Heart Reading … Day 88

A little spin on the aging heart.

As I get older I naturally think more about aging. The joints are getting achy and old injuries that barely phased me a couple of decades ago when they happened now regularly get my attention. Today while I was walking my dog Rosie I thought about how everyone ultimately dies of a heart attack.

In thinking of the “aging heart” it may be easy to think about cholesterol levels, plaque clogging the arteries, medications to counteract the inevitable weakening of this critical organ. What came to my heart-mind when I settled into this notion of the aging heart were experiences of visiting nursing homes.

That seems logical, right? There are many aging hearts in nursing homes. But the physical hearts are not what came to mind; the emotional hearts — and the memories, the stories, the experiences all of these elders have had — are part of the twist or little “spin” to the idea of the aging heart.

I started visiting them when I was about 5 years old when my nana had her second or third stroke. My earliest memories are of the distinct cleaning smell and the essence of sadness; and these two aspects of nursing homes have been consistent up until my father passed away in a nursing home just a few years ago.

My nana lost her ability to communicate being that her most significant stroke was in the left hemisphere of her brain. My father (who also had one stroke and a TIA (transient ischemic attack) was always able to communicate but towards the end didn’t have a whole lot to say. That is until a prompt sparked a specific memory.

My favorite experiences of visiting my father were when he was sitting next to a particular man who remembered my father back when he managed a popular bowling alley. Back in the day it was such a big venue that they hosted celebrities like Cassius Clay (i.e. Muhammad Ali). Not only was this memory special for my father to relive (and for me to learn about) it was visibly important for the man who shared it — he couldn’t speak aloud, only through an alphabet board and needed someone like myself to patiently string his letters together with him into words.

Isn’t it interesting how sometimes those with such important things to say have such significant hurdles to overcome and those with not so much to say are blessed with capacities they don’t use?

Stories as told by our elders — “yarns” as they might say in Australia — seem to literally knit back together or breathe life again into ones “dusty” and seldom visited aging brain synapses.

What a gift we give each other when we listen to and encourage each other’s capacities for storytelling! The sparks going on inside the brain seem to bring sparkles to the eyes and I would bet also bring peace and joy to our aging hearts. Maybe story sharing is a better antidote to aging than many other anti-aging products marketed today.

An elder family member had a special day today and though they liked the gift they received, the gift I gave with more intention was the invitation to hear stories of places they’d gone and people they’d seen. I want to keep encouraging others to spin their “yarns” with me — I imagine it will be good for all our aging hearts.



Beyond Karen: emerging from the depths of an epic epithet is available at innerfortune.com and at your favorite independent bookseller. Thanks for reading.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Karen Willard Ribeiro

Beyond Karen: emerging from the depths of an epic epithet is available at innerfortune.com and at your favorite independent bookseller. Thanks for reading.