Giving and Receiving in Aged Care

August 25, 2014

I first met Jiaxuan (Grace) Nie, a Volunteer Student in Auckland NZ, earlier this year, February actually, when we were reviewing an “Edenising” home for the Eden Alternative Registry. I had the great fortune to have a learning circle with a group of volunteers (age range 15 – 70+) which included Grace.

The question I asked was “what inspires you to volunteer at Knox?”.

There were many and varied answers, but Grace’s answer blew me away as she was very cognizant of the fact that at her age she could see the benefits of “putting in” now for the benefit of elders today. And when it is her turn to possibly access care support services when she is much older, these services and support would be what she wanted.  She had a chance to make a difference now and learn along the way.

She also met Dr Al Power, author of “Dementia Beyond Drugs” at the same time.  His book along with her experiences volunteering have provided clarity around her future career focus. She is going to become a geriatrician.  And I for one, am glad that one so young is passionate about Elders and how we can all contribute to making a life worth living.  Her insight into the challenges for care partners is enlightening.  I hope your enjoy the read:

I was born with great sympathy; I feel bad about every person in misery. While some people may praise my “humane” characteristic, I am not as proud of it as before: it had come to my realization that very often, sympathy can be excessive.

Elders taught me this lesson.

I had always felt “sorry for” the older generation: their beauty, their energy, their health, their every and anything have been stolen by the atrocious thief, TIME. It made me weep even more when I saw the hideous way they were treated when I visited a rest home in China. Do some of you understand what kind of emotions I experienced? When seeing someone living in so much loneliness, helplessness and boredom, I shamefully hoped that our medicine has not yet become so advanced, and wished that they could rest in peace already.

However, the experience at one of the Eden Alternative registered homes, the Eden Elizabeth Knox Home and Hospital (or Knox, as they call it) truly changed my emotions towards the elders: I have realized that elders are not for us to sympathize. They can be strong and independent: if they are ever given the opportunities to show such valuable characteristics. At Knox, the home-like freedom enables optimistic elders to do their best and improve on their health. Yes, they still suffer from physical pain, but none of them are “in misery”.

They are just simply not.  Instead, they demonstrate the beauty of aging.

The tranquility and composure radiates from their wrinkled skin reflect upon the beauty of time.  Maybe, I have got to see the most intriguing process of human life: the process of aging.

What astonished me even more was that it was us, the “young volunteers”, that are “in misery”, and are in urgent need of guidance from the elders. The elders happily helped us. Interestingly, we do not ask them directly; instead, we observe: through their manners, they are already naturally the best teachers.

I have learnt a lot of lessons from elders at Knox, but the most unforgettable one will have to be not to automatically disable elders.

  • Because the people that are able to give, are never “in misery”.
  • Because aging is not a disability; it is a beauty.

Let me end my writing with an anecdote.

I was talking to an old lady at Knox once. She dresses in an extremely fashionable way, with bald and classy red lips that compliment her snow-white finely curled hair. I was curious about who gives her the “makeover”. She proudly responded: “I bought all of the outfits myself at Botany Shopping Mall!”

“How did you go there?” I curiously asked, as the mall she mentioned was miles away and I had not been there frequently enough myself.

“By bus!” she finally announced.

I was completely surprised when hearing her answer because I remember just how much courage it took me to hop onto Auckland’s extremely intricate public transport. Suddenly, I realized how wrong I was to sympathize the “supposedly weakest” group in this society.

-Jiaxuan (Grace) Nie, Volunteer Student in Auckland NZ.

2 Comments. Leave new

Barbara Smullen
August 25, 2014 10:08 pm

Oh, what a beautiful testimony! I loved every word of it. I am a 71 year old/young Elder in an Eden Alternative registry home, the Rochester Presbyterian Home in Rochester, N.Y. I was especially struck by your words “strong and independent” and I remembered my years working as a hospice nurse, and just wanted to share with you that human beings can also be strong and independent in hospice…because nothing is more unique and individual than dying…and “strong” and “independent” take on new dimensions. I am not talking of things like brave, stoic, martyr….No! Dying is a beautiful part of human living….and it takes people who are strong enough to say/ask for what they need in order to die AS THEY WANT TO DIE…surrounded by favorite people, things, sounds, smells, sights….men, women and children can pass from this earthly life in a way that is beautiful …and very “Eden.” P>S. You might enjoy the beautiful little book “Blessing Our Goodbyes” by Kathie Quinlan, who is herself the foundress of Isaiah House, one of Rochester’s fine hospice homes…God bless you and your beautiful spirit! Barbara Smullen



I was moved to tears by your post. I am a Registered Nurse in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and have been on the Eden journey for ten years. Elder care has transformed my life both personally and professionally. My tears were because you already understand the wisdom that comes with aging. I had been a nurse 37 years before I truly understood what you so beautifully described in your article. Thank you for sharing! But, most of all thank you for being the very special young lady you are. Grace, I send this post with respect and admiration.
Linda Crawford


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