Not far from the restless blue Pacific Ocean pounding crumbling sandstone cliffs,
In a sun-drenched thriving village alive with the tapestry of
The young, the old, working and retired, foreign descent and native-grown
Nestled in a quiet valley, lay a place where seniors can thrive
And spend their remaining years in a community of peace and harmony.

Such is Sheltering Oaks, stout against the ravages of old age.
From far-flung corners of the nation and world came these folks
With personal stories and life experiences as varied as Joseph’s Coat.
Into the safety and comfort of each home they moved
With prized and familiar possessions gathered over the years.

Bent with age, faces etched with the joys and sorrows of lives well-lived
Bearing the frustration of youthful spirits trapped in mortal aging bodies
Not looking for sympathy, but longing for the touch of loved ones lost
Not a homogenous collection of grey and balding objects of pity
But real people who raised families, suffered the stress of earning their keep
Built communities, defended the nation, taught the next generation
Worked abroad to bring their values to indigenous peoples, were farmers
Ranchers, car dealers, bookkeepers, CEOs of large companies, nurses, doctors,
Psychologists, engineers, all with skills honed by decades of experience.

Ripped from the comfortable channels many had occupied
Since childhood by health problems and families that didn’t know
What to do with “Mom” or “Dad” in the sunset years.
Spiritual values equally varied—Baptists, Roman Catholics, Jewish,
atheists, Presbyterians, Unitarians and simply no spiritual connection.
Attempts at small groups of like individuals fail meeting together
Hampered by failing memories, mobility and lack of interest.
Hardened conservatives and long-standing liberals dine together
Understanding a spirited discussion of politics can ruin a good meal
The digestive process coupled with anxiety and silence, resulting.

Full names carefully chosen at birth to match surnames—family names
Sometimes handed down from generation to generation that had meaning
Lost in the reality of failing memories among diners, too frustrating to
Recall a dinner partner—first names easier for aging brains.
Titles, once to important but now not needed, MBA, Phd, BA, DMin or
Just plain Mr. or Mrs are now first name basis that level hierarchy.

And from their living spaces they assemble in the dining room each day
for meals thankfully prepared and served to them by a younger generation who
sometimes mistake the appearances and attitude of their diners as rude, when
What is needed is a smile, kind words, a friendly touch to momentarily
Ease aches and pains better than any meds.

Seated at a round table three sons and a daughter and Mom,
The matriarch glows with pride and satisfaction sharing a meal
With visiting “children” in their sixties in animated discussion
Laughing and enjoying precious moments with Mom whose
Health can decline without warning after nine decades on this orb
Blessed to revel in the fellowship of family—the fruits of a life’s work

Into this place of tranquility, there can arise disagreements large and small
Where personalities clash, unleashed perhaps by failing memories or disease
Impaired hearing and eyes dim with age helped little by hearing aids,
Their voices sometimes echoing across the crowded room.
Leaning across the table to hear the conversation, missing much
Diners converse with each other, welcoming newcomers
“How long have you been here” and “Where did you live before”
They begin to add new friends to replace friends left behind
In homes where they knew their neighbors for decades
And raised their children, whose busy lives are infrequent visitors.

Those living alone, widows and widowers who have lost their mates
Value the fellowship of the dining room, sometimes table hopping,
Confusing the young servers who try to keep track of those
Waiting to order a meal, or drinks, or warm a cooled dinner,
Or need silverware, coffee, tea, water, wine, “Do you want dessert”
Collecting used dishes and silverware to clean the tables for
The next diners, yet to arrive, looking for food and fellowship with
Their new-found friends, to relate the days events,
A listening ear to unburden thoughts difficult to bear alone.

Ladies in years gone by had head-turning beauty
Now are beautiful inside, though memories may be slipping
Maintain the grace of their years lighting up the dining room
With smiles and perhaps even a girlish giggle as they relive
Moments in the past in the telling of their stories.

Men, once muscular and agile, struggle to get up from a chair
To their walkers, maintain their independence, but still
Need the helping hand of a nearby server.
With a sense of humor not lost over decades of hard work.

It’s forever Springtime, even in aging hearts.
Amid the dynamics of the dining room scene, perhaps as a surprise
To the younger generation, two friends become an “item”
To search out each other from their separate apartments,
Walking hand in hand, finding common ground as they fill
Each other’s hearts with warmth, not replacing mates long gone,
But echoing the need for the closeness they once had.

Shakespeare Act II, Scene VII “As You Like It”, Jacques says,
“All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely actors.”
And on this stage, there are tragedies, where loneliness extends
To the grave in lives where long-gone decisions have charted
A course where passing from the earthly life, a lonely soul
Is not remembered by a loving family or anyone, where
Their remains are. placed in plain graves.
No celebration of life, no family mourning their passing,
Just a two-line obituary noting birth and death years.
But even those lonely souls have dining room friends who
Mourn their passing, with aching hearts wishing they could have
Said good-bye to friends of only recent acquaintance, but
Still found a place in their hearts as they dined and conversed.

The first verses in Longfellow’s Psalm of Life:
Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not it’s goal:
Dust thou art, to dust returneth,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

“Man or woman don’t live by bread alone”, they say
But the need for nourishing aging bodies healthfully is the goal
Does not always equate to tasteful meals complicated by
State statutes requiring rigid health and human services.
A tough sell to retired ex-cook-diners whose culinary pallets
Still look for taste and texture of foods from their past.
It’s a major table topic requiring large measures
Of forgiveness, balanced by “I don’t have to cook”.

Every day the hurrying ever-patient servers take the brunt of
Critical comments that cannot always be suppressed.
True there are downsides—the dining room is not ideal but
As children likely fantasized a place where scoops of ice cream
Had lots of chocolate sauce drizzled over a rich, creamy treat.
Many flavors–abundant without limit, just for the asking.
And that dream became a reality, in a place called, The Dining Room.

Moving quietly, giving comfort and medical assistance
Are an army wearing golf shirts of various colors
Signifying the area of service, trained
Ready to help those in need of a strong arm, a kind word.
Offering a broad smile and a hello as they pass on an errand
Of mercy or just plain housekeeping, taking care of chores
Those in the dining room thankfully now leave for others.

In this army professionals open a new chapter
Using creative skills, encouraging daily activities
For those who wish to participate, and fill lonesome days
When neither outside family nor friends are too busy
To add to the quality of lives in the sunset years
Especially for those without cars who reluctantly gave up driving
Delight in scenic bus tours and have a way to get to medical offices.

Fire engines and ambulances come and go with
Flashing lights, a team of EMTs and their gurneys provide
A way for the fallen for medical help, or simply leave this life
Like a string of Christmas lights that shine brightly,
But one-by-one shine no more.

A new diner wanders among the tables for the first time
Finally risking the ask. “May I join you at this table?”
For the first time they learn stories of new-found friends,
“When did you get here?
Do you know about the activities?
Can I help you back to your room?
And where are you from?”

3 Comments

  1. Colette Burgess on October 7, 2019 at 9:16 am

    Outstanding capture of this season of life in a safe environment. The tapestry of life so varied and colorful, yet common threads throughout.

  2. Craig on October 14, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Well done Dad! Excellent to have your view and perspective, and well said!

  3. Lenona on February 17, 2020 at 10:55 am

    Milt, what a lovely and accurate description of our shared living space. Realistic and compassionate. How you honored the life that each person represents. Thank you for sharing those thoughts.

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