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INTERESTING STUFF – 16 February 2019

Crabby Old Lady – Not Me, A Poem

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Last week, a reader named Joseph Burns left this comment on a post from the first year of this blog's existence, September 2004:

”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. Whoever wrote this has captured it so true. 👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏"

I think after 15 years this is definitely worth a repeat. I've included my original introduction from 2004.

* * *

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.

Herewith, then, the poem titled Crabby Old Lady.

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!



Comments

Thank you, thank you a bajillion times! How wonderful to post this poem when I need it most. What a treasure you & this blog are. :):)Dee

Oh my, so there's another crabby old lady out there! (more like a million, I'd guess!) Thanks.

I certainly don't fuss when behind a slow-moving oldster at the grocery store. I think about how that will be me in the not-too-distant future, and admire the fact that they are there at all, out and about and still doing their day-to-day things for themselves.

Thank you to Joseph Burns for bringing this to the fore, and of course to you Ronni for reprising this exquisite, poignant poem . I am going to copy and print and send it to everyone I know. What is particularly moving is that this woman can still see herself as she once was and treasure and mourn the milestones in her life. She remains visible to herself .
I am so grateful to have this blog to return to again and again for wisdom and solace. You have made such an incredible contribution Ronni and even now your focus is on generativity in ensuring this treasure lives on. Your generosity knows no bounds.
Thank you with all my heart for the blog, for the community that it has created and for you.
I am so glad to have "met" all of you.
Lynn

...and the rest of us who were touched by this poem, can only add our thanks to you, Ronni and add, "Here! Here!" to Lynn L's comment.

When my mom was in skilled nursing, unable to walk or speak, I used to show a photo of her as a beautiful young woman to her nurses, hoping that it would spark a recognition that she was a whole person, more than a body to be washed, etc. I wish I had had this poem then - I would have printed it elegantly and posted it prominently in her room. But I'm glad to have it now, and I'm going to print it and share it widely. I agree with Susan's comments about being admiring of the folks who are out and about despite their difficulties.

Poem is a powerful mixture of words so true!
Thank you.

Thanks, beautiful poem; reminds me of Elvis Costello's song "Veronica." When I was young, I used to wonder why almost all old people seemed so grumpy. Now I know why: (in my case anyway) grumpiness comes a lot of the time from fear; I don't like being the age I am and am terrified of getting even older. (Living in an area where there are very few services for seniors who don't have family to help doesn't help.) I'm not afraid of death, more specifically *being* dead because I'm an atheist; dying probably will be painful but once I'm dead, nothingness; so nothing to fear there. I am however afraid of being even more helpless than I am now. So I'm going to print this poem up & take with me to the nursing home when it's time. (If I don't lose it or forget all about it first; that's happening more & more.)

So true. It made me cry.

Thank you. I see.

The better quality retirement community I served for a number of years writes a brief biography with a photo, often of the younger person, then places this on the inside cover of their medical chart in skilled nursing, assisted living, Green house — all other levels of care. In some instances family members provided short videos of their loved one that have been seen, or could be, by staff members at one time or another. I sometimes overheard staff conversing or sharing with new staff pertinent info with one another, and addressing the resident in such a way as to reflect familiarity.

This was also of special benefit for optimizing communication and interaction with individuals going through various stages of adapting to long term care, recovery from stroke, other neurological issues, brain injury, the variety of dementias including Alzheimer’s, and those unable to communicate at all.

Presently, individuals could prepare just such a bio about themselves while still able with plans to take with them for any move — just post or keep in room. Family or friends could prepare for person. This poem attached might be appealing. If this isn’t happening in some group residences where any who read here live, they could prompt others to do so. Lots of ideas about ways to help others become aware of each person as a special human being with a lfe ... a story ... before becoming the person seen now in the declining years of life.

I love this poem. t reminds me of a Dave Alvin song that always brings tears to my eyes:
The man in the bed isn't me
Now I slipped out the door and I'm runnin' free
Young and wild like I'll always be
No the man in the bed isn't me

And these tremblin' hands, they're not mine
Now my hands are strong and steady all the time
They can swing a sledge hammer or soothe a baby that's cryin'
These trembling hands, they're not mine

Now the nurse over there doesn't know
That I ain't some helpless old so-and-so
I could have broken her heart not that long ago
Now the nurse over there doesn't know

That the man in the bed isn't me
‘Cause I slipped out the door and I'm runnin' free
Young and wild like I'll always be
The man in the bed isn't me

I'm the man I've always been
I'm the kid who rode the rails through the Great Depression
I fought in the big war and marched for the Union
I'm the man I've always been

So don't believe what the doctors say
They're just makin' things up so they can get paid
Yeah, and it ain't me they're talkin' about anyway
So don't believe what the doctors say

‘Cause the man in the bed isn't me
Well I slipped out the door and I'm finally free
Young and wild like I'll always be
No the man in the bed isn't me
No the man in the bed isn't me
No the man in the bed isn't me

Both great poems and, unfortunately, descriptive of how old age really is, IMO! Although a bio is a creative idea, I wonder if many of the underpaid workers in our country's seriously-understaffed nursing homes/assisted living facilities--for whom English may not be their primary language--can or would take the time to read a bio or see the old person before them as an individual. I sincerely hope I depart this mortal coil before that becomes my fate.

I want/hope to be one of the old people still out there attending to my daily duties until--suddenly one day--I'm not. I understand why old people sometimes don't seem very "happy". We accept our losses with varying degrees of grace, I guess. After almost two weeks of an unusual winter snow event in our area, grace is currently in shorter supply than usual.

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