Do you Have a Hankie?

A young nurse, who for some time looked after an elderly lady in hospital, was aware according to the file, that she had no living relative. The patient was unable to communicate or do anything for herself. When the lady died it fell to the nurse to dispose of her clothes and what little the locker contained. She found the following poem. Having read it she showed to her colleagues and eventually passed it to the Marie Curie Charity. It brings a lump to my throat each time I read it.

An Old Lady’s Poem

What do you see, nurses, what do you see?

What are you thinking when you’re looking at me?

A crabby 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, 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 girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet,

Dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet.

A bride 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 woman 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 man’s 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 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 now an old woman and nature is cruel;

‘tis 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 a 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, people, open and see,

Not a crabby old woman; look closer see ME!

4 thoughts on “Do you Have a Hankie?

  1. Dario Sanchez

    I saw that poem before. We studied it in Junior Cert English.

    It reminds me of a distant relation of mine who was in the final throes of Alzheimers, sitting there like a vegetable, bereft of all dignity.

    It was a sad way to go.

  2. grannymar

    I have no idea how old the poem is or that it was on the Junior Cert course.

    Unfortunately far to many men and women go out that way.

  3. Dario Sanchez

    While I’m not a poetry man myself – though I am rather partial to T.S. Eliot – I amazingly founf this poem on the cultural wasteland that is Bebo. Figured you seem like a well read person, so let me know what you think of it:

    When You Are Old
    William Butler Yeats

    When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
    And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
    And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
    Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

    How many loved your moments of glad grace,
    And loved your beauty with love false or true,
    But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
    And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

    And bending down beside the glowing bars,
    Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
    And paced upon the mountains overhead
    And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

  4. grannymar

    Dario, when I first read this poem at school my eyes did indeed have a soft look.

    “But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you” Yes indeed he loved me until his last breath.

    I don’t speak sadly of a love thats fled. All the stages along life’s road, good and bad, made me the person I am today.


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