This article was written by Rhenda when she turned 60. It is one of the first chapters in her book, Voices From My Heart.
As a nurse working with people older than myself, I hear it time after time. I don’t belong in a place like this. These people are old. They are in wheel chairs and using walkers. The last person I heard say it was sitting in a wheel chair, but he did not see himself like the others in wheel chairs. We still feel like the same person that we were when we were young. My favorite patients are 88 years old and above. They are healthy. They usually take very few medications. They look younger than they are. They are active. They have seldom had anything seriously wrong with them…until now. This may have been an elective surgery, or they had an unfortunate fall, but suddenly they are not bouncing back and recovering the way they always have. They are dismayed by the length of time it is taking them to feel “normal” again. This reminds me of the saying, “Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened.”
At the age of fifteen, I walked into a large bookstore and chose the first novel I ever purchased. I gave the cashier the 60-cent price and proceeded to read. This book remains special to me even now. A Lantern in Her Hand, is the story of a woman’s life told through her own eyes beginning at eight years old until her death at eighty. I learned at the age of fifteen, while reading this book, that we are the same person, always, no matter if we are eight or eighty.
When her granddaughter asked her, “How does it feel to be old, Grandma?” She replied, “It doesn’t feel at all. People don’t understand about old age. I am an old woman…but I haven’t changed. I’m still me. They think we’re different…we old ones. The real person I am still has many of the old visions and longings. I’m fairly contented here in the old home… I’ve never grown tired of life as some old people do. I’m only tired of the aches and the pains and the inability to make my body do what I want it to do. I would like to live a long time yet…to see what can still be invented…to read the new things that will be written…to hear the new songs that will be sung…to see heavy foliage on all the new shrubbery…to see all the babies grow into men and women. You will find out when you get old, that some of the realities seem dreams…but the dreams…the dreams are all real.” (Bess Streeter Aldrich)
I had a recent illness, lasting over a week and finally had to see the doctor. I realized that the doctor was looking at a sixty-year-old sitting on her table. I was still young, but she had to ask all the questions that were applicable to someone my age. I don’t belong in a place like this. In other words, the questions she was asking, did not apply to this sixty year old. I was doing it. I was repeating the same words my patients repeat to me. How strange! That fifteen-year-old girl is now sixty. I am still the same person inside I have always been. My advice…Eat well. Drink water. Move your body. Take fewer medications. Talk to others. Interact. You are still alive. Find Joy and Dream.