Empathy for Our Elderly | An Old Man’s Poem
This weekend I was a presenter at San Francisco Assessor Carmen Chu’s Family Wealth Workshop. The title of my presentation was Protecting Against Elder Financial Abuse. I was able to share stories with the community and they in turn shared stories with me. I find this the most gratifying part of these events.
One particular story touched my heart. Details of the story have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. I hope that the spirit of the story stays intact in my telling.
I’ll call him Sam. He is approaching 80. He is retired. He is widowed. He has no children. Other members of his family are also elderly. He shares with me his fear – a fear that he cannot shake. While he has financial assets his ties to his local community are limited. He wonders – and fears – what will happen to him should he become incapacitated – whether by injury, stroke or memory loss. He imagines the worst. He looks to me for some answers. I look at his eyes – his concerns – and become aware of what little I can offer.
Still I do offer something. I search back in my memory and think of others that I’ve known or heard of who were like Sam, alone and wanting to plan a better future than isolation and court-imposed conservatorships. I remember some stories from the time that I was on some charity boards. There were development directors that paid special attention to seniors who had identified the charities as a beneficiary of their trust. What might at first seem financial grew into more than that. A genuine caring – a concern for the life of the elder evolved. Home visits, telephone calls and inclusion in some social gatherings followed. These generous seniors were not abandoned.
Not everyone has an estate that will draw the interest of local charities. That said, stories abound where a local church or synagogue reaches out to local seniors for home visits and well-being check-ups. Neighbors may often take the place of relatives when there are no relatives, or they are long distant – geographically or emotionally.
This last summer I attended a beautiful wedding at a dude ranch in Wyoming. More than 140 people from the west and east coast traveled to a place that few had seen before or even heard about. We didn’t know what to expect. By the time that we left our shared experience brought fabulous memories.
One memory is one “wranglers” telling of cowboy rules. One standout rule is knowing and checking on your neighbor. This is critical when isolation and the weather can be life threatening. It is a rule that is tough to follow in the city when we often don’t know our neighbors. It’s a rule that we all should think about – it helps. It may be easier to apply when we try to walk a mile in another person’s shoes – when we try to get into their heads – when we empathize with their lives. I read about an old man living in a nursing home who had seemingly been forgotten by his family. A poem that he had written was found among his belongings – I’ll share some of it.
“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.
It’s 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 man 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 cranky old man.
OK – Maybe I get the point now a little better and each of us can probably do better in helping and caring for our elders. It takes these occasional reminders. I thank Sam – the elder who talked with me after my San Francisco presentation for reminding me about what it is to walk in his shoes.