I accompanied my six year old son to the local nursing home the other day. He and a bunch of kids had come to sing Christmas Carols to the residents. I must admit to feeling rather nervous. My experience of such places has been sad and depressing.

My granny and Neville (my grandfather who demanded we call him his ‘right’ name) were both in nursing homes. They were both awful, smelly and confronting places. It was as if the stench of death, bodily fluids and pureed food followed you wherever you went. Old people with fading minds thought you were their long-lost daughter/wife etc which in itself is quite confronting.

Both grandparents had lost their facilities. Eating was messy and slow. Their vacant eyes looked around straining to see something familiar. And when they recognised a loved one, well, it was like Christmas! Dementia is so sad to watch as your special person fades away in front of your eyes. It is as if they had already died.

So you can imagine my feelings walking into a nursing home post grandparent dementia moments. I looked at my little one and worried that he would feel overwhelmed by the suffering and sadness in these peoples’ eyes. That he wouldn’t understand or that he would fear old people or growing old himself. But kids never fail to surprise me, especially this monkey’s uncle. My little lad LOVED the nursing home experience. So much so, he wanted to move in straight away. (And it was a particularly lovely one so I don’t blame him).

For me, singing Christmas carols to these elderly etc people was special. I always get that lump in the throat, eyes fill with tears and the will rises to push these emotions aside. They don’t do anyone any good, really. One particular lady sat front row and when we sang the familiar ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Away in a Manger’, her eyes lifted to the ceiling and tears welled. It must be nice or sad or whatever to be old and have young kiddies singing really old, happy songs to you, reminding you of good times past.

 

Another old man kept catching my eye. All he needed was a smile, an acknowledgement that he was there, alive andimportant. When we had finished we walked around the oldies, wishing them a “Merry Christmas” and touching their hands. One particular lady in a lying down chair thing, had both hands raised desperately towards my son and I. She so wanted to be near youth and life, to have even one touch.

To be old in our society is often to be forgotten. Pop! There they go in the ‘too hard basket’. And I understand that. Old people, especially in these homes, make us confront our own mortality; which can be scary and depressing. But they aren’t just representations, they are people with stories and hopes and dreams and failures and heartbeats and often a cheeky sense of humour. They are someone’s daughter or son or mum or dad. They are soulful and often still young on the inside.

It is sad that our culture worships external youth because now youth worships itself. But when the youngin’s come and serve the golden oldies, that’s when the magic happens. It brings joy to every heart. The fear subsides and you are left with a feeling of eternal significance. It is these people that we should listen to, that we should learn from and that we should shower with all good things.

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