I was extremely touched when I first read this anonymous poem which was printed at the end of a book on caregiving. It’s been floating around the Internet for a long time, but with today’s focus on aging, it is surfacing more and more. I feel it needs to be read by everyone who cares about the elderly. It helps us remember.
The story goes:
When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a small hospital near Tampa, Florida, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.
Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.
One nurse took her copy to Missouri. The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the St. Louis Association for Mental Health. Note that, while this poem says "nurses," we all - every one of us - must put ourselves into this spot.
Crabby Old Man
What do you see nurses? …What do you see?
What are you thinking…when you’re looking at me?
A crabby old man, …not very wise,
Uncertain of habit …with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his 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 sock 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 boy of Sixteen …with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now. …a lover he’ll meet.
A groom 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 man 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 woman’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 wife is now 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 man…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 guy 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, people …open and see…
Not a crabby old man. Look closer…see…ME!!
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.