Elder Shame and Ego


Today's poem is a repeat, initially published here during Time Goes By's first six months of existence in 2004. Here is what I wrote about it that year:

”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...”

Since then, the poem has been posted all over the internet - sometimes reworked, reworded, edited, truncated and/or embellished beyond recognition. The North Ireland Association for Mental Health has been replaced in the backstory with the names of several other institutions probably because, like me, no one can find any reference that it exists or ever did.

Also since 2006, a word-for-word version with male pronouns replacing the female ones has turned up with the backstory that it was found in the pocket of an old man who died in a hospital in Florida, or a hospital somewhere else or just a hospital with no location given. The website truthorfiction says that story is fiction. The poem, they reported in 2009,

”...was written by Dave Griffith of Fort Worth, Texas. Griffith told TruthOrFiction.com that he wrote the poem more than 20 years ago and that he meant for it to be simple, and too [sic] the point, from youth through old age in his own personal life, high school football, Marines, marriage, the ravages of his own disabilities.”

Which is, undoubtedly, also fiction. If Dave of Fort Worth (other sources say he lives in Florida) wrote about the infirmities of old age 20 years earlier, I doubt he was still with us in 2009. And, if he is still with us, I wonder how he would explain the female version which undoubtedly precedes his.

Even long-time elder videoblogger, geriatric1927, fell for all the cloying sentimentalism of the male backstory, reading it as the introduction to the poem for his YouTube channel in 2009.

I tell you all this, much shortened from what I found online in under 15 minutes, because it's interesting to know this stuff and it amazes me that many people want to take or assign undeserved credit - or defend false credit - for something with no known provenance.

No one knows who wrote this poem, but it doesn't matter. What I said in introduction to it eight years ago stands:

”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.”

Whatever you read elsewhere online, the poem has no title nor does it need one.

Author unknown

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!

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Steve Kemp: From Devil Pup – a work in progress


Yup, and all of us.

When I worked in a cubicle back in the early 1980s, the gal in the next cubicle had this poem up on her wall.

We've come a long way from the time when elders were respected and even revered for their longevity.

But since the youth-oriented Pandora's box has been opened, our society at least will never again see elders quite the same

Yes, I've seen this before ... but it certainly bears repeating.

And, of course, I've sent it on to my own children and all of my elder friends.

When I was young and looked at my grandmother I only saw the wrinkles and slow movements. It's as if she had been born old.

Now that I am that old woman I can visualize the young woman that my grandmother once was and I now know her much better. I hope that someday my granddaughters will realize that I, too, was once young.

Thank you for reminding me of an idea I'd had for my blog, and forgotten about how each resident in a nursing home has a past, a persona and that the staff need to know adn remember that. When my dad was in just such a facility I made it appoint to tell the staff when they called him Mr that he was Dr And when I found out his table mate had been a children's book illustrator I saw to it that I mentioned it casually to staff and they were all surprised. All I could do was plant the seed of a different view and hope it took root.

Darlene, you are sooooooooooo right. Thank you, Ronni, and thank you, Darlene.

Beautiful and written by someone who knows how to write poems -- this was not her first, I'll bet. Others have have disappeared when she was taken to the nursing home, they may have been masterpieces. I hope this one lives on.

When I see how young my granddaughter is at age 29 (with two boys under age 2), I think how young my own mother must have been when she had me, her third child, at age 24. She was so young!

Ronni, I forwarded the poem to aforesaid granddaughter who is an LPN at a nursing home - the same one at which she first volunteered at age 12.

I have a lot of poems on the internet, posted "anonymously." I think it is always great when a poet can get readers, but sad that so many seem to alter the original poem.

Yesterday my grand-niece was here, and I did something I'd been thinking about for some time. I told her to put her hand beside my hand; comparing an 11-year-old hand to a 60-year-old hand, quite a lesson for her.

I remember my dear grandmother's hands, and how I always thought of the difference between hers and mine. Age happens, and nothing can really stop it; that's the truth. But as today's post proves, inside every older person there is the youngster who still lives in memory.

Virginia suggests an idea. Why not attach a life-story for every resident to the bedstead or other permanent part of the rest home domicile? Perhaps the the caregivers would realize they are dealing with a real, and valuable, person.

Sad that a poem can become so widely loved and circulated without anyone, in the beginning, taking care to note the author's name.

So lucky to have my grandmother always live with us. A blessing and my paternal grandmother and grand-
father were always the Sunday family dinner hosts. Never thought of 'old age' as a curse. However when I was a Librarian and 'young' women would say "I can't relate to old people" my retort would be "don't you intend to live long?" Sometimes they would reflect how they would feel.
Selfishness and "me, me, me" have always been with us. There are many, many young folk who still revere and show consideration for their elders.

Very moving poem -- the older I become the more the words impact.

The facility I serve has a one page history of each resident with a picture in very front of every medical chart. I always read them when the person is referred to me. Sometimes it can be appropriate for me to casually remind staff of personal humanizing facts about the patient with whom I'm working. This is the only facility in which I've seen such a biography placed.

Additionally, many family members create collages or bring in photos posted in the room that follow the patient's life. Sometimes, my therapy warrants asking families to create a notebook or album of certain types of photos -- or lots of pictures not only of people but places, vacation trips of significance to the person.

Unfortunately, this is the only facility (part of a retirement community) that I've served which includes a biography in the chart. Elsewhere, family, friends or some volunteer interviewing patients capable of responding (if privacy concerns cleared so no violation) have to be responsible for providing this written information, etc.

I always wonder about those individuals who are alone, have family distant miles away, or have local family who rarely visit, some estranged from family, some whose mental capacity is such they aren't themselves but still need contact.

Joared, This idea of bio and photo in the chart is wonderful. thanks for sharing.

I read this poem as a class project in Nursing school 30 years ago. I can only hope it gave them a perspective as they carried out the duties of their career. I know that it changed the way I treated the senior population in the cardiac units where I spent most of my career

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)