor is there a year attached, but that is not important. This is a cry from the heart, whoever wrote it, to not be made invisible in old age.

It would do us all well to remember this poem when we are frustrated by someone old moving too slowly in front of us and when we find ourselves with an older relative or friend whose mind is perhaps not as quick as it once was.

What do you see, nurses, what do you see,
what are you thinking when you're looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes.

Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
when you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try!"
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
and forever is losing a stocking or shoe.

Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will
with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you're thinking? Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse; you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
as I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten with a father and mother,
brothers and sisters, who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet,
dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet.
A bride soon at twenty - my heart gives a leap,
remembering the vows that I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now, I have young of my own
who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast,
bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty my young sons have grown and are gone,
but my man's beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty once more babies play round my knee,
again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead;
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
and I think of the years and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old woman and nature is cruel;
'tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
there is now a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
and now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
and I'm loving and living life over again.

I think of the years - all too few, gone too fast
and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses, open and see,
not a crabby old woman; look closer - see ME!


The truth pulls at the heart.
Thank you for sharing

A lesson we should all pay attention to. Reminds me of the Frank Sinatra song, "When I was 17", so melancholy. Sigh, it is an unstoppable train - life. It doesn't allow us much opportunity to stay very long in any one "station", no matter how much we would wish otherwise.

I've noticed myself paying more attention to the old women that I meet in my daily life now--more than ever since I am riding the bus, and I credit this heightened awareness, at least in part, to you, Ronni. I plan on being a very old lady myself someday, and it only makes good sense to start acknowledging the path that bring us all to that point. I can tell when I do catch someone's eye and offer a small smile, that she isn't used to being seen. Keep up the good work.

I just turned sixty and am now retired. I had a very difficult summer, as I underwent breast cancer surgery, and am in the process of finishing a six week radiation therapy. 'Crabby old lady' made me sob, which did me a lot of good. Thank you for posting it.

My mother of 93 recently passed away. She had to go into a nursing home 6 years prior to her death. This poem tugs hard at my heart. We lost her a long time ago due to Alzhimers. I wish she had been with us those last years.I did not get to say goodbye.

I recently saw a presentation of this poem at a workshop with adaptation to a crabby old man. It is still very moving because I have worked with the elderly in the same care center for the past 25 years. I first read a copy of this when I was 16 and had just started as a nursing assistant. I have been told by many coworkers, residents and family that I am a very caring nurse and I believe part of that is due to the effect of this poem on how I view others. thank you for keeping this poem available.

Reminds me of "marvelous" Marvel, my 97-year-old mother-in-law who passed away a year ago tomorrow (12-1). Thinking of her so much these past days, that it is heart-warming that I stumbled upon this oldie but a goodie.

Ciao, and thank you for sharing...


I think this poem tugs hard at my heart because it is right that when we are frustrated by someone old moving too slowly in front of us and when we find ourselves with an older relative or friend whose mind is perhaps not as quick as it once was.

Women's psycology has been derived in this poem in an agreed way,Eventually but suddenly,hardly but harshly hence i like it.

Old people are people too with feelings, hopes and dreams. Sometimes younger folks forget that fact.


My Pastor gave me a copy of this poem when I was A.D.O.N. at a LTC facility. I treasure it dearly. I am now teaching Nurse Aides. I will give each class a copy of this poem on the first day of class!

this is true life so when working with the old remember at heart they are still young

I have been in the care profession for 25 years and have never read anything so ture as this poem, I am a care manager and have place this framed on a wall for all my staff to read, hoping this will remind them of what it is like to be old.
Thanks to Donna for pointing me in direction of this lovely poem

I have an old reel to reel tape recording dating from the late 50's of my grandmother reciting this poem. This recording is very moving as we later lost my grand mother to alzhimers in the 80's.

Just as a side note. I am from Northern Ireland & I first came across this poem between 20-25 years ago when I worked for a children's charity and a volenteer showed me a copy of the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health magazine that it was in... so that much is true

This poem really touches my heart. I took care! Of my mom. For years but I never understood until I notice how people look at me since I get older.

This poem was written in 1966 by Phyllis McCormack, then working as a nurse in Sunnyside Hospital, Montrose. For more information, see the Crabbit Old Woman article in Wikipedia

I volunteer at the hospital in the Out Patient Surgery Unit two days a week, and another day, play the keyboard with a group of musicians at Nursing Homes in the region. I have gained an insight through this activity to have respect for the ailing and the elderly, because there go I at some point in in my life !!

Thank you for posting this heartrenching poem. Brought tears to my eyes. I will be 64 soon with many health problems but still think and in my heart feel young. I never really was able to get close to my Mom who passed 2 yrs ago at 93 in her sleep in a rest hm from circumstances beyond my control. My grandmother died many yrs ago at 96 and I took care of her at hm. We were very close. She was so smart and full of wisdom and stories born in 1900. I miss her so much. My Dad died when I was 16. I have much respect and love for the elderly as I am one of them now so they say!! I would never treat anyone with disrespect no matter the age. We need to spend time talking to them even if some can't talk back or seem like they know but deep in their mind they can understand we just don't know!! Be loving be kind we will all be there in time!! Amen

I read this out to my year 10 form, you could hear a pin drop, almost in tears towards the end, but think each child got something from the poem.
And to me it’s not just a poem it’s a reminder of life, so so true.
Who ever written this has captured it so true.πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

A bit unoriginal, unimaginative and predictable. Generic derivative crap.

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