This is part two of a series on aging and ageism. Last week in, “I didn’t always look like this”, I introduced you to Barb and her daughter, Angie. Barb who is sixty-eight years old and admitted to hospice with chronic airway obstruction, taught us about seeing others with our minds eye: “When you use your mind’s eye you see beyond the here and now; you imagine. Have you ever seen those TV shows about the pyramids and ancient ruins? Can’t you imagine what they looked like years ago…Can’t you imagine them surrounded by palm trees? Can’t you imagine how beautiful they must have been?” As we age, I think most of us hope others will see us with their “minds eye”, don’t you?
My “over the kitchen table” conversations with Barb and Angie continue, and Barb’s twenty-something year old granddaughter, Heather, even joined in. We were talking about how health care professionals sometimes interact with the aged and elderly. Angie pointed out, “When I come into the room they talk over mom and ask me the questions instead of her. They even ask me how mom’s doing when she’s sitting right there.” Barb shared about one health care professional, “He looked at Angie when he was talking instead of to me, as if I’m not smart enough to understand. You feel invisible. It’s degrading…I’m old and in a wheelchair, so I guess that means I don’t have a brain either.” Heather shared about a telephone conversation with the provider of Barb’s motorized wheelchair, “Mom and I were here and grandma put the phone on speaker so we could hear what was being said. When she did the person asked who else was there and started talking to us instead of grandma. In my opinion that’s not just poor customer service, that’s poor humanity!” But Barb countered, “But not everybody’s like that. All the people at _______ are really nice. They talk with me and treat me with respect.”
Barbs experiences reminded me of a poem so I took Barb a copy. When she read it she exclaimed, “I can’t believe you have a poem that explains just the way I feel.” Barb immediately pasted it on her refrigerator door where it’s remained. Typed on the bottom of the poem is, “This poem was found among the possessions of an elderly lady after her death in a geriatric ward of Asludie Hospital in Dundee, in Ireland.” I can’t verify the source but I believe Barb’s testimony validates the message. The poem is addressed to nurses but we can insert our individual titles; physicians, technicians, therapists, social workers etc: “What do you see nurses, what do you see?…a crabby old woman, not very wise, uncertain of habit, with far away eyes…Who seems not to notice the things that you do, and is forever losing a stocking or shoe. ..Who unresisting or not, lets you do as you will, with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill. Is that what you are 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 use at your bidding, as I eat at your will. I am 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…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. So open your eyes…open and see…not a crabby old woman, look closer…see me.”
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22)