“Seek out old people. When you find some, give them joy. Listen closely. Remember that each old person is a library. Listen closely. Be useful. Bring the gift of yourself. Be voluntary. Visit with magic. Try playing their game. Let wisdom seep in. Cradle your own future old person. Be gentle. Listen closely. Pay attention to an old person. The treasures will be revealed.” –Sark, A Creative Companion
I had a second visit with an eighty-something-year old client today; quite the character this man is! Today’s visit was a bit more enjoyable than our last in early January; he’s since been fitted for a hearing aid and we didn’t need to shout at one another this time. He’s almost practically blind with glaucoma so couldn’t read the letter I’d sent to let him know I’d be stopping by. I stood in the pouring rain for the ten minutes it took him to get to the door with his walker to let me in and then he couldn’t see me to remember who I was.
The real purpose of my visit was to make sure that his landlord had done some necessary repairs that I’d required, but I could have just as easily done that over the phone – but for all that shouting! – the fact is that I love to visit my elderly clients in person when possible. They’re often grumpy, but I love them anyway and usually end up feeling like I want to bring them home with me or at least adopt them for the holidays.
We had a nice visit and chatted about all his health issues and the problems he’s been having adjusting to the hearing aid. Then the stories started – that’s what I look forward to the most, you know! He told me about the jazz band he played horn in for many years – dixieland – and the time his band was asked to play at a funeral and had all the mourners up and dancing in the back of the funeral chapel. He also told about a half dozen bad jokes, but I laughed and he laughed and that’s what matters, I guess.
Most of the seniors I visit live alone and are too far from family to have any sort of support network in place. Plus, I imagine they’re really lonely and like the chance to talk with someone who’s kind enough to listen.
I know it was that way with my dad. I used to pity the poor telemarketer or grocery store clerk who met him when he was in a talkative mood – which was practically always! – he could go on and on for hours and mostly my brothers and I had already heard all of his stories at least a thousand times so had stopped listening, really. I regret that now, of course, and sometimes feel like I would give almost anything to hear my dad tell the story of breaking my mother’s Christmas angel or any of the hundreds of others he had saved up, just one more time.
I think the lesson for me in this is that it’s too easy to take your own family for granted; the old guy I saw this morning has a few sons around, but I wonder if they are able to delight in him the way I found myself doing today. It’s not easy to do, I guess, when other issues or emotions get in the way of just enjoying one another’s company, but I think courtesy, a lot of patience and some extra attention can go a long way in making the elderly feel like they have something to offer the rest of us. It doesn’t take much to be kind, does it? And they see far and know so much; we need only really listen.