Crabbit Old Lady and Man

Quoted from the Internet, “When an old lady died in the geriatric ward of a hospital in England, it appeared she had left nothing of value. The nurse, packing up her possessions, found this poem. The quality so impressed the staff that copies were distributed to all the nurses in the hospital. This poem then later appeared in the Christmas edition of “Beacon House News,” a magazine of the Northern Ireland Mental Health Association. This was the Lady’s bequest for posterity.”

During my undergraduate studies, nearly a decade ago, I used this poem as a catalyst for thinking about aging and for some of the beginning imagery.

Who is really inside?

What do you see nurse, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you look at me?

A crabbit old person, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with far away eyes,
Who dribbles food, and makes not reply,
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe
Who, unresisting 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, you’re not looking at me
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I move at your bidding; as I eat at your will.

Dark days are upon me, my mate is dead,
I look at the future, I shudder with dread,
For my young are all busy rearing young of their own
And I think of the years and the love I have known.

I’m an old person now and nature is cruel,
Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.

The body it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
And now there is a stone where once had a heart.

But inside my old carcass a young person still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.

I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, nurse, open and see,
Not a crabbit old person, look closer, see Me.

By Phyliss McCormick

A Nurse’s reply ” To the ‘Crabbit Old Woman”

What do we see, you ask, what do we see?
Yes, we are thinking when looking at thee!

We may seem to be hard when we hurry and fuss,
But there’s many of you, and too few of us.

We would like far more time to sit by you and talk,
To bath you and feed you and help you to walk.

To hear of your lives and the things you have done;
Your childhood, your husband, your daughter, your son.

But time is against us,
there’s too much to do -Patients too many, and nurses too few.

We grieve when we see you so sad and alone
With nobody near you, no friends of your own.

We feel all your pain,
and know of your fear That nobody cares now your end is so near
But nurses are people with feelings as well,
And when we’re together you’ll often hear tell Of the dearest old Gran in the very end bed,
And the lovely old Dad, and the things that he said,

We speak with compassion and love,
and feel sad When we think of your lives and the joy that you’ve had,
When the time has arrived for you to depart,
You leave us behind with an ache in our heart.

When you sleep the long sleep, no more worry or care,
There are other old people, and we must be there.

So please understand if we hurry and fuss –
There are many of you, And so few of us.

Internet References:

Now if you can believe this, just recently my brother-in-law sent me this poem.  It included a picture of a man that I haven’t included.

The introductory paragraph is very reminiscent of the original paragraph I found a decade ago.  I find it curious and now wonder who really wrote these poems, yet, it doesn’t matter because the story is still what is significant:  a story that all people should remember!!

When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in North Platte, Nebraska , it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.  Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.. One nurse took her copy to Missouri .

The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the St. Louis Association for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem.

And this little old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem winging across the Internet.

Crabby Old Man

What do you see nurses? . . . .. . What do you see?
What are you thinking . . . .. . When you’re looking at me?
A crabby old man . . . . . Not very wise,
Uncertain of habit . . . . . With faraway eyes?

Who dribbles his food . . . . . And makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . . . . . ‘I do wish you’d try!’
Who seems not to notice . . . . . The things that you do.
And forever is losing .. . . . . A sock or shoe?

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 boy of Sixteen . . . . With wings on his feet…
Dreaming that soon now . . . . . A lover he’ll meet.
A groom 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 man 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 woman’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 wife is now dead.
I look at the future . . . . . 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 man . . . . . And nature is cruel.
‘Tis jest to make old age . . . .. . Look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles . . . . . Grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone . .. . . Where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass . . . . . A young guy 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 man . . . Look closer . . . See ME!!


2 thoughts on “Crabbit Old Lady and Man

  1. I had seen the first poem, but not the response. As I sit here with tears in my eyes, I think of my father, who is in a nursing home, far away from my home in Phoenix. He is blessed to have a brother that has loved him unconditionally and has seen to his care so patiently, despite my dad’s seeming ungratefulness. I have wondered what the nurses and aides who take care of Dad think, and feel as they deal with a person who is so frustrated with his situation that he is sometimes cantakerous and brash.

    My father is in the nursing home at just 71 years old due to his past alcoholism and some other “accidents” that, really, were of his own doing. So to say that I feel sorry for him, is not quite right; at times I’ve even thought “He made his bed, now he has to lie in it.”

    I do, however, feel compassion for him. And I’m sorry that he did not live up to his potential because of his addiction and choices. No matter what, he’s still my dad, he is a part of me and I am who I am is in great part due to the genetics that he has passed along to me. I don’t blame him anymore, I pray for him. And I do go and see him every time I’m in the town where he resides. It’s hard to see him that way, so helpless and frail, yet still with a chip on his shoulder because he feels he could take care of himself. He requires care that I am unable to give him. He deserves and should get the best care they can give him.

    Thanks for posting these poems, Frank. You woke up something in me that I’ve been pushing away for a while. I think I’m going to write my dad a letter tonight when I get home, and send him some pictures to go with it.


  2. Give please. Always be nice to those younger than you, because they are the ones who will be writing about you.
    I am from San and also now’m speaking English, give please true I wrote the following sentence: “Fleas can be a major problem for dogs and dog owners.Vacation guides, travel articles, hotel recommendations, and deals.”

    😛 Thanks in advance. Dale.


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