Elderly people are a big mirror into the human mind – and they all deserve a kind word. This is what I wrote to my friend when describing my current work. I have in front of my eyes the face of my client, the old lady, who looks at me with a trustful child-like acceptance. There are not many complaints, nor many desires left in her. She has lost all her anger, envy, greed, need for power or glory. There is just this gentle fragile woman who occasionally smiles when a fleeting memory passes through her mind. She does not remember her wedding day anymore, she does not talk about her late husband or passed friends; with her days nearing closer to the end she has accepted life as it is. She is the toothless child again; the child who is able to enjoy the play of sunshine on the kitchen counter, or to admire the small plant at the window sill. Time does not count anymore, she goes to bed or to the kitchen as she pleases, then she lies down in bed for 5 minutes and almost immediately asks if there is a time to get up again.
I am looking at her with compassion and sympathy and what I see is every human being reflected in her eyes. Her power and strength is over, her body is aching, her memories are fading, she has difficulties remembering days of the week and names of her relatives, her faculties are slowly leaving her withering body. I can see now, how time is passing and all is ‘anicca’.
I have volunteered as a helper in a hospice for a socio-therapeutic session. The main purpose was to give the elderly people there some activities, to entertain them and make the time pass in more relaxed way. They would all gathered in one large room and were asked if they wanted to do some of the folloiwng activities; painting, gluing together little pieces of paper or beads, making pictures, singing and playing games. Most of them were in wheelchairs, some suffered from strokes or serious diseases, and some from accidents. Some were not able to perform even simple tasks without help. Most of them were here to stay for the remainder of their lives. Sometimes the only activity they could do was sit, feel the warmth of human contact and be part of the group.
Time flowed differently in this building. It was much slower and each hour had a meaning. The people divided the hours by their mealtimes. When doing activities, each person had a different pace; some painted slowly and some quickly. The fast ones could complete their picture by several strokes and then they did not know what to do next. There was an alert old man who usually painted two or three pictures a day and he was very thorough. He filled every little bit of his pictures with colors. Soon he completed one full thick folder of paintings. He preferred to paint houses, buildings and flowers. He told me “I am already 94 years old.” I almost did not believe him, but the nurse confirmed he was right.
Some of the people still kept their former smiles and curiosities; some were resigned to their fate. Some were nice and some sour. The last time I was there I worked with a shy old woman who spoke with a quiet and soft voice. She had worked on her painting for half an hour and had trouble deciding how to decorate the rest of her work. When I returned back to the nursing home a week later, I asked about her. They said she was not there anymore to complete her work. The weekend before, she had quietly passed on.
Why am I here doing my little bit of help? I look at the people and I can easily imagine being one of them. I can also imagine my closest and dearest friends behind the faces of these old people. And I have only one wish – to see them smile – just a little.
Somehow I can feel that we all benefit here – by giving and receiving something. All of us need love, smile and gentle touch. All of us strive for kind words, attention, and appreciation. As our life passes we become more depended on the others. The possessions, emotions, obsessions with the life counts no more. There are only few things that may count for something – how we were able to unlock some of our potential, our greatness, compassion, the most human features that exists in each of us. Did we manage to stretch beyond what was given to us? Did we fight our fears, did we stand behind the truth or what we considered to be the truth, and did we manage to restrain our emotions to some extent? The time on this earth was given to us as a great gift and we have responsibilities for our days and hours to do something with it –maybe to extend ourselves a bit – by accumulating knowledge, experience, compassion and understanding. What counts are our efforts, the days when we stretched ourselves a little more…
Time and meaning in a senior’s house does not count anymore. What counts is something which is reflected in each person’s eyes, something as vast as a whole universe… Maybe each person’s eyes are a window to see something more…
One thought on “Working with elderly people and the dying.”
at 75 I feel a little jealous of you…but with enormous admiration
would love to meet someone like you in my invisible existence
you are accumulating the biggest fortune existing….no money on earth can touch it.