A young man lived with his wife, his four-year-old son and his frail elderly father – a widower with blurry eyes, trembling hands, and faltering steps.
The family would eat together at the dining table. The elderly person’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating rather difficult for him. Often, food fell off his spoon and dropped on the floor, and as he clutched his glass of milk with unsteady hands, milk spilled on the tablecloth and his lap.
The daughter-in-law irritated with the mess he created bawled out. “I have had enough of his spilling food and milk on the table and the floor. You must do something about your father,” she told her husband.
So, the son set a small table at the corner of the dining room. Since the elderly man had broken a number of ceramic dishes, the daughter-in-law served his food in wooden bowls.
The four-year-old boy watched his grandfather eat alone silently at the little table while he and his parents ate at the grand dining table. Sometimes he saw tears rolling down his grandfather’s cheeks whenever his parents admonished him for dropping his spoon, spilling food, milk, or water.
One evening, before supper, the father noticed his little son playing with wood scraps and strings.
“What are you making, son?” he asked.
“Oh, Dad, I’m making two little wooden bowls,” the boy replied.
“For you and mama to eat your food from when I grow up.”
The boy’s parents were speechless.
The four-year-old smiled sweetly at his parents and went back to work. He did not see the tears that streamed down their cheeks.
That evening, the boy smiled as his father and mother led the venerable parent back to the grand dining table.
When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value. Later, when the nurses were going through his meagre possessions, They found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.
One nurse took her copy to Melbourne. The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in mags for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but an eloquent poem.
And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem winging across the Internet.
Cranky Old Man
What do you see nurses? What do you see? What are you thinking … when you’re looking at me? A cranky old man,.. not very wise, Uncertain of habit … with faraway eyes? Who dribbles his 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 sock 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 boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he’ll meet. A groom 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 man of Thirty. .. My young now grown fast, Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last. At Forty, my young sons … have grown and are gone, But my woman is beside me . . to see I don’t mourn. At Fifty, once more, .. …Babies play ’round my knee, Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me. Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now 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 man . . . and nature is cruel. It’s jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool. The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigour, depart. There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart. But inside this old carcass. A young man 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, people… open and see. Not a cranky old man. Look closer . . . see… ME!
In the above post, the story that introduces the poem is fictional. In fact, the origin of the poem is not known for sure. The claim that the poem was found among the belongings of an elderly male resident of a geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town has not been proved nor was it found among the possessions of any other old man who died in a hospital in Florida, or in any other equally fictional hospital in the United States.
An American poet, David L. Griffith of Fort Worth, Texas, adapted the original poem known under various names, and called it: “Too Soon Old.”
What do you see, my friends, what do you see… what are you thinking when you’re looking at me?
A crabby old man, one not very wise, uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes. Who dribbles his food and makes no reply… when you say in a loud voice, “I wish you’d try?” Who seems not to notice the things that you do, and forever is losing a sock 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 my friends, you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still, as I live at your bidding, as I enjoy company at your will.
I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother, brothers and sisters, who love one another. A young boy of sixteen, a football in his hands and with wings on his feet, dreaming that soon now a lover he’ll meet. A marine soon at eighteen — my heart gives a leap, remembering the oath that I promised to keep. At twenty-five now, I have a platoon of my own, ‘who need me to guide them and secure a trip home. A man of thirty, my youth now going too fast, hopefully, bound to others with ties that should last. At fifty my daughter and sons have grown and are gone, and I have no one beside me to see I don’t mourn. At sixty no more babies play round my knee, again I know heartbreak, my loneliness and me. Dark days are upon me, my dreams are all 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 man 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 man 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, my friends, open and see, not a crabby old man; look closer — see ME!!
The currently circulating version of the poem called the “Cranky Old Man” is a variant of Griffith’s poem. It is also known as a “Crabby Old Man.”
The original poem itself has a long and somewhat perplexing history. It features an old woman as the protagonist rather than an old man and is set in the United Kingdom. Originating from a non-academic source, humbly vernacular in form, it has no obvious value beyond the immediate feelings it provokes on reading.
The poem has been included in various publications under different titles in the United Kingdom often accompanied by the claim that a copy of the original poem was found by the nursing staff among the belongings of an old woman named Kate who died in a hospital’s geriatric ward. Some versions claim that the hospital was located in Scotland. Others claim the hospital was in England or Wales.
The key contributory factors to this poem are the stories of its origins, stories which almost always accompany the poem wherever it appears and which, like the poem’s own words, is virtually unchanged since those early days such as:
The writer of this poem was unable to speak, although was seen to write from time to time. After her death, her locker was emptied, and this poem of her life was found. (Searle, 1973, p. 8).
and more recently:
Get the hankies ready…this one’ll get ya!
Crabbit old woman’s life has ended in a nursing home. While the nurse is packing her meagre possessions, she finds a poem written to the staff of the hospital by the apparently senile and mindless old lady. (Rexanne.com, 2005).
Another version of the origin of the poem says that it was found at Ashludie Hospital, Dundee; that copies were duplicated and distributed to all nurses in the hospital; that a young nurse at the hospital sent a copy to ‘Beacon House News’ at the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health’; and, that the author’s name was not known.
From time to time the mystery of the poem’s origins surfaces. For example, in 2003, an entry on Seniors Network UK, mentions ‘Mattie’s Poem’, with the story that
Mattie was a very dear family friend. She had been a very bright 90-year-old but her body was badly ravaged by time – she died in the Geriatric Ward of a hospital in Lanarkshire in Scotland.‘
According to credible reports Phyllis Mabel McCormack might have penned it in the early 1960s when she was a nurse at Sunnyside Hospital in Montrose, a coastal resort town and former royal burgh in Angus, Scotland. Originally entitled “Look Closer,” she wrote it for publication in the Sunnyside Chronicle, a magazine produced by the staff of Sunnyside Royal Hospital, Montrose, for circulation within the hospital. She submitted it anonymously as she felt it was critical of some of her colleagues.
In 2005, Joanna Bornat in her work “Empathy and stereotype: the work of a popular poem“, a report for ‘Perspectives on Dementia Care‘, 5th Annual Conference on Mental Health and Older, notes:
Amongst the responses to a small survey which I carried out in 1998 while researching attitudes to the poem was a cutting from the Daily Mail newspaper in which the son of Phyllis McCormack, whose name is often linked with the poem as its discoverer, explained:
My mother, Phyllis McCormack, wrote this poem in the early Sixties when she was a nurse at Sunnyside Hospital in Montrose.
Originally entitled Look Closer Nurse, the poem was written for a small magazine for Sunnyside only Phyllis was very shy and submitted her work anonymously.
A copy of the magazine was lent to a patient at Ashludie Hospital, Dundee, who copied it in her own handwriting and kept it in her bedside locker. When she died, the copy was found and submitted to the Sunday Post newspaper, attributed to the Ashludie patient.
Since my mother’s death in 1994 her work has travelled all over the world… – (Daily Mail, 12 March 1998).
Somehow this explanation rings true, though it immediately begs the question of how the origin story was constructed in the first place and whether the poem depends on an apparent myth for its continuing appeal. Encounters have been mixed as responses to the 1998 survey suggested.
These intriguingly mysterious origins greatly add to the poem’s effect. The story of a mute, unidentified and neglected woman creates pathos. It is a parable for ageing times with lessons about listening to our elders and empathy towards older people.
The poem is written in the voice of an old woman in a nursing home who is reflecting upon her life. Here is the original poem in full:
I have reproduced the original poem below entitled “Crabbit Old Woman.” In Scottish, Crabbit means “bad-tempered” or “grumpy”. It has also been known variously as “Kate“, “Look Closer“, “Look Closer Nurse“, “Open Your Eyes” and “What Do You See?“
Crabbit Old Woman
What do you see, nurses, what do you see?
Are you thinking when you are looking at me
A crabbit 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 for ever is losing a stocking or shoe.
Who unresisting or not, lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill
Is that what you are thinking, is that what you see,
Then open your eyes, nurses, you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I used at your bidding, as I eat at your will,
I am 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 at 20, my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows 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 40, my young sons have grown and are gone;
But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn;
At 50, once more babies play around 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
’tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where once was a heart
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, nurses, open and see
Not a crabbit old women, look closer — see me.
NEW DELHI: Indian sons, and their wives, aren’t treating their aged parents well. A study on abuse of India’s elderly, conducted across 20 cities and involving over 5,500 older people, has found that almost 1 in 3 (32%) have faced abuse. The son has been found to be the primary abuser in 56% of cases, followed by the daughter-in-law in 23% cases.
The study, to be presented to President Pranab Mukherjee on October 1, celebrated globally as the International Day of Older Persons, said more than 50% of those abused had faced it for more than five years. More than half (55%) of those who were abused did not report it to anyone. Around 80% of them did not report the matter to uphold family honour.
Delhi actually witnessed an exponential increase in abuse of the elderly. In 2011, Delhi’s abuse of the elderly rate stood at 12%. In comparison, 29.82% elderly people in Delhi said they faced abuse in 2012.
The study, conducted by Help Age India, found that abuse was highest in Madhya Pradesh (77.12%) while people in Rajasthan (1.67%) were most well behaved with the elderly in their family. Nearly 30% or 1 in 3 elderly persons reported abuse in Maharashtra while the abuse rate was just above 1 in 4 (27.56%) in Tamil Nadu. It was 60% in Assam, 52% in UP, 43% in Gujarat, 42.86% in Andhra Pradesh and 40.93% in West Bengal.
The study also brought out some shameful figures for Delhi. While nearly 30% of Delhi’s senior citizens had faced abuse, the primary perpetrator of abuse was the son in 60% cases, followed by the daughter-in-law in 24% cases. In Delhi, 76% of those abused did not report it, while of those who felt abused, 69% had felt disrespected with 35% facing it daily.
Around 86% of elderly felt that the most effective measure to control elder abuse was through sensitizing children and strengthening inter-generation bonding and 14% felt increased economic Independence was the solution.
The study said that in India, the family has been the mainstay of social support. “Even in this age and time, 58% of older persons in India are living with the family. The findings of this report also affirm confidence in the ability of the family to care for its older members,” the report said.
The National Policy on Older Persons has also recognized the importance of family for the well being of older persons and has decided to have programmes to promote family values, sensitize the young on the necessity and desirability of inter-generational bonding and continuity and the desirability of meeting filial obligations.
“State policies will encourage children to co-reside with their parents by providing tax relief, allowing rebates for medical expenses and giving preference in the allotment of houses. The policy also says that short-term staying facilities for older persons will be supported so that families can get some relief when they go out,” the study said.
The report made an interesting recommendation. In order to prevent elder abuse, it said there should be nationwide programmes in schools and colleges for sensitizing children and young adults towards the ageing and the aged, sensitization of healthcare workers to recognize and develop a protocol for treatment, develop a robust social security system that not only ensures income security to the older persons but also gives them opportunities for income generation.
May the almighty grant you patience to listen to what I am about to say.
Please understand that elderly people are a bit too sensitive.
I am sorry dear. Your dad and I are getting old. Age is creeping on us and our hands shake. So, I beg you not to yell at us if we drop the plate, spill coffee, tea or soup on the sofa, table or floor.
Since your father’s hearing is getting worse day by day, he can’t hear what you are saying. So, please don’t hurt his feelings by calling him “Deaf! ….”; instead please repeat patiently what you said or write it down.
In time to come we might wet our clothes, the bed or the sofa. Don’t scold us then.
When our knees get weaker, I pray you have the patience to help us get up from the chair or bed. I don’t think you can remember us helping you while you were learning to walk as a toddler.
We know you are busy with your work and your family. So, if you do have some spare time, can you talk to us just for a few minutes – in person or over the phone?
At times when your father or I keep repeating ourselves like a scratched gramophone record please bear with us. Please don’t make fun of us, or say that you are “getting sick of listening to” us. When you were little, we enjoyed hearing you repeat words and we encouraged you to do so and as we encourage your son to do so now.
Even if you’re not interested in our “repeating the same old stories,” please pretend that you enjoy listening to our rambling like we used to listen to your babbling when you were young?
Your father and I know that we are not going to last much longer, and we pray to God to grant you patience to take care of us during the last few moments of our life.
At the time of our death, will you please hold our hand to give us the strength to face death peacefully?
When we are dead don’t spend money and your precious time by burying us in a cemetery; instead donate our mortal bodies to a medical college where the students may profit by dissecting them.
After we die, when we finally meet our creator, we will whisper in His ear to bless you and your family because you loved your mother and father till their death.
Thank you so much for your care.
You’ll understand what I am saying now when you yourself get older.Never, ever forget that your father and I loved you and your family and will always love you all, forever and ever, from the “Bosom of Abraham“.
A frail old widower, lived with his son, his daughter-in-law, and his four-year-old grandson. His eyes were blurry, his hands trembled, and his step faltered.
The family would eat together at the dinner table. But the elderly person’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating rather difficult for him. Food fell off his spoon, dropping on the floor. When he grasped his glass the milk often spilled on the tablecloth and his lap.
The son and the daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess he created.
“We must do something about my father,” said the son.
“I have had enough of his spilling food and milk on the table and the floor,” the daughter-in-law said.
So, the couple set a small table at the corner of the dining room. There the old man ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed their dinner at the dinner table. Since the old man had broken a number of ceramic dishes, his food was served in wooden bowls.
The four-year-old boy watched it all in silence. Sometimes the grandson saw, tears rolling down his grandfather’s cheeks as he ate alone.
Still, the only words the couple had for the old man were sharp admonitions when he dropped a spoon or spilled food.
One evening, before supper, the father noticed his little son playing with wood scraps and strings.
He asked, “What are you making, son?”
The boy replied, “Oh, I’m making two little wooden bowls.”
The little boy replied, “Yes. Bowls for you and mama to eat your food from when I grow up.”
The boy’s parents were speechless.
The four-year-old smiled sweetly at them and went back to work.
Tears streamed down their cheeks. Though no words were spoken, both knew what must be done.
That evening, the son and daughter-in-law gently led the old man back to the family table while the grandson smiled.