Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What We Are Worth

What We Value
On Christmas Eve my grandmother, who is now 101, discovered her rings, which she has worn for well over 70 years, were missing.  She lives in a lovely retirement home run by Catholic nuns, despite being a devout Methodist, and during the 22 years she has called it her home she has never worried about theft.

For her, the rings represented her legacy: the only thing she had left that held any real value.  They gave her the feeling that her life still had worth.

It is hard for the elderly to find value in their lives.  Most are forced to give up their possessions as they downsize or to pay for their care.  An entire lifetime is condensed down into one room.  They are left at the mercy of others for their care, sacrificing their privacy in the process.  

Thanks to a careless thief and a diligent detective, the rings were recovered.  They stay locked up now, except on Sunday when she wears them to church.

My grandmother is a strong, independent woman who has prided herself on being self-sufficient her whole life.  She developed an impeccable work ethic while putting herself through college.  She earned a Master’s Degree in engineering from Vanderbilt during the war, then spent the rest of her life teaching school.  She retired comfortably on her pension with no debts. 

However, when my daughter was born my grandmother struggled.  She didn’t have the income to buy her things as she did when I was young.  She couldn’t babysit or take her to the park. But she was determined to find a way to contribute.  To feel useful.  To prove that she still had worth.

Finding Our Worth
My grandmother has never been much for group activities, especially if she isn't in charge, but when my daughter was born she started playing Bingo every week.  This was a surprise to all of us.  But soon her plan became clear.  When my daughter was just a few months old, Grandmother presented me with several rolls of quarters, each labeled in her tiny print with the exact amount.  They were for her college fund she said, beaming with pride.

Grandmother never thought of herself as an ordinary resident of the home.  She led their exercise class and for 20 years she appeared as the court jester in the senior citizen Mardi Gras Court.  But eventually she was relieved of her duties.  The one task she has left is delivering the mail to the residents on her hall. 

Now it is my daughter’s turn to find value and purpose in what she has to contribute.  Like adults, children thrive on feeling useful.  Now five, she and Grandmother travel the halls together, handing out the mail.  She pushes the wheelchair, which Grandmother now requires with more frequency, and reads out the names on the door.  The residents looks forward to seeing her.  She volunteers to walk Grandmother to her room when we return from an outing.  She carefully walks her through the halls of the home, asking questions I know Grandmother probably can’t hear and is rewarded with a peppermint when they arrive at Grandmother’s room.  And then she walks back to the car where I am waiting.  And she too, at age five, knows that she has worth.


To learn more about caring for the aging visit As Our Parents Age.  You can also read about the psychology of aging here.


  1. And even though you don't talk about yourself here, you're worth rings, quarters, peppermints, and so much more!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read the post and for the kind words. Greatly appreciated!

  2. I think this is my favorite of your essays. Thank you❤️