ACA Blog

May 13, 2013


In the 80’s, there was much ado about the baby boomers latest trend: cocooning.  It was heralded that theirs would soon be a generation of stay-at homes, who wore sweat clothes and flip-flops instead of tuxedos and stilettos.  No longer would they be out on the town, but instead at home watching movies on their VCR’s.  And that is exactly what happened, but not just because the VCR had been invented, but frankly, because they were getting tired.

Aging, like growing up, is a step-by-step process.  You really can’t skip any of the steps along the way or you fall off course.  Being human, we often try to skip those steps.  If you saw the movie, “Cocoon” you may even remember that the main character eventually decides to remain on Earth to live out his natural life, while his companions leave him to travel off to a far away world where one never falls ill, or ages, or dies.     

Then, there is the story of the man who tried to ‘help’ a butterfly emerge from its’ cocoon.  For several hours, he had watched it struggle in vain.  Unable to see it suffer any longer, he finally decided to cut off the end of the cocoon so the butterfly had more room to flee.  She burst out almost immediately, but her wings were too fragile and weak to fly, so she quickly perished.  Why?  The struggle is crucial to the butterfly’s development.  It helps it to pump blood through the veiny wings to make them strong.  Without the struggle?  No life. . .or even death.

As counselors to the young, we patiently offer tools to help clients burst from their cocoons into well-integrated lives.  As counselors to the old, we must still patiently offer tools to help them as they retreat, in a sense to a different kind of cocoon with a different purpose.  In a perfect world, there should be as many waiting to cheer us on as we ‘open’ as there are when we ‘close.’  Nothing I have read captures this life process so well as Donald Justice does in his poem, “The Man Closing Up.”  I will leave you with his words which are far more eloquent than my own: 

The Man Closing Up by Donald Justice


Like a deserted beach,

The man closing up.

Broken glass on the rocks,

And seaweed coming in

To hang up on the rocks.

Walk with care,

It's slippery here.

Old pilings, rotted, broken like teeth,

Where a pier was,

A mouth,

And the tide coming in.

The man closing up

Is like this.


He has no hunger

For anything,

The man closing up.

He would even try stones,

If they were offered.

But he has no hunger

For stones.


He would make his bed,

If he could sleep on it.

He would make his bed with white sheets

And disappear into the white,

Like a man diving,

If he could be certain

That the light

Would not keep him awake.

The light that reaches

To the bottom.


The man closing up

Tries the doors.

But first

He closes the windows.

And before that even

He had looked out the windows.

There was no storm coming

That he could see.

There was no one out walking

At that hour.


He closes the windows

And tries the doors.

He knows about storms

And about people

And about hours

Like that one.


There is a word for it,

A simple word,

And the word goes around.

It curves like a staircase,

And it goes up like a staircase,

And it is a staircase,

An iron staircase

On the side of a lighthouse.

All in his head.

And it makes no sound at all

In his head.

Unless he says it.

Then the keeper

Steps on the rung,

The bottom rung,

And the ascent begins.


Rung after rung.

He wants to keep the light going,

If he can.

But the man closing up

Does not say the word.

Helen Hudson is a counselor and 20 year member of the ACA. She is also the author of "Kissing Tomatoes," and speaks around the country on the importance of caring for the elderly, particularly those with Alzheimer's, with compassion.

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