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The Wisdom Project: What I Have Learned
by Tom Medlar, M.A., LMHC

"In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
~ Aeschylus    

In the long term care setting the residents have the greater amount of life experience but the lesser amount of control and influence. This contributes to a resident losing a sense of the worth of her life experience and a young worker mistaking frailty for foolishness. Wisdom is the distillation of lessons learned from life experiences. The wisdom of residents collectively or individually may be lost or obscured by cognitive impairment or language problems. A resident's wisdom might be observed in brief comments or responses rather than in detailed and articulate expressions.

The idea for this Wisdom Project arose in the course of uncounted hours of psychotherapy in which I was privileged to hear the lessons and insights derived from long and often quite challenging life experience of residents. Too often, though, an individual resident might fear that his experience has gone to waste because he is no longer in an active stage of life. Or a young staff person might overlook the depth of background and knowledge still present in a faltering lady.

A simple questionnaire was developed and discussed individually with a selection of residents who seemed most able to verbalize responses to the questions. I felt that gathering their thoughts together in this article would provide the residents with a feeling of validation of their understanding, and would allow workers a glimpse of the wisdom that surrounds them in the now frail persons who are under their care.

1. What have you learned from your life experience?

I've learned to be more patient. I've learned to be quiet and listen to other people. It helps me to not be selfish.

At the time you don't think things matter, but they do. The choices you make are more important than you think. So make good choices.

I've learned to communicate with people. I was too shy and reserved and passive. I should have more strongly pursued my dream to sing.

I learned to love. I think it is very important to have a good marriage. My ability to love has grown, as I've gotten older.

Hold close, but not too close, the ones you love.

I learned that the important things in life are marriage, children, friends, and an active life. Those are the things that teach you appreciation of life.

I learned how valuable it is to have a loving, caring family. Everything else comes second.

I have learned that life is brutal; it is hard on your soul and body and mind. It is hard to comprehend why life must include illness and death but life still has its bowls of cherries.

You can't answer the questions of life with simple answers; you need heart.

2. What does illness teach you?

Illness teaches you that you have to be strong. I try to understand the meaning of illness, medically and spiritually. It has made me stronger. I had to learn to rely on others. Before I thought to lean on others was cowardly.

When there is illness you want to help, to remove suffering. But you cannot always do that.

I should just talk to myself, and just turn my feelings around the other way.

Learn to take better care of yourself. But you cannot rely only on yourself. You sometimes need others.

Even when you are ill you can still help yourself, to a certain degree. Don't expect people to do everything for you just because you are ill.

Illness has taught me a lot about caring, about understanding, and soul searching. You learn how a person can endure the trials of illness. You learn that you don't give up.

Illness teaches you that you shouldn't try to take on too much at one time.

3. Who taught you important lessons in life, and what did you learn from them?

I lost my mother when I was 4 years old. I had to rely on my father and we became close. He taught me what to expect from life. He taught me not to believe everything you hear, you have to experience it for yourself to know something is true or right.

I had a doctor who pulled me through a bad part of my life. He taught me to take one day at a time. To deal only with today's problems today. That helped me to not be overwhelmed by the problems I had then.

My mother taught me that it is important to be honest and kind. To be kind and try to help; that is what matters. To be honest no matter how much it hurts: but it pays.

My sister taught me to stand up for myself.

My father loved us. He put his arms around us and provided and protected us. He taught me honesty and responsibility, and to be kind to others. I worked for someone once who taught me to keep going despite pain and problems.

My mother taught me to work hard on my education and to prepare to take care of myself, and to take care of my appearance. My brother and I helped each other through hard times. That taught me a lot.

My father taught me to always reach higher.

4. What would you like to teach others?

Patience is one thing. You've got to have patience. You will be able to do many things if you believe in what you really like, and really put your mind to it.

Have more faith in yourself. Don't be afraid to ask for help; there's always more available than you know.

Learn all about finances and how to manage money.

Be honest and don't lie. It's very important not to lie.

To be kinder. Staff people should be kinder because your attitude toward a resident is noticeable and it really influences how I feel.

You should mix in with others. Get involved and stay active.

If you take a job follow through with it. Don't drop short or give up on it.

I would like to teach people how to listen to others. How to care and be kind and gentle.

5. What lessons or advice would you like to offer to the workers at the nursing home?

Be more patient.

Get in the bed and try being a patient for a while.

I want to tell the young women to not give away your self too easily to men. It will lower your self-esteem. There are too many pregnancies and too few marriages for young women now. That means there are too many irresponsible and immature men. Don't go sleeping around when you are young. Hold out for a better man.

It is important to have a good marriage.

Life is about more that their boyfriends, and cigarettes, and time off and on at work.

I'm here as a patient. Do what you can for me. Just pay attention to me and do what you can for me.

Make sure this work is what you want to do, being around sick people. If you just want it because there's no other job, forget it.

Have patience with the residents. Don't always say I'm too busy. Listen more closely. Make time for individuals.

If you've had a divorce don't jump quick into many relationships.

Stay within limits with your money. Buy a house or a car and save your money.

Be more content with what you already have.


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