I stood at a cemetery on Staten Island a couple of weeks ago under a cloudy sky, in the dry, fall wind at the funeral of a friend’s mother. The service was personal and touching and included each of the deceased’s grandchildren, school friends of my daughters, sharing memories and reflections.
This scene is becoming a familiar one as I watch my mother and her peers reach their 70s, 80s and 90s. The topic of our ageing parents, their health and independence, predictably comes up whenever I talk with friends. We commiserate and strategize and measure the emotional, physical and financial resources it takes to support our parents.
I’ve tended to share information with my girls on a need-to-know basis, informing them when a health danger or other significant event impacts one of their grandparents, but I try to spare them the week-to-week updates that might be an information overload. My teenagers have busy days, filled with friends, sports, projects, and schoolwork. Why burden them with the minutiae of their elders’ lives?
I’m coming to rethink this strategy, though, finding new ways to keep them informed about their grandparents. One reason is to make sure my kids don’t feel blindsided when something significant happens. Another is to help them feel involved with the fabric of the extended family. Perhaps most importantly, I want them to be aware of the process of ageing, letting them participate in it with their grandparents just as I hope they will share it with me in the years ahead.
Our family is spread out, keeping my girls from having day-to-day contact with older relatives. However, I can tell them what is involved in my pilgrimages to visit my mother, the list of errands and tasks and the appointments I take her to when I’m there. It’s time consuming and sometimes inconvenient, but I feel closer to her for our time together and the help I’m able to provide.
Even though we don’t see the grandparents every day — or even every month — through reports, visits, phone calls, my kids can share and support them. When I let my girls know about grandma visiting the dentist or grandpa’s eye troubles, I’m helping my daughters understand the ways we all slow down and the ways we all need help and support eventually.
I want my girls to understand how we all get to the end, to feel involved and aware of the path life takes. Caring for our ageing parents is, hopefully, something we all get to do. It can be burdensome, to be sure, but also meaningful and important and strengthen our bonds before death breaks them.
Some day, when my children find themselves standing in a cemetery with family and friends around them, I hope they will have fond memories to share about their grandparents, feel good about the ways they supported them, and feel prepared to say good-bye.