Grandparenting is our MARFAM family theme for the month of July and we will consider different aspects over the next weeks leading up to a, most likely virtual, celebration with grandparents on the 26th July, the feast of St Joachim and St Anna, the grandparents of Jesus.
One can be a grandparent at an early age, even in one’s 30s and be a grandparent for more than half a century . In fact, being a grandparent is simply being the parent of a parent, one of the few things in life over which one has little or no control. It is a physical, practical, psychological and spiritual reality, a relational matter, not just a disembodied fact. In reporting statistics the relationship aspect tends to be forgotten, but it is nevertheless very relevant in the context of family life.
Pope Francis calls grandparents the family roots and notes that the lack of historical memory is a serious shortcoming in our society. ”Listening to the elderly tell their stories is good for children and young people, it makes them feel connected to the living history of their families, their neighbourhood and their country. A family that fails to respect and cherish its grandparents who are its living memory is already in decline, whereas a family that remembers has a future.” Lockdown or the fact that so many families are separated through emigration across the country and world has affected those ties as most of us know well.
President Cyril Ramaphosa once again repeated his call to care for the elderly at this time with an increasing infection and death rate of the Covid-19 virus. But is that what they or we want? Care yes, but are we honest enough to admit that we are not meant to live forever? Can we recognize and acknowledge that modern medicine and the modern way of thinking seems to demand that we have to preserve life at all costs and for as long as possible, whether from cancer, Parkinsons, Alzheimers or Covid-19? Do we recognize that preparing for death is helpful and necessary with the elderly and in families? In fact of course death affects not only the elderly. Euthanasia is contrary to Church teaching but taking unnecessary measures to sustain life is also not required. I heard, sadly, that one of the special grandfathers who I have interviewed previously a number of times about his daily prayer for his 29 grandchildren has died after some years of painful suffering and loss of his mind and any quality of life. His family see his final passing as a blessing, a happy release. But surely, in his vegetative state his suffering was still somehow contributing to the support of the grandchildren.
I was reading through our Retirement Village quarterly newsletter the other day. There was lots about the virus, keep safe, fit, sanitise, eat well etc. But what was not addressed was anxiety and fear, anticipation and even being allowed to wish for an end to life and welcome death. I am well aware some residents would choose rather than fear the end. I may be out of step but there appears to be a reticence to openly discuss our fears. I once tried to have a short sharing session about fears in general, including fear of falling, of fire, of drowning in the bath, of spiders, of being attacked, of losing a loved one. Yes, maybe the fear of death from COVID-19 is immediate, but the fear of living too long and living with conditions such as losing one’s mind, of Alzheimers and Parkinsons or painful arthritis are real too.
While we know that the elderly are most vulnerable, our preparing for death and later mourning and celebrating a life well lived as part of a bereavement process are necessary tasks for this time too. We are told to prepare a file of necessary documents. Sharing that is a good move. Maybe writing a letter of farewell sharing some special memories, thoughts and feelings would be a good thing too. Our spiritual beliefs may vary widely, even within a family, but it shouldn’t be that difficult with grandparents and grandchildren to raise the subject of death which children can have experienced when a pet or a family member died. They should not be excluded from the process but allowed to ask, “Will my dog be with God? Will I see him again? Does my kitty have a soul? Where is aunty Jane now?”
Pope Francis concludes, “If we accept death, we can prepare ourselves for it. The way is to grow in our love for those who walk at our side until that day when death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more. The better we live on earth, the greater the happiness we will be able to shared with our loved ones in heaven.”
MARFAM’s 2020 family theme OUR WORLD, A FAMILY OF FAMILIES also provides opportunities for discussion about much in creation that naturally has to die and change its form. Caterpillars turn into butterflies and seeds into plants. The Daily Thoughts, which are linked with the scripture passages of the day attempt to bring the grandparenting themes to life. You can register to receive these through [email protected]. Other resources including can be found by searching the website. See especially a MOVEMENT OF PRAYER OF GRANDPARENTS FOR GRANDCHILDREN, GRANDPARENTS MOVEMENT
FAMILY MATTERS on RADIO VERITAS on Wednesdays from 9-10 during July will highlight different aspects of grandparenting every week. Some are podcast on http://www.radioveritas.co.za
A suggested liturgical celebration on Sunday 26th July can include in the homily a reflection on the readings, a prayer and a blessing. An example to be posted soon on www.marfam.org.za/grandparentsday. .