We Will Be Old One Day
Treating the elderly with respect
by Laurence Chilcott (revised, originally published in 2009)
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To encourage respect for the elderly, and consider the importance of their lives.
Preparation and materials
- Have available the following images and the means to display them during the assembly:
- a group of elderly people, available at: https://tinyurl.com/yatg5xgb
- Irena Sendler, available at: https://tinyurl.com/yac7mept
- Winston Churchill, available at: https://tinyurl.com/ycyz2puv
- a guardsman from the Second World War, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y8hylzxm
- Show the image of a group of elderly people.
Ask the children to look carefully at each person in the picture. Choose two of the people in the photograph and ask the children to imagine what their lives might have been like. Point out that we don’t know these people or anything that has happened to them in their lives.
- Show the image of Irena Sendler.
Ask the children what they think this woman did during her lifetime. What job might she have done? Was she kind? Brave? Rich? Poor?
Listen to a range of responses.
Explain that this woman’s name was Irena Sendler. She rescued thousands of Jewish children during the Second World War.
- Show the image of Winston Churchill.
Ask the children what they think this man did during his lifetime.
Listen to a range of responses.
Explain that Winston Churchill was the prime minister who led Britain to victory alongside the Allies during the Second World War.
- Point out that when we look at older people, we often have no idea what they may have achieved in their lives.
- Read or retell the following story.
It was Sunday lunchtime and Matt had been asked to take a dinner to Mr Elwood, who lived a few doors down his street. Mr Elwood’s wife had died years ago and he’d lived alone since then. Matt’s mother often made a dinner for him, thinking that perhaps he wasn’t taking the trouble to cook much for himself.
Matt found it a bit of a hassle. He never knew what to say to Mr Elwood and he generally spent as little time as possible with him. Mr Elwood was getting forgetful, so he sometimes said the same thing five minutes after he’d said it before. Matt had lost count of the times Mr Elwood had asked him his name. Matt had no idea how old Mr Elwood was, but he looked ancient! What little hair he had was wispy and pure white, he had very few teeth and his face was lined and leathery. Every so often, he would wipe his watery eyes with a grey-looking handkerchief and trembling hands. He seemed to spend all day sitting hunched in his armchair, listening to the radio or watching the telly.
Today, the television was off and Matt felt a little embarrassed by the silence. Feeling obliged to say something, he pointed to a photograph he’d noticed before. It showed a guardsman in full uniform, his rifle by his side.
Show the image of a guardsman from the Second World War.
He had a row of gleaming medals pinned to his chest and looked handsome and proud.
‘Who’s that?’ asked Matt, presuming it to be Mr Elwood’s son, or a nephew.
‘Why, that’s me,’ Mr Elwood replied.
Although Mr Elwood could not remember what had happened yesterday, he was able to recall in great detail what he had done 70 years ago. He had joined the army at 16 and seen action in many parts of the world. He had medals for bravery and had been presented to the King. Matt listened, fascinated by the account Mr Elwood gave of his exploits and adventures so many years ago. He looked at Mr Elwood in a completely different light – he might be old and frail now, but what a life he had lived!
Reaching for a drawer close by, Mr Elwood took out another photograph. It was of a young man in rugby kit, wearing the sort of cap you’re given when you play for your country.
‘You?’ asked Matt.
Mr Elwood nodded and winked at Matt. ‘I’ll tell you all about it when you come back for the empty plate.’
From that time onwards, Matt looked up to Mr Elwood with newfound respect and admiration. Matt understood that although people may be old, they have often achieved great things and lived fulfilling and interesting lives that can inspire others. He no longer thought it a chore to visit his elderly neighbour. Mr Elwood still didn’t seem to know what day of the week it was, but he could talk about the past as if it was yesterday. Matt was fascinated by his tales and it wasn’t long before Matt proudly introduced him to his class when he came to talk about the Second World War for their history lesson.
Time for reflection
Discuss the loneliness that many old people feel when they live alone and see no one from one day to the next. Explain how they can be uplifted and encouraged by a visit from someone who is willing to spend a little time with them, or even by a smile and a wave.
Discuss the importance of respect and consideration for the elderly, and encourage the children to treat them as they would like their own grandparents to be treated.
Ask the children to think about the elderly people they know as they consider the following questions.
- What are they good at?
- What do they find difficult?
- How could you help to make their lives better?
We pray today for older people.
Help us to remember that they, too, have been active and healthy in the past.
We pray for all those who care for the elderly in residential homes, in their own homes and in the community, and for all the organizations that try to support them.
May we be prepared to do our part to assist them in practical ways by spending time with them or helping with daily chores.
May we always treat people with care and respect.
‘One more step’ (Come and Praise, 47)