This past week, several family members and I made a trip to a local nursing home to visit an elderly relative. During our visit, I was reminded of the many joyful hours I have spent working with older people in nursing homes, subsidized housing and private home care settings during my social work career. I can still remember many of their names, faces and personalities from 31 years ago. The folks I have worked with were all unique and of course some of them were even a little grouchy. That never seemed to deter me, however as my favorites were always those that were a bit of a challenge. I love older people and always have. Unfortunately, senior citizens are frequently overlooked in today’s society. Many folks do not seem to realize just how much knowledge and strength is in the older generations.
The generations of the past made this country what it is today. Without their hard work and fortitude, we would not be able to enjoy the freedoms and benefits that we have in the United States of America. Think about someone you know who is in their 80’s or 90’s. That person has lived through several major wars and the great depression. He or she knows what it is like to have to be self-sufficient and do without if necessary. He or she also knows what it is like to not be able to turn to a television or cell phone for entertainment or even live without electricity. If the person you know is a woman, her life had to practically revolve around trying to accomplish the never-ending tasks to keep the household going. Imagine doing laundry for multiple people by using a wringer washer. And this was considered an advancement from a washboard. Would you want to have to haul in water from a nearby stream or well whenever you wanted to take a bath or wash up? Or how about walk for miles to school or work every day? The older generations did do all of this and so much more.
The older generation have so much to teach and share if we would just take the time to listen. Visit a nursing home resident. Stop by and say ‘hi’ to your grandparents or even great grandparents, aunts or uncles. One of these days the memories of the changes that have occurred over the past 100 years will be gone. Claim your own family memories and learn them from the family members who lived them.
Many times visiting an elder is difficult as the aging process can sometimes be cruel. Sometimes the person may be somewhat confused and repeat themselves. Or maybe they are in a wheelchair or paralyzed on one side. Please do not let that stop you from visiting. These folks need visitors too. And they can still share their memories or even help to create new memories with you.
The following poem is a favorite of mine. To me, it sums up the importance of being a positive support person for our elderly generation. I originally saw it on the wall of a local nursing home. The name of the author is uncertain but may be Esther Mary Walker.
Beatitudes for Friends of the Aged
Blessed are those who understand
my faltering step and palsied hand.
Blessed are those who know that my ears today
must strain to catch the things they say.
Blessed are those who seem to know
that my eyes are dim and my wits are slow.
Blessed are those who looked away
when coffee spilled at breakfast today.
Blessed are those with a cheery smile
who stopped to chat for a little while.
Blessed are those who never say,
“You’ve told that story twice today.”
Blessed are those who know the ways
to bring back the memories of yesterdays.
Blessed are those who make it known
that I’m loved, respected and not alone.
Blessed are those who know I’m at a loss
to find the strength to carry the Cross.
Blessed are those who ease the days
on my journey home in loving ways.