You can’t put an old head on young shoulders

This is part two of a series about, Willard, my friend and fellow pilgrim, who was admitted to hospice following a catastrophic stroke. Willard has been barely responsive for several weeks. I continue to visit every two weeks but now my conversations are with his wife Helen. Helen is one of the most devoted caregivers and wives I’ve ever known. She refuses to leave Willard’s side except for short errands.

I continue to remind Helen that we could admit Willard for a five day “respite”, but she graciously declines, stating, “You know where I’d be don’t you? So there’s no since talking about respite.” When Willard was in the hospital rehab unit, before his admission to hospice, Helen insisted, against policy, on sleeping in Willard’s room. If you read last week’s article you know that Helen was born and raised in Wildcat, West Virginia, so where do you think Helen slept?

Helen has a wonderful sense of humor. Whenever I picture Helen in my mind I see her childlike mischievous grin. She has collaborated with me to devise a couple of elaborate, enjoyable practical jokes on our chaplain Pete. Poor Pete still thinks that Willard and Helen’s neighbor asked Helen if Pete was my father, even though Pete is only two years older than me. But Helen, like Willard, also takes her Christian walk very seriously. She’s not quick to accept or embrace other people’s interpretations. She believes in “rightly dividing the word of truth” for yourself (2 Timothy: 2:15). She also believes that, “God speaks to us personally, for our good and for the good of others, so we better listen.”

One day Helen and I were talking about the challenge of childrearing, the trials, the heartaches, the disappointments, the frustrations. Helen shared about raising their six children. I shared about raising our three daughters, ages 23, 16, and 13. Helen could tell I was freshly frustrated with one of them so she looked me sternly in the eyes and admonished, “What were you like when you were sixteen? Loren, you just remember, you can’t put an old head on young shoulders. They’re going to make mistakes. You have to crawl before you walk.” Pretty good advice and even a better personal admonishment.

The Tuesday after Easter I visited and shared with Helen that my two younger daughters had gone to the alter at church, one to pray about a personal issue and the other to invite God into her heart. Instantly Helen reiterated, “Loren, just remember, you can’t put an old head on young shoulders.” We talked about how being “born again” is just the beginning of a lifelong growth process.

The Apostle Paul seemed to have the same concern as Helen. Twice he wrote to churches advising children to obey their parents and then cautioned fathers: “And you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1-4). “Fathers do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21) I don’t know about you, but I have to be careful not to provoke and discourage my children by pushing too hard and expecting too much. After all, in Helen’s words, “You can’t put an old head on young shoulders”.

Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center – Hospice and can be reached by email at or by phone at 740-356-2525.

Straight Paths

Loren Hardin