My father, age 87, is a retired rabbi. He continues to deliver sermons during the Jewish High Holidays. This year he described his thoughts about aging in a sermon entitled “Getting Older.” He cites a poem, “Written by a Crabby Old Woman”, which I found applicable to the patient and family experience. I took the liberty of using my name in the poem so I would hear the crabby old woman speaking directly to me.
His sermon begins as follows:
The past year has been a difficult year for me, a year of tragic loss, difficult transitions, and the need to adjust to new conditions. As the High Holidays approached I turned to the Holiday prayers for support. The most meaningful prayer that I found was the prayer for life.
“Remember us unto life, O King who delights in life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life.”
It is this prayer that speaks most profoundly to us, that voices our deepest desire; that we go on living that we will have added years. And yet paradoxically, at this season we recite another heartfelt prayer. We also cry out:
”Don’t cast us out when we get old-when our strength fails us, don’t desert us.”
Old age is something we are all anxious to attain. However, once attained it is sometimes regarded as a defeat. We ask for added years, and yet we fear that which added years bring. This fear was put into words in a moving poem entitled “Written by a Crabby Old Woman.” It is a poem that I often think of when I visit a hospital or a nursing home.
What do you see [David], what do you see?
Are you thinking when you are looking at me,
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with far away eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, “I do wish you’d try.”
Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, [David], you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am, [David], as I sit here so still,
As I do 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 girl of 16 with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet
A bride soon at 20 my heart gives a leap.
Remembering the vow that I promised to keep
At 25 now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure, happy home;
A woman of 30 my young now grow fast;
Bound to each other with ties that should last…
At 50 once more babies play round my knee.
Again we know children, my loved one and me
Dark days are upon me my husband is 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 an old woman now and nature is cruel’
T’is her jest to make old age look like a fool…
But 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.
I think of the years all too few gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, [David], open and see
Not a crabby old woman, look closer -
This poem helps clinicians learn more about the patient and family experience in health care. What do you think? Please feel free to comment. We encourage a free exchange of ideas but, as always, we reserve the right to remove comments that make personal criticisms or attacks on individuals or specific businesses.