Advent Contemplations: Treasuring the Old Ones

helping handOn a recent visit with my in-laws, my husband’s brother told us a story that really touched my heart. It dated back to his younger days when he was supervising a work project that involved loading railway ties and iron tracks into the hold of a cargo ship. When news of the project spread through the town, my brother-in-law (BIL) was approached by an elderly family friend looking for work. My BIL was in a quandary, since he knew the work was too heavy and difficult for the elderly man, and yet he also felt that he owed too much to this family friend to refuse him. My husband was the youngest of 15 children. When hubby was barely 2 years old, his father died, leaving behind a large family in a small town in northern Quebec. My husband’s mother was a midwife, so she was able to eke out enough to get by, but with no such thing as welfare or family allowance in those days, it wasn’t an easy life for any of them. This family friend had stepped in during those tough years and helped out as much as possible, bringing firewood and food, and providing the children with a positive role model. Now many years later, my BIL was the one who was being asked to help out this elderly friend.

After some thought, my BIL came up with the perfect solution. He called the friend in and praised him as the best storyteller he had ever known. The job he assigned his old friend was to go and sit down in the cold, somewhat dismal hold of that cargo ship and tell stories to the young workers who were working hard to load in all those heavy railings.  It turned out to be a brilliant move all around. The young men so enjoyed the old man’s stories that they would work harder and faster in order to get back sooner to the old man’s side to hear more. The old man felt useful and appreciated as the younger men eagerly gathered around him, hanging onto every word, until the next load arrived ready to be loaded in. As I listened to my BIL’s story, I could almost smell the old man’s pipe tobacco and hear the appreciative laughter of the young hardworking men ringing all around me.

It touched my heart. My BIL’s loyalty to an old family friend touched my heart, and his unique solution to finding a way to provide the old man with meaningful employment inspired me to check to see how I could find ways to show my appreciation for the old ones in my own life.

Christmas can be particularly sad and lonely for the elderly. Over the years we’ve had occasion to visit various elderly relatives in nursing homes, and I’m always deeply saddened by the other residents who rarely (some never) get any visitors. Many are people who worked hard all of their lives to raise their children, yet sit alone week after week waiting for those children and grandchildren (some of whom even live in the same city) to visit. I know that I don’t know the circumstances, so I try not to judge. But having lost both of my parents in their early 70’s, and knowing that I would give anything and everything to be able to see them again, I do find it difficult to comprehend how some people can move their parents/grandparents into nursing homes and then just forget about them. I understand that many factors might be involved, but still…

But I digress. The point of my contemplations today is to find it in my own heart to seek better ways to show the elderly people in my little corner of the world that they have not been forgotten. I’m really in awe of those who have the physical and emotional stamina to be able to give their time and hearts to doing volunteer work with the elderly in their neighbourhoods. For me, it’s difficult to get out and about because of a still-lingering social anxiety…I find social activities draining and difficult. And yet, when I’m finally over there, visiting and seeing the pleasure on their faces, I realize how much of a difference even a few moments can make. I can see how much it means to them to have people visit and enjoy moments of relief from the loneliness that they, like so many elderly people, suffer – especially around this time of year when they too miss their families and the laughter and joys of Christmases past.

We’re not all able to do extensive volunteer work. But we can all just start with what we CAN do. It doesn’t take a lot really. Even the simplest things make a difference. A phone call to say hello, or to ask if they need something from the grocery store. Shoveling an elderly neighbour’s sidewalk. Cooking extra at supper and sending a plate over. A small tin of their favourite cookies or chocolates. Showing some photos from a recent trip, especially if it’s somewhere they’ve also been in their own past. Taking enough interest to ask about their lives and families – and then taking time to listen. Wrapping a few small useful gifts and dropping them off with a hug. The possibilities for kindness are endless.

Advent is a time of waiting and prayerful preparation for the celebration of the ultimate gift of Love. What better time to start a new tradition – or build on an old one – of weaving into our often-hectic schedules time with elderly loved ones, or visiting those lonely elderly who have no loved ones left to visit them…of paying forward all the treasures that we’ve received from our own parents and families by treasuring the presence and gifts of the old ones around us. And what better way to add more light to  our Christmas season than to watch lonely eyes light up with sparkles of surprised pleasure at the sight of a special treat or a brightly wrapped gift, or best of all, a kind and listening heart?

It’s in everyone of us to be kind. Who in your life and neighbourhood could use a bit of treasuring today?

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Copyright © Sharon C. Matthies, Meanderings (blog), 2012. All rights reserved.

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About Sharon

I love to write. I love to write myself into being right here right now. Writing releases something in me that needs wings, writing opens doors and windows that I often don't even realize are possible, writing helps me breathe out the dusty old, and to breathe in the new and possible. My hope is that maybe writing here in this blog will bring new light into these dusty old hallways and help me to clear out the thinking processes and mindsets that just don't work for me anymore. I seek to breathe new light and life into the nooks and crannies of a soul that has been feeling somewhat lost and frayed because of the last few patches of road I've had to travel.
This entry was posted in Advent, aging, Christmas, coping, faith, hope, inspiration, spiritual. Bookmark the permalink.

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