Elder Wisdom

Tree Sunlight 30045541 M

Ruth’s Dilemma

By Ruth Siller

Ruth-1We live where they give assistance
So needless to say, we have small resistance
To the germs who come by the dozens
Bringing their aunts and their cousins.

We cough and we cough
Then a sweet soul comes our way
And wants to know
If we’re OK.

We haven’t breath enough to live
So how can we, an answer give?
If you have no oxygen to offer
Stay away from that poor cougher.

Submitted by Harriet Winograd, an art therapist who had the privilege of working with Ruth Siller, age 91, at Sunrise Assisted Living in W. Hartford, CT until her recent death in August 2004.


Spirit Against Change

By Mike Fink

I’ve hit my three score and ten, an age for zen wisdom. I’ve done what I have done and been where I have gone and formed the habits of a lifetime. What can I bequeath in these pages?

The zen of raking, sweeping, washing a cup instead of throwing away a paper container. Respect for things leads to respect for life, the souls of sparrows as well as those of our fellow human animals.

You do get conservative about resisting new gadgets, but I have to admit that I was always against the idle changes in our society and culture that threaten the stability of my child’s spirit. This paper is called “Spirit of Change” and I have the “spirit against change,” but whimsy, too, is a gypsy part of elder instinct. Move on and let go.

Things I miss: handwriting, dial phones, slowly warming radios, big words and ladies in gloves and hats.

Advice and counsel? In James Thurber’s closing line from 13 Clocks, “Remember laughter. You’ll need it even in the blessed isles of Ever After.”

Mike Fink is a professor at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI.


Grandfather of the Standing People

By M. Brooks-Wynfield
Illustration by Justin LaRocca Hansen


Yes, my child?

Grandfather, there are whispers on the wind. The standing people are whispering, Grandfather.

What are they saying my child?

They are saying that you will be cut down. That the two leggeds will take you away. Is this true Grandfather? Why would the two leggeds take you?

Yes, it is true my child. I am now in their way. I am in the way of their vision, as they call it. In the way of their automobiles, and their progress.

Grandfather? What is progress?

Well, my Grandchild, progress is the fast pace of the two leggeds life. The slow, smooth days of our past are gone. The horse, which used to carry the two leggeds, is now what they call an automobile, or a car. They now fly across Grandfather Sky in what is called a plane, going even faster than the car, and they have great ships to cross the ocean. Bridges to cross the rivers, where they once used a canoe or rode across on horseback.

Grandfather, in their taking of you, do they not know of the standing people? Do they not know that the standing people are your daughters, sons and grandchildren? Do they not know that you have feelings?

Do they know that you have passed many ancient tales to the many beings of the forest by the road?

Do they know that your seed gave birth to us?

Do they know that you have shaded them, protected them, given them oxygen to breathe? Sheltered the squirrels, the birds, raccoons and opossum?

Grandfather? Do they not know that you are my Grandfather?

Whoa! Little one, my sweet Grandchild, they have only forgotten. They have all the songs; it’s just that they have forgotten how to sing them. They are too busy to listen to the songs woven by the four winds that sing through our branches. You will share my pain, and you will miss me, but I will continue to live through you. It is up to you to remind the two leggeds of what must be spared in their fast life.

There are times, my Grandchild, when a standing person must be moved or taken from the Earth. When moved or taken, it must be done with great care, honor and ceremony for the asking. Without honor, it is painful. Without asking permission, it is stealing. Without honor, without ceremony, Earth Mother also feels the pain of her standing people. She too shares their pain. She too weeps for them.

Of you, I only ask you to remember me and remind the two leggeds what they forgotten. Remind them not to waste. That every piece of paper is a piece of us.

To share. Share their cars so that we may all breathe easier, and in return give them oxygen.

To drive slower, rather then widen the roads.
To take not more than they need.
To walk among us, and enjoy us.
To watch the birds that alight on our branches.
To see the light of Grandmother Moon shimmer on us.
To see Grandfather Sun as he rises in the east, shining brightly through our leaves.
To see the colors of the raindrops on our leaves when the sun returns after a rain.
To walk softly upon the good red road, and follow the rainbow as it bends over us.
To plant another standing person when one is taken for good purpose.
Remind them, my Grandchild, to remember their loving heart, and to follow their dreams.
To honor the ancestors, and to hear their wisdom.
To speak their truth softly and gently like the summer rain.Teach them to remember my words, which will become your words as you share them.

Grandchild Standing Person stood tall, and reached up to touch his Grandfather.

I will, Grandfather, I will.

And it is so. Blessed be.

(This is a true story. Grandfather of the Standing People was taken from the corners of Orchard and Grove Streets, in the small but rapidly growing town of Millis, MA, before this story was finished. It is from a discussion with students on Linda Couslands’ Bus A afternoon kindergarten run, embellished upon and written with the hopes that we will re-member what Grandfather Standing Person has asked of us.).


In Loving Memory

By Elizabeth McIntyre

My 3 sisters and I learned our values and strengths by our parent’s teachings and by the way they lived and conducted themselves. Dad, Delton Crosby Hall (Dec 29, 1905 – Dec 9, 1992) was a grandson of Herbert F. Crosby of the Osterville Crosby boat building family. Mom, Anne Elizabeth Hay Reid Hall (May 20, 1907 – May 9, 1998) was born in Scotland and thus diluted our Yankee strain – all for the better. I wrote these two items just prior to the deaths of my parents.

TheHAllsCap’n Hall

Tall, tanned young and strong
This vision to my youth belongs
Military posture, purposeful stride
Handsome, alert, always on our side
My idol, my Dad.

Absent through war years and sorely missed
He served his country well, among first to enlist
Leaving parents, four daughters, his wife and his home
He taught navigation, on a schooner did roam
through the Bay of Manila.

In peacetime returned, resumed living his days
An artist, a craftsman, his boats rode the waves
Giving pride to their owners, his daughters he taught
Joys of sailing, hard work, independence of thought
“It never costs a nickel to be nice.”

We four girls grew older, becoming teenagers
Taking for granted our lives in their stages
Becoming women, wives and mothers
Only then, living through others
Realizing the gift.

A life of example, seen in the light
“If it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing right”
The years took their toll, the brightness faded
No longer young and tall, the bright blue eyes shaded
By illness and age.

The sure step now shuffling, the hearing impaired
Expression so puzzled, frustration is shared
By all who know and love him
Skin parchment thin, recollection dim
Life force gone.

In lucid moments, like falling stars’ flare
Shines the essence of Dad, for a moment there
Our fathers spirit, like a beacon to me
And my sisters – safe harbor ahead…


Mom’s Hands

St Francis of Assisi explains the creative process this way: “The woman who works with her hands is a laborer; the woman who works with her hands and her head is a craftswoman; the woman who works with her hands, and her heart is an artist.”

Mom brought forth art from real life with her hands, caring for, creating and molding the beautiful tapestry of life and our lives. Those hands – once slim and strong and graceful, now misshapen, knarled and worn – spent years performing countless tasks. Her most important tasks revolved around the care of her home and family and with loving touches they filled the years.

Mom’s hands bathed, dressed, held, fed, felt foreheads, measured doses, applied lotions and poultices, band aids and iodine. We always marveled that those hands so rough during a Saturday shampoo (we knew she used her fingernails!) could be so gentle when removing a splinter or cleaning a skinned knee or as they hugged, patted and soothed.

Most of our clothes were made by her capable hands. She could fashion anything from a snowsuit to a prom dress or even a wedding gown she cut and stitched, snipped, measured (Leslie always wanted a little more taken in at the waist) and fitted. The same hands also made slipcovers and curtains, hooked rugs and painted.

Mom was a wonderful, inventive cook. With her hands she harvested, preserved, made jams and jellies, stirred, mixed and kneaded as she made pies, cakes, cookies and custards all from scratch. Among our favorite memories are the Thanksgiving dinners, the table laden with beautiful, delicious food prepared for her family, a beautiful setting inspired by love. Everything she did became a picture. Another tradition we loved was the making of shortbread, especially at Christmas when it was shared with family and friends. The strength of her warm, sure hands kneading ingredients to a silken force to be shaped, pricked and baked to a golden buttery round. It was a time of remembering for mom – her native country, beloved mother and father, sisters and brothers and grandparents. We all learned the art of making shortbread and passed it onto our children and grandchildren using Granny Reid’s recipe.

Another passion she shared with her family and passed on to us was her love of gardens and flowers. She dug, shoveled, raked and hoed, seeded, weeded, dead headed, cut and arranged – creating beautiful flower arrangements that often won her prizes in Garden Club shows and for many years adorned the alter in our church on Sundays. There were always flowers on the mantle with the perfect accessory to make a picture.

These hands also washed, hung, ironed, scrubbed and polished everything from shoes to silverware. They waved good-byes and hellos, especially during war years when Dad was gone for so long. They pointed accusingly, directed, sometimes swatted, patted, encouraged, wiped tears, sometimes her own. They tied and untied, braided and combed, played cards and games, held books and toys, made paper dolls, and doll clothes, squeezed the oleo bag. (She made it seem like a treat when she’d allow us to do that chore for her). These hands held a cigarette, a glass, a hand. They clasped in marriage (62 years), prayer, comfort, beseeching, friendship, delight and applause, saluted, raised in awe or surprise at some wondrous accomplishment of ours or her grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

Mom’s hands were never idle – another lesson passed on to us – perhaps one we learned too well, as none of us can seem to stop! Mom’s hands were there to guide Dad when he lost his way to age and Alzheimer’s disease, always steady at his elbow, gently guiding him. The bright red nail polish we can remember gave way over the years to painful, swollen hands, though there was never a complaint and nothing she couldn’t do, except use a hand held can opener or open a wide mouth jar.

With her hands she shaped and molded our lives; and now that they are finally at rest and free of pain. The memory of them evokes the spirit and essence of our Mother.


Simply, Simplicity

By Kathy Esper

LNelsonA warm glow radiated out of my grandmother’s eyes as this interview returned her to childhood. “We didn’t have what the kids have nowadays. We would tie tin cans to our feet and click-click-cluck down the sidewalk. We had a great time. One year, Dad made us a pair of stilts. What a treat!”

Lorraine Nelson remembers a time when life was simpler. Families and neighbors made their own fun, wore hand-me-downs, and were happy to have what they did. “We didn’t have all of the extras people have today. Were we better off? We were happy. There’s a lot of rushing through life and a lot of attention paid to material things now that wasn’t there before.”

Wrapped within her memories, I ask Lorraine about the future. Her elder’s wisdom points us to remember gratitude and community, back to simple times when there was gratitude for the people with whom we share life, time made for fun, and value in fulfilling basic life needs. When things weren’t complicated by “how much” one had and “what label” one wore.

“I don’t know how we should move toward the future…I know that we can’t go back. And I don’t know that I have any lifetime insights, though I would say there is great value in simplicity.”

Lorraine Nelson, born in 1920, is a native of St. Louis, MO. Today she lives in Westborough with her family.


What the World Needs Now

By Karen Weaver

EWeaverWhen I was a little girl, I was in awe of my grandmother. As a grown adult, I still am. Perhaps even more so…

Eleanor Weaver sits at the matriarchal head of my family, and does so with the grace and aplomb of a queen. Although her castle as of late is a nursing home, she nevertheless continues to reign as the grand dame of ladies. At ninety-one, she still defines class.

When asked what the world needs now, she sighed her famous sigh and replied, “Modesty.” She feels that the world of today has become a place of indiscretion, and longs for a time when a young lady took pride in the fact that she indeed was a lady. Unfortunately, her seasoned eyes have seen a large percentage of girls, teens and twenty-somethings dressed in attire that can be considered almost “non-existent” or, “just plain sloppy.”

My gram always took such pride in her appearance. Actually, she still does. Eleanor Weaver firmly believed in the credo: “You never know who you might run into, so you must always look your best.” I do believe she was onto something. For, whenever I decide to leave the confines of my house and venture out into the world looking less than desirable, I inevitably run into a potential (as my grandmother would say) “gentleman caller.” Naturally, I hide from him, all the while berating myself for wearing my bedclothes into a public venue. Why couldn’t he have seen me yesterday when I was put together? Case in point. Had I been heeding my gram’s sound advice, I would always be dressed appropriately. Hence, myself and the very appealing bachelor would be working on our wedding vows. Alas, I did not and am eating cold peas out of a can on a Saturday night.


Is This the New Age?

By Ram Das

“I’m asked night after night, ‘Is this the New Age, or is it Armageddon?’ And I say, ‘I used to think I should have an opinion about this, but as I examined it, I saw that if it’s going to be Armageddon and I am going to die, the best thing to do to prepare for it is to quiet my mind, open my heart, and deal with the suffering in front of me. And if it’s going to be the New Age, the best thing to do is to quiet my mind, open my heart, and deal with the suffering in front of me. It turns out it really doesn’t matter. So I don’t care.” (Ram Das, interviewed by Sy Safransky, editor and founder of The Sun magazine.)


“…Never to be Bored…”

By Ryan Perry, age 14

LONeilThe best teacher I ever had was not actually a schoolteacher. She was my nanny. Her name is Laura O’Neil and she helped raise me since I was three months old. Though she is ninety years old, she still keeps busy and still drives. She even says that in her ninety years she has never been bored! I think the most important thing she taught me was to enjoy life, because you don’t get another shot and only when you stop enjoying it do you die. I guess she’s living proof.


Caring for an Aging Parent: How Reiki Made a Bumpy Journey Smoother and Rewarding

By Caroline Nudelman

My mother, Rita Woolf, was diagnosed with cancer in September 2002. Now, more than ever, my mother needed care from me, my brother, her sister, friends, and other relatives.

CNudelmanThe year proved to be quite a journey for all of us. I logged many miles on my car driving back and forth between my home in Belmont, MA and the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area where my Mom was receiving care. As her needs evolved, we made the decision to move her out of the New York City area to Rochester, NY. Weathering snow storms along the New York Thruway and conflicts between me and my brother, I spent the remaining months of Mom’s life driving monthly between Belmont and Rochester. I spent my mother’s final month in Rochester until she passed from this Earth.

Reiki was an integral part of how I worked with my mother. I tried to put my hands on her whenever I was with her. In my opinion, Reiki was most critical when my mother was in intensive care after emergency surgery. Fortunately, the hospital made it easy for me to do so. My mother was in a bed that was elevated so the nurses could work on her easily if necessary. Her arms and legs were in easy reach, so I didn’t have to strain my back. Since Reiki is not intrusive, it looked like I was just holding my mother’s hand, so I didn’t have to explain or justify what I was doing. All I had to do was get out of the way and let the Reiki do the work. During the succeeding weeks, my mother progressed from step-down unit, to standard hospital room, a nursing home, and finally an assisted living facility.

Reiki worked on my mother on many levels. On the physical level, she was relaxed after every session. Her face would soften sometimes as the pain would subside. On the emotional level, Reiki helped my mother accept her situation. She went from hating her living situation, accusing my brother of kidnapping her, referring to her neighbors in the assisted living facility as “fellow inmates” to thanking my brother for bringing her to Rochester, expressing gratitude that she got to know her grandchildren better, to appreciating the family and friends who came to visit during her final days. On the spiritual level, Reiki helped my mother to realize and believe there was another dimension beyond us, a power or force that was ready to help in her transition.

Animals were also a part of this healing journey. First and foremost there is Sasha, a shih tzu who was rescued by dear friends of the family after she had been kicked out of the house and left to fend for herself under a porch. After her rescue, Sasha lived with my mother, but after a year and a half, my mother decided she could no longer care for her. Sasha’s endearing face melted my heart the first day I met her. There was no way I could let anyone else take care of this dear spirit. My mother asked about Sasha every time I talked with her. She still loved this wonderful dog and was very grateful I agreed to care for her.

I took Sasha with me to visit my mother as often as I could. She came to the nursing home and the assisted living facility. The only place I didn’t bring her was the hospital. She was a huge hit at every visit. Not only did she ALWAYS put a smile on my mother’s face, she would put a smile on a staff member’s face and make a difference in their day as well.

Sasha is attuned to Reiki I. When she curled up next to my mother, her powerful presence and Reiki were magical. I would give Sasha Reiki on a regular basis to keep her batteries charged.

In these months since my mother’s passing, I learned to embrace the love from my support system and the power of presence. I’ve started attending regular meditation classes and now meditate on a regular basis. I miss my mother. She was an amazing, talented, brilliant woman. Reiki made this often bumpy journey smoother and rewarding. I am grateful.

Caroline Nudelman is a Reiki practitioner and animal communicator.