Reflection #2

A Crabby Old Woman

The following poem appeared when an elderly lady died in the geriatric ward of a hospital near Dundee, Scotland. It was believed that she had left nothing of value. The nurses, going through her possessions, however, found the following poem. Its quality so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital. The old lady’s sole bequest to posterity is presented below. As you read it, consider how the people you’ve met at the nursing home might be feeling similarly. The best way we can serve our forgotten elderly is to treat them as real people. And as people, to give them the respect they deserve.


What do you see, nurses, what do you see,
What are you thinking when you’re looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes.

Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, “I do wish you’d try?”
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe.

Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will
with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you’re 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 do at 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 sixteen, with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet.
A bride soon at twenty — my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now, I have young of my own
Who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At fifty once more babies play around my knee,
Again we know children, my beloved 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 now an old woman and nature is cruel;
’tis 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 woman 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, nurses, open and see,
Not a crabby old woman; look closer —