Wednesday, 6 May 2015


“We’ve put more effort into helping folks reach old age than into helping them enjoy it.” - Frank A. Clark

We live in a consumer society where we are all under extreme pressure to buy and use things till we grow tired of them or until they break. And then we cast them aside to buy new ones: Improved, shiny models, with many new features. Misguidedly, we do the same to people and even more so to our elderly whom we inter in “nursing homes”, “retirement facilities” and “seniors’ retreats” where we know they will be “cared for and attended” to by “experts”.

I often visit a nursing home close by to where I live and I am always amazed by the number of elderly people that have been abandoned there, forgotten by their relatives. Even though I have no elderly relatives of mine to visit there, going and seeing some of these “forgotten people” that nobody wants any longer is both a chilling and a heart-warming experience. Some of these elderly people are so full of life and are such wonderful human beings that I am enriched by meeting them and by just sitting and listening to them. As a society we have lost so much by abandoning the extended family and opting for the nuclear family. There is so much wisdom, humour, kindness, experience and love that we miss out on…

Poets United this week has as its theme “Honouring our Elders”. My poem below:

The Winter of Discontent

The flakes of snow fall softly
And the landscape becomes pure, white.
He looks out of the window, endlessly,
His hair whiter than the snow,
His skin more furrowed
Than the distant ploughed field that is being snow-dusted
As though with icing sugar.

The cold outside prodigious,
Poor birds with fluffed up feathers
Fail to keep warm and trembling, die frozen;
His heart even colder than ice,
His eyes rheumy, with gray-blue sharp gaze
That cuts the glass of windowpanes
Letting his trapped soul roam free amongst the snowflakes.

The wind howls – or is it a lone, hungry wolf
Howling, with red embers of eyes
Staring back at him in the dark pine forest?
Retirement home: “The Pines”
Where old and toothless wolves like him
Have been discarded, and duly forgotten,
By caring offspring, whose kindness cuts like glass shards.

Night falls early outside and dark green sky
Makes of the snow an ultramarine pall
That covers frigid earth, her sleep too much like death.
He still stares out of the window
And he reminisces the long past verdant Springs,
The Summers of warmth and lush desires,
The Autumns of ripe fulfilment.

And now, as his own night weighs heavily on him,
He knows this is his last Winter of discontent,
When all alone he will pass from this final season
Into the last great mystery of the endless sleep…

They found him ice-cold the next gray morning,
The sleeping pill bottle empty by the bed
And the window wide open, letting the snow drift in.


  1. Oh! Oh!
    You express this inner life with the beauty and blessings of harshest nature. I am left with the image of a wolf no longer contained, bounding free--a counterpoint to the lifeless shell with the sleeping pills. The parallels in your poem are intricate--the abandonment by children and hope parallel to the stillness and coldness taking over. Too bad the children didn't know the inner spark, too bad the man had to make such a solitary exit. I nearly said "tragic"--but I wish I could plan to have such a choice if need be.

  2. this was beautifully done... your comparisons are breath taking... so right you are for this lost generation fading like the twilight sun

  3. "with gray-blue sharp gaze / That cuts the glass of windowpanes / Letting his trapped soul roam free amongst the snowflakes."...the desire to be free is presented with a great force filled with foreboding...such a heartfelt poem for the forgotten generations...

  4. I so agree that those neglected folk in nursing homes carry history, legend and stories within them that would astound us, if we took time to sit with them and sad that so many of them spend their last years alone, in silence. I love the description of him as an old and toothless wolf....cutting and exact is the description of his relatives' "kindness" cutting like glass shards. One day they, too, will be old. A fact which gave me comfort when I worked in such facilities. I was surprised by the ending. But understand his seeking release. For myself, the beauty of the snow would be enough to make me stay.

  5. Nicolas, your poem is beautiful, and beautifully sad. Your intro struck a chord with me, probably because I've had elders in nursing homes and feel a tinge of guilt that I didn't do more. But please know that it's often not young people who inter parents in nursing homes. Often, it's older people like myself at the beginning of our autumnal stage. I cared for my mother and mother-in-law for over 6 years at home. It became impossible for me to continue. It jeopardized my own health. My mother-in-law is 95 and still lives there. My mother died. I do notice that some residents rarely have visitors. Anyway, thanks for your post. I agree we must not abandon our precious elders.

  6. The open window a great symbol.
    I understand your frustration I worked for much of my career with elderly (from 18 on). I share the sadness that people are abandoned - like cars that are forgotten on the roadside.
    Fortunately there are some that do not forget their value...

  7. Hey Nicholas! Wow, you said it right out of my mouth. I believe in extended families rather than nuclear families too. I think your poem was solemnly forlorn. connect it with your intro about elders at the nursing homes, it's just sad and makes me wince. what if it happens to me too when i get old? :(

  8. This poem is sad and beautiful and chilling. It made me think and reflect on my own guilt. I am off to call my father right away.

  9. Amazing poem that makes a just criticism of the way our society treats the elderly

  10. Nicholas,

    I was a nurse in my early days and spent many hours in Residential Care Homes and in Geriatric hospital wards, both as a student and then as a nurse. I was often troubled at the many elderly patients, who at times were just sitting, staring ahead without any interaction and many without any visitors. It was easy to become attached to them and in time, to hear from those who had individual stories to tell; or who had no story to tell. I feel that much history has been lost, by not engaging with these wonderful lives, while they were sitting there..A loss of elders with much to recall and, all in those days when conversations, with patients, were still permitted in hospital life!!
    Your poem contained many of those very sadnesses, I have witnessed..


  11. This poem definitely has a poignancy to it...especially in the knowing that this is the last winter, the final season, into which one will experience the endless sleep. And, thinking of your explanation, it is so sad to think about the many people who are abandoned into nursing homes, with no one to visit them. This happens everywhere, unfortunately. A sad commentary on today's society.

  12. My heart ached for this poor man who saw no other way to freedom than the endless sleep the sleeping pills gave. A poignant and melancholy read, made all the more sad by the knowledge that so many of our elderly are locked up in "facilities" where they are being "looked after" and their life "prolonged"... Excellent poem.

  13. Fantastic poem about old age, loneliness, despair and ingratitude...

  14. Something we all have to look forward to....Old age is treated as a crime . Something you must be punished for. Thus the reason people spend a fortune to keep looking young. Our world is very screwed !