I teach poetry classes to senior citizens. I love working with people who’ve come to the final chapter in their lives and who no longer feel a need to prove anything. They’ve raised families, had careers, traveled the world and survived all manner of illness and calamity. I’ve worked with a fighter pilot who was shot down over Vietnam, a linguistics professor who survived a brain aneurysm, a novelist struggling with depression.
Aging is not easy. It’s a slow stripping away of everything you’ve ever had. The body breaks down, careers end, spouses die, children move away. Even seniors who’ve planned carefully for retirement experience existential crisis. I’ve found that writing poetry can help reduce anxiety, fend off depression and improve memory. I remind people that writing honestly about one’s situation can lead to acceptance.
The most common emotion for seniors is loneliness. I often share a quote from the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti:
It’s beautiful to be alone. To be alone does not mean to be lonely. It means the mind is not influenced and contaminated by society.
Usually this leads to an honest discussion about family and personal grievance. Many seniors feel neglected by their children. They feel as if they’ve been stashed in a senior home like an old credenza. I urge people to write about these feelings with candor. A man, who was a successful labor lawyer, bemoaned the fact that his only friend was his television. One day he came into class crestfallen. I asked what was bothering him.
“My TV is broken,” he said.
“Let’s write about it,” I replied. I gave him ten minutes to compose a free verse poem. Here is the result:
My TV is broken.
It only plays one channel.
I stare and stare but the channel never changes.
The remote doesn’t work.
I’ve tried everything.
It wouldn’t be so bad except it’s stuck on the Plumbing Channel.
If I have to watch another toilet flush I’ll scream.
I’ve heard TV is bad for your brain
but it’s good for the drain.