Grey Hair isn’t as Bad as you Think…

The new patient rolled onto the floor right during change of shift.  The group of  women at the nurses station glanced up as the stretcher passed by. The EMT’s grinned as the patient called out, “What a good-looking bunch of women!”   I glanced at my co-worker. “Either he’s in the throes of dementia or in full possession of  his faculties.”    I knew I would get to the bottom of the matter as this eighty-three-year old newcomer would be my patient.

A short while later, when I spotted the Kindle in his room, I asked him what he was reading.

Hawking.

Would that be Stephen Hawking?  The physicist?

Yes, that’s right.

But, weren’t you a law professor?

I was.  But after retirement, I decided to teach myself quantum mechanics and physics.

Oh.

I had my answer.  Not a hint of dementia in this very likable, very bright man.

Are you surprised?  The truth is, nursing homes are full of people who have amazing life stories and hidden talents.

I’ll never forget Jennie, a ninety-five-year old woman who introduced me to the ancient art of loom knitting. When I went into her room, more often than not, I  found her working with a ball of yarn and a round, wooden ring.   Her waking hours were spent making hats for premature babies in the NICU.  Jennie showed me how to loom knit, and in turn, I taught my daughters.   We have made scarves and hats and that is just the beginning of what can be knit on a loom.   Jennie’s comment on her contribution to society:  “I want to do something, and since I went blind I found that it is easier to knit with a loom.”  Her disability did not cause her to quit; she just made a necessary adjustment and continued on.

One of the elderly people I cared for was the founder of The Compass, the birthplace of contemporary improv comedy.  Famous alumni of The Compass include, among others, Alan Arkin, Alan Alda, Jerry Stiller, and Ed Asner.  His model for theater became the precursor of Second City Theater and Saturday Night Live.   One rainy, Sunday morning I spotted this man with his walker, trudging up the road to church.  Even in his declining years, the ‘father of American Improv’ hungers for more.  He continues to meet with a local pastor, searching for spiritual truth.

Some years ago while at a library book sale, my son found a number of red, hardcover books published in the 1920’s through the 1940’s.  They were about a little boy named Buddy and tell of his many adventures.  We bought all the books available, and my son carefully constructed a special bookcase for their storage.  They are still on the bookshelf.  Imagine my delight when I discovered that one of my current patients is the daughter-in-law of the author, and not only that, assisted in the writing of some of the books.  She is also related to the author who wrote under the name Laura Lee Hope and penned the Bobbsey Twins books.  She is full of stories about being a part of this literary family.

Can you imagine being the youngest of 17 children?  One of my patients tells me stories of being in just that position and often feeling lost in the crowd.  He recently lost his fifty-one-year old son, and the only comfort I can give him is to sit and hold his hand and pray with him.  Never one to expect much, he is grateful for whatever attention he receives.  Even with his broken heart, his eyes haven’t lost their twinkle and the good humor of this Irishman rises to the surface.

When I consider the lives of these people, I am struck anew that we are all made in the image of God.  Intellect,  creativity, compassion, faithfulness, and strength are all marks of the imprint of God on the human soul. There are lessons to learn, skills to imitate, and examples of perseverance to follow as we interact with the elderly. There is much to gain before we lose these precious souls to eternity.

As much value as there is in nurturing friendships with the elderly,  younger people have treasures to offer them as well.  They can  enter the world of the elderly and be to them living epistles of the love of God.  Time spent looking back on a life well lived, opens the door to looking forward and talking about eternity.   Swaying together to Sinatra opens the door to old hymns of the faith.  Discussions on life experiences may open the door to share the good news of the living Christ.

Many people live in close proximity to this wide open mission field where ‘the wheat is white for harvest’.   It would be wonderful if followers of Jesus recognized the value of nurturing these friendships, and at the same time realize what they can offer to someone who is on the threshold of eternity.

If the opportunity arises to visit at a nursing home or interact with the elderly in some other forum, be encouraged that you will be the one who comes away full.

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15 thoughts on “Grey Hair isn’t as Bad as you Think…

  1. Years ago the Lord put the elderly on my heart. So much wealth of knowledge in those beautiful souls. Thank you for sharing your lovely writings. I do enjoy them so. The elderly have so much love and laughter still to give.

    • I so agree! I am saddened by the lack of respect shown to the elderly in our country. There are other countries where the elderly are revered.

      A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness. Proverbs 16:31

  2. This reminds me of the three years I worked as a nurse’s aid at a nursing home. One of the residents had vivid memories of living in the town of Enfield that was flooded for Quabbin reservoir. He was so I interesting to listen to. It also made me think of the appointment I had just five days ago when I was referred to as “elderly” for the first time! Love your writing!

    • That reminds me of the first time someone said ‘ma’am’ to me. I looked around to see who they were talking to. 🙂

      One of the courses at Messiah College includes an assignment where the student is paired with a senior from a nearby retirement community. They have to spend time with that person learning their life story. At the end, they write a 10 page biography to give to the senior. What a wonderful gift for both parties!

  3. Thank-you Jill. I love the Messiah College assignment.

    Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

  4. First of all, I love your title, but I have to say, I seem to be one of the few women my age embracing my natural hair color at this stage of life!! These are wonderful reflections, observations and reminders, and worthy of re-reading often! It’s easy to look at the deficits that may be apparent in seniors, rather than taking time to mine the treasures we may find if we take the time. I have really enjoyed getting to know some of the women in my mom’s senior living center as I have visited her. Did you know that Ben is also working as an assistant fitness director at a retirement center? He absolutely loves it, and has the best stories to tell. I hope that someone like you is around if I ever end up in a nursing facility!

    • I didn’t know that about Ben. Good for him! I’ll bet the elderly people he works with can tell he loves being there and they will be blessed.

      I have seen residents where I work become friends with people who are there to visit their own family members. I love to see this because I think it broadens the resident’s world and makes their life richer. I am so glad to hear that you are one of those visitors who reaches out to other people when you visit your mom. God bless you!

  5. Jill- That WAS a treasure to read. I loved it so much. Thank you for the AMAZING reminder of the preciousness of these many wonderful older people whose lives are NOT supposed to be forgotten. God bless you as you bless them!

  6. Every Thursday morning at Panera Bread in Chicopee I sit with an 86 year old man named Ed and we talk while he eats breakfast. I love our visits. They are coming to an end after my daughter is out of school this next week and I am very said. He is amazing and I just listening to him talk. If you think to pray for him his daughter is probably dying of cancer and he is so sad. He said to me, ” you are not supposed to bury your kid before you die.” He lost his best friend a few months ago, and his dog not long after. It’s a sad time in his life.

    Jill, thank you for the reminder.

    • Melissa, I am sorry to hear of all the pain in Ed’s life right now. The loss of a child must be one of the hardest trials to endure. How nice, for both of you, to spend that time together each week. May the Spirit of Jesus be with you.

    • Amen! I wish our culture appreciated this more. We are so obsessed with youth that we don’t see the wisdom and beauty of those who have lived a full life.

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