Preserving Dignity at Every Stage of Life: Grandfather and the Wooden Bowl

I am sure you have heard different variations of the following story. I share it here because it carries such a powerful message:

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered.

The family ate together at the table. But the old man’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his fork onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, the milk spilled on the tablecloth. The son and daughter-in-law became irritated and decided to relegate him to another smaller table in the corner, so that they would not have to put up with the spilled milk. Because the grandfather often dropped a dish or two, they served his food in a wooden bowl.

One day the father noticed the little son playing with wooden scraps on the floor. When he asked him what he was doing, he replied simply: “Oh, I’m making a little bowl for you and Mommy so that you will have something to eat from when you get old and need to sit in the corner.”

Immediately the man and his wife realised how badly they had treated Grandfather. With tears of shame streaming down their faces, they escorted Grandpa back to the dinner table to eat with the rest of the family. For the remainder of his days, Grandfather ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband or wife seemed to care any longer when a glass was dropped, milk spilled, or a tablecloth was soiled. 

In the coming ten or twenty years more people will be involved in elder care than in childcare. How will you care for your elderly loved ones?

Rabbi Richard Address, who is one of our keynote speakers at Canadian Boomerfestreminds us that we must always respect the dignity of the individual, no matter what his or her stage of life. In his book, Seekers of Meaning. Baby Boomers, Judaism, and the Pursuit of Healthy Aginghe quotes the Palestinian Talmud. According to this, the person who tells his or her elderly parents “just to relax and enjoy life and I’ll take care of you”, has far less respect for their aged parents than the one who helps to create a safe environment in which the elderly parents can continue to work and contribute to the family’s well-being. In this way the dignity of the elders is preserved.

Perhaps a better variation of our story about the elderly grandfather and the wooden bowl would include not only a place at the dinner table for Grandpa, but also a nice workbench where he could continue to be creatively involved and contributing to family life.

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