Sunday, October 2, 2011

The forgotten

I was listening to music this morning as I cooked breakfast. John Prine's "Hello in There" was playing. It's about an old couple who are lonely and basically forgotten. For me, it is an incredibly sad song:

"Me and Loretta, we don't talk much more,
She sits and stares through the back door screen.
And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we've both seen.

Someday I'll go and call up Rudy,
We worked together at the factory.
But what could I say if asks "What's new?"
"Nothing, what's with you? Nothing much to do."

Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder ev'ry day.
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello."

Th thought of being old and alone has haunted me for a long time. I know somehow that is what will happen. It will be a self-fulfilling prophesy. And it makes me sad.

Maybe that is why I am so glad to talk to old people and not pass them by. I went by an adult day care the other day and the folks there were happy to chat and share some stories. So many old people are left in nursing homes. They desperately want someone to notice them and to take time to say "Hello".

My parents-in-law will not be among the forgotten. The live-in couple are there. All seems to be going well. I am relieved. My wife is cautiously optimistic. If they can get past the political opinions of my father-in-law, the situation may work.

I know that if we are lucky enough, we will live to be old. Medical technology helps us to live longer. How we live and what we have to look forward to is largely up to us. I cannot think about being alone in the future. Today, I can give a smile and a kind word to those who desperately need it. No one need be forgotten.


  1. glad you have things set up for the PILs and hope it works out well syd...

  2. Beautiful post-Syd. It's something I've always thought about myself. When I was in my twenties, I wrote a short story about an old woman who couldn't speak. I wrote about how she felt, being cared for by uncaring hands and how everyone seemed to forget she had once lead a vibrant life, that she had loved and lost, had had babies, wishes, dreams. The original end to the story had her dying alone ( my own fear). I changed the ending. She died fulfilled because one girl took the time to be with her, to look into her treasure box of photos and cards received over a lifetime. She passed her passion and parts of her soul over to the girl. That ending gave me comfort. That ending convinced me that we have the power to touch even one life of one older person. It saddens me that the young people of today are so hardhearted toward their elders. We will ( most of us) be old one day. There should be glory in that not loneliness and fear.

  3. I see people lay in ICU for days, before their children can find the time to get away from their work to come see them. Sometimes their family doesn't get there in time. Nothing breaks my heart as much as seeing someone die surrounded by strangers who are working on them in the hospital.

    "Angel from Montgomery" is my favorite John Prine song. Can make me cry if I'm in a certain mood.

  4. I first came upon that song via Bette Middler. It has haunted me ever since. Medical technology has gotten far better at keeping the body alive than the mind.
    This is what I fear.

  5. I love my old people! I learn so much from them and their stories are amazing!
    I'm glad that you have someone there for your parents in law. What a relief huh.
    God won't leave you alone in your old age.

  6. I LOVE John Prine!

    God bless you for being there for your in-laws. Age is a cruel thing.

  7. I think about this, as well. In fact, I think about it for myself. Especially because I'm not that great at making friends. Beautiful sentiments expressed here, Syd.

  8. Sorry to inject a somewhat sour note. There is another side to this. My father has not been 'left' in an old people's home.

    He is in a home because he refused to stop drinking and the associated self neglect and mental deterioration meant that he could not remain in his own home. We had to make sure he went into residential care because we were at risk of being accused of neglecting him. One of the results of his alcoholism and his self neglect is that he requires nursing as well as personal care.

    Before this we made enormous efforts, at considerable personal emotional and physical cost, to arrange for him to be cared for at home and his refusal to co-operate with these arrangements meant that this too failed.

    (Before this we also made huge efforts over a number of years, to support my mother remaining at home after a double leg amputation and also suffering other disabilities and illnesses. While she had to go to hospital for her final illness she never went into residential care.)

    He consistently gave his friends the impression that we did not visit or contact him. (As did my father in law who was regularly visited by all five of his children. He went to the lengths of conveying that he had no family at all. People felt sorry for him and bought him drinks at the pub. At his funeral there were some strange men from his local pub looking rather out of place in their best suits. They came because they didn't want no-one there at his funeral. They were a bit disconcerted to find a chapel full of his family and the appropriate funeral hospitality all laid on.)

    It was a complete impossibility for my father to live with either my sister or himself.

    (Even if it had been practical, our mother, many years ago made us both promise that if she pre-deceased him we were not to have him live with us.)

    We both live a considerable distance from him in different directions. He wanted to be in a home in the area he has always lived in and where there is the opportunity for some remaining friends to visit, which they do, although you would never guess this from his conversation. I have grandchildren an equal distance away at the opposite end of the country.

    We visit as often as we can. These visits are extremely difficult and upsetting for us. We can understand why the pain for some relatives is too much and they maybe do not visit too frequently.

    I honour the things you are doing for your wife's parents, but please do not assume that other elderly people you see are being neglected by their families. It is often rather more complicated than that.

    Some old people (not my father)were deeply unpleasant people all their lives. I have heard too many stories about bad parents to judge anyone for not visiting their aged parent.

    I am sorry if this post is inappropriate but you have struck a chord with me and it is a very discordant one.

  9. I worked in a care home for 4 years when I was in my twenties, and what I saw was that those who had good relationships with their children received more visits than those who harped, preached and criticised.
    As we age, our characters become distilled to a stronger brew - if it was full of rage and anger, it will be more so. Same goes for those who are loving.
    It's hard to want to go visit someone who has made you feel bad about yourself all your life. I don't judge those who choose not to visit, because I don't know their family stories.

  10. Lots of old people I'm with--daily, alone, lonely. Cannot see myself like that, friendless, just waiting to die.

    One scenario is When I die, someone will have to move my chair so they can turn off my computer.

    I'm not a music 'listener', rather a music 'remberer', but John Pine I'll look up n ow.

  11. Syd I have the same dread about finding myself homeless -- and I know I need to think differently because the self-fulfilling aspect has to do with fear and lack of trust.

  12. Hi Syd,

    I have the same fear as you. I have felt it since I was a little kid. I have felt like an elderly alone person since that time also. I don't want that to come true for me. I am doing everything I know to change it. Alanon, therapy, prayer...the shrink says I'm doing great and tells me to just trust life, but I don't feel it. I guess TRUST is necessary!

    Today I gave up on three people. They are "friends" for whom the relationship is not reciprocal. When I call they don't call back or whatever. The truth is they were cold, odd, self-centered people for a long time. They felt familiar, like family, but being with them never felt really good. As I did with my family I saw them for what I wanted them to be, not what they ARE. I have been letting myself see them as they ARE and today I took action on it. I took their numbers out of my cell phone so I would no longer be tempted to text or call them and then feel bad, yet again, when I don't receive an answer or I get a reply that's I don't know some weird competitive garbage.

    I know that recognizing this and taking action is a sign of health, but boy does it feel crappy!

    Here's hoping that you nor I end up isolated and alone. I do think it's possible.

    God bless.

  13. That is a sad song. Since a very young age, still today, I have a soft spot for older adults. I always go out of my way to say hello, spark a conversation, or even just share a smile. Thank you for the reminder to not fear the possible loneliness of the future, I need to live in the today.

  14. ernestine shepherd is my inspiration for old age and tells me how important weight training is for continued health. Weights is by far the best thing imo. and green drinks :)

    Old ppl in AA can have a very rich life with many connections due to the programme. thats what I see in aa anyway.. we have a unique access to a very wide reaching community so we are not quite like regular folks..

    but yes a very sad poem. monks and nuns can be radiant despite very solitary existence's, so I don't think social contact is always necessary, but I think for a lot of people it can be very helpful if they feel alone, when they are physically alone..


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