By: Marta Timar
God has given me the gift of a very blessed life, and I am truly grateful. There was, however, one missing link in the otherwise idyllic world of my childhood, namely grandparents. I, of course, had grandparents, but three were deceased before I was born, and of the fourth, my paternal grandfather, I have only the most nebulous of memories from the time he came for a three-month visit (he lived in another country) when I was four years old. Shortly upon his return home, he, too, was called from this life.
As a child, it was with no little envy I observed that all of my friends seemed to have grandparents. Oh, how I yearned for at least one grandparent! And what baffled me most of all was that my friends who were fortunate enough to have grandparents seemed to take them for granted or worse, were not particularly interested in spending time with them.
So at about age seven, I decided to take matters into my own hands to rectify the grandparent void by “adopting” grandparents for myself. I am nothing if not focused when on a mission, and I was on a serious “recruiting” mission. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to look too far. Our parish church and the neighborhood in which we lived were filled with lots of promising potential grand-parental candidates. By the time I was 10, I had “officially” adopted five sets of grandparents! I came to dearly love all of them. What a joy it was spending time with and learning such a variety of things from them – the Hail Mary in Polish, hearing about how their faith sustained them in difficult times, looking at old photographs as they shared stories about their own widely varying backgrounds and family histories, being quizzed on my spelling homework, lending a hand with their hobbies that ranged from various types of needlework to growing orchids and even raising finches. But most importantly, for the chance to soak up their love and wisdom which they so freely gave, richly augmenting that of my family. When they each in turn left this life, I mourned them deeply, surely no less than had they been my “real” grandparents. My life was certainly all the richer for having been graced with their presence. To this day, I have a special love and affection that is reserved just for elderly people.
If we ever hope to turn our culture back into a culture of life, a good starting point would surely be in changing societal attitudes toward aging and the elderly. Today’s society has a disposable mentality and an increasingly limited attention span, always in pursuit of youth, profit and instant gratification. In such a culture, the elderly are often considered a burden, cast aside and ignored, thus isolating them from community life. “Statistics state that as many as 60% of nursing home residents NEVER have a visitor.”1 They all too often become marginalized and increasingly vulnerable to exploitation. It is well worth it to remember that the value of a human life is not measured by how much a person can contribute to the bottom line.
Our elderly have so much to offer by way of wisdom gained in a life that spans many years. The perspective they have gained through experience which they share with us can caution us not to foolishly repeat mistakes of the past. How can we not help but value and appreciate this? They support and encourage us through their prayers. They inspire us by the grace with which they handle the inevitable diminishing physical and mental capabilities that come with aging, and as such serve as examples for all of us, who, if it is God’s will, will someday be elderly, too. But most of all, we love and respect the elderly because despite advanced age, they are still made in the image and likeness of God.
Grandparents Day is September 11th this year. Spend some time with your grandparents, if you are fortunate enough to still have them, or make friends with an elderly person by visiting a nursing home or assisted living facility. Spend a little time with them, and let them know they are loved, respected and not alone. In doing so, we will quickly find that the friendship of an elderly person is truly a special treasure.