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A Lesson from a Grumpy Old Lady

| November 25, 2011

grumpy old lady2

For years I had a scrap of paper posted on my fridge, with the antidote to becoming a grumpy old lady. Do you want to know what it said? Before I tell you, Let me explain what motivated my quest to keep this prescription on hand.

It all started when I worked as a therapist at a rehabilitation hospital and observed the stark difference in the attitudes of two particular elderly patients. One was a below knee amputee. The other had an archive of ailments that rivaled the number items on a holiday grocery shopping list. She was a hemiplegic, arthritic, osteoporotic, and half blind — and that was just for starters!

But the lady with the debilitating physical condition was cheerful, while the amputee was a intolerable grump. Granted, having someone saw off half your leg isn’t all sunshine and roses, but compared to the other woman, this woman’s rehabilitation would be relatively simple. She would be fitted with a fake leg, walk out of the hospital, and be fairly functional. The other woman’s prognosis was bleak. She would be dependent, confined to a wheelchair, and would finish her days in a full-care nursing facility rather than in her home.

Their rooms were next to one another, which made the contrast between the two women all the more striking.

The drapes in the cheerful woman’s room were open to let in the light. Cards and flowers of well-wishers were displayed on every available surface. She had a constant stream of visitors. One could often hear the murmur of conversation and laughter. Nurses and therapists loved to meet this woman’s needs, for they were always greeted with a pleasant smile and an appreciative, “Thank you so much, dear!”

The grumpy old woman kept her drapes drawn. She wallowed in darkness. Visitors, when they came, rarely stayed long. Instead of laughter, one could often hear her loud, critical complaints and verbal assaults as she tore a strip off of yet another health care worker. “Thanks” was a word that wasn’t in her vocabulary. I dreaded going into her room.

It was there and then that I decided I was never going to become a grumpy old lady. And it was shortly thereafter that I heard Elisabeth Elliott speaking on the radio, and raced for a scrap of paper to write down this quote:

“It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than resentful over what is withheld–one attitude or the other becomes a way of life.”

The quote hung on my fridge for years.  It reminded me that gratitude isn’t just for Thanksgiving. It’s for every day. Gratitude or ingratitude becomes a way of life. My half-legged patient’s physcial condition was far better than her counterpart, but her attitude was far worse. And that made all the difference.

So today, what will it be?  It’s your choice. It’s always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than resentful over what is withheld–one attitude or the other will become a way of life.

And that’s the lesson I learned from that grumpy old lady.


Question: How has choosing gratitude made a difference in your life?


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Comments (12)

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  1. KMac says:

    HOW I needed to hear this! Thank you, Mary ~ I, too, will find a place to hang a scrap of paper with this on it. Probably next to what sits in the middle of my breakfast table: “Are you willing to live the life God gave you?”

  2. Janette says:

    A very practical reminder for us. Yet, only as far as it goes, in a practical way. I can’t help but think of how it sort of left me wondering why Christians are so unaware of their propensity to only love people who are already so loveable. Does the grumpy old woman know Christ? If not, every Christian who visits the easy to love older woman should be compelled to offer the grace of Christ to the woman who next door who lacks it.

    The grace to bear up under our burdens and trials with joy and gratitude is a gift from God. We give grace in direct proportion to that which we’ve received. When someone suffers devasting trials and ilnness and suffering, it is unnatural to begrudge them their emotional loss and pain, even if it leads to a season of bitterness. If the person is Christian, then that is exactly what the body is for. If the person is not Christian, who could need the Grace of God in Jesus Christ more than them?? And why should we even for a moment expect them to feel any differently?

    Have mercy on and compassion even for (or especially for) grumpy old women. Apart from the grace of God, that’s what we would all become.

    Certainly, I do not want to be a grumpy old woman and will endeavor as a Christian woman to cultivate gratitude. I just wanted to be sure to remind folks of our source of gratitue and that the ability to bear up under suffering and trial ultimately comes from God alone.

    • Anonymous says:

      I totally agree Christian need to embrace love. Meaning that God loves us all regardless of our short comings. He likes us a lot also. We need to reflect what we believe. What do you believe?

      • Janette says:

        Anonymous, what I wrote does “reflect” what I believe, ie, our true source of gratitude and the ability to bear up under great suffering and trial ultimately comes from God alone. Thought I was pretty clear about that and not sure why you felt the need to ask … ??

  3. Doc B says:

    Having worked in rehab (cardiac) myself, I also suspect the cheerful woman outlived the grumpy woman, even though her condition was much more tentative. I saw this many times in cardiac patients…those who felt blessed to have a second chance usually recovered, and those who had a, ‘what did I do to deserve this’ attitude usually died within the year.

  4. Nina says:

    I have to agree with Janette’s comment. I used to work in a nursing home and found myself strangely drawn to the “grumpy old ladies.” They were generally the ones who did not get visitors and who, understandably, were not popular among the staff.

    I often learned that they had issues much deeper than those that were merely visible, and that some would even (eventually) respond to the stubborn kindness of a lowly CNA, housekeeper, or social worker.

  5. Ann says:

    I think that it’s kind of Janette to remind us of our role as Christians yet I don’t actually believe that in essence that this was the meaning of the article in question. Actually when I read it my thought was more on whether I had that kind if attitude of being a grumpy old lady and what would I do about it being a child of God?

    What you ladies are taking about for me is another subject in itself! But as important.

    Great article, gets you thinking about how you want to be remembered.

  6. Denise says:

    Janette, you are truly full of grace. You are a blessing and your words are a blessing here. I liked your perspective on this.

    I was reading this article and thinking of my mom. She is the kind and sweet lady in this story and she is in a long term nursing home. Likely for good. But she is beloved and is lovely. I don’t know which of the ladies on her floor are the grumpy ladies, but I am sure there are a few. Who knows what sorrows lurk in the hearts of the grumpy ladies, but as believers, we probably by default bring light into those places just by being there.

    After spending 3 weeks visiting my mom daily, I must say, the staff in there work non stop! I doubt they have time to do much ministering other than to be polite and kind as they go through their work.

    The quote by the Elliot lady is definitely a take away from this article for sure.

  7. Julie Chohan says:

    Can’t say thank you enough for this…Just re-posted this quote and wrote it in about three different places. Such a great reminder. Thank you!

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