Every time I walked in the door, Dad would clap his hands, look pleased and say, “There she is!” He was always sitting in his not-so-gently worn, green upholstered recliner, surrounded by small tables piled high with Bibles and commentaries.
Lying across the arms of his chair was a tray-type contraption he had made to hold his open books. It had a nifty built-in pencil/pen holder. Sticking out of all his books and Bibles were little cards that Dad used as bookmarks. It seems every other page was “book marked” because every other page was important to him. Behind his chair was a heavy, rusty stand-up lamp that must have been at least 50 years old, with a long chain to turn it on and off.
I don’t remember exactly when he started greeting me with, “There she is!” It’s funny the things one gets used to. Now that Dad is gone, I would give anything to receive that greeting just one more time. In his 90s, my dad was living alone, having lost his life partner of almost 70 years. His little house was next door to mine. He had put in a walkway from my door to his. He would watch expectantly for me to come down it, which I did several times a day to check on him.
Almost every time I went over, he wanted me to sit down so he could tell me all about what he had been reading, or a “new truth” he had discovered from his research. Sometimes I would take the time to accommodate him. But most of my visits were for the purpose of making him a meal, cleaning his house, washing his clothes or feeding Maggie, the little stray dog he had adopted. I know he was happy to have some company, but what he really wanted was for someone to listen to him. He would talk to anyone, including strangers, and the first question he always asked is “Are you a Christian?” Then, no matter what the reply, he would immediately say, “Sit down, let’s talk!”
My dad’s education ended with the 6th grade, but that didn’t stop him from learning. His mind was bursting with ideas. He was always inventing gadgets or modifying existing machines to make them more efficient. He could fix just about anything. His interests ranged from beekeeping and smoking meat to solar energy. Even into his early 90s, he would follow construction workers or repairmen who came onto his property, asking questions or giving advice … actually mostly giving advice. As his physical strength ebbed away, he focused more and more on studying his beloved Bible and his well-marked reference books. That suited him just fine, because that was his favorite thing anyway.
Dad never hesitated to make his opinion heard, although never on a grand scale. However, as the years went by, his stage grew smaller and smaller. Yet there was still so much he wanted to say. He needed to be reassured that what he said still mattered. I learned that the need to be validated does not diminish with age. If anything, it increases. In my dad’s case, he became house-bound and rarely had visitors. So if I didn’t provide a forum for his voice to be heard, then it was as though the spotlights had been turned off, the curtains closed and the audience had left. And that happened much too often.
I was simply too caught up in all that “needed” to be done for him. Some elderly people have few friends and no family visitors and therefore no way for their voices to be heard. Already constrained by aging bodies, the added frustration of not being “heard” is discouraging and demeaning.
If I could do it over again, I would spend much more time just sitting and listening to Dad. Even if I didn’t agree, I would still listen. Even if what he said didn’t make any sense, I would still listen.
It is fascinating to consider how God used a devout old man named Simeon to bless the infant Jesus when he was brought to the temple to be consecrated. Simeon had waited all his life for the redemption of Israel. He had been given a special revelation that he would not die before seeing the Messiah with his own eyes. When Jesus’ parents entered the temple, Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms, praised God and pronounced a blessing on him and his parents. Scripture says Mary and Joseph marveled at his words. What he said mattered. Simeon could now die in peace, honored and validated.
If it is within your power to provide a listening forum for a senior citizen, I hope you will do so. Don’t let them spend their final years feeling useless and in the way, wondering “Does what I say matter to you? Was my life worthwhile?”
If you can provide a listening forum for a senior citizen, do so. Don’t let them spend their final years wondering “Was my life worthwhile?”
Author: Joyce Catherwood