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Grandfathers and great-grandfathers: 10 tips for making memories

Grandfathers and great-grandfathers: 10 tips for making memories

by Sharon Simpson


One of the things I wish could happen for me this Father’s Day is that my dad could see how his eleven grandchildren turned out. He can’t. He last knew them when they were teenagers and children. He passed away far too early. My father was a wonderful grandfather, but one who suffered during most of his grand-fathering years. He did not have the luxury of pain-free or independent living. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his early 60’s, dad lived most of his grand-fathering years in a wheelchair amid challenges with daily living.

As his caregiver, my mom kept the doors open for dad to be a man of connection and influence with his grandchildren. She took the initiative to have their grandchildren over for meals, fun days and celebrations. We played a lot of games and did a lot of puzzling together. Dad had so much mobility equipment that when he went for an afternoon rest, the grandkids would often jump onto his many scooters and wheelchairs and buzz all around the house and yard. Those days were sometimes sad and yet fun, too.

When my son was 13, he got very sick with rheumatic fever. His was the first case of rheumatic fever at Children’s Hospital in over 30 years. This illness took over his body, his movements and his mind. It stole a year of his schooling. During that year, my son often stayed with grandma and grandpa while working on his online schooling and suffering from the ongoing effects of the disease. He lived their everyday life with them – their daily faith expressed through morning devotions and prayer, their love for their Creator expressed in their stunning gardens, their love for each other expressed through daily care. He was an up-close witness to lives well lived.

When my dad was dying in the intensive care unit, it was spring break. There were no grandchildren around. Each family had a holiday plan and had already left for vacation when dad’s condition declined. My daughter was in Thailand and my boys were enjoying MLB spring training in Phoenix with their Dad. Mom and I held vigil until my siblings could fly back home and join us. It was during Dad’s final days that I thought about how he would be remembered by my children. They loved him. They adored him.

“Dad, your grandchildren never knew you as a brilliant surgeon, a fruit gardener, tennis player or a man of fun adventures. They knew you in your worst years – your years of chronic pain and declining abilities. They knew you when life was the worst for you, when you doubted God and doubted your own ability to carry on. They knew you when you were disabled, uncomfortable, frustrated and in pain. None of them can remember you walking. In every single one of their memories, you are in a wheelchair. And in all of this, you have developed deep love between you and each grandchild. You have taken time, because it is one of the few things you have left to give – and you gave yourself, your stories, your love. You gave hugs and you gave laughs. You gave confidence and you gave hope. You gave prayer. Oh, you have prayed for your grandchildren. All of the goodness of your grandparenting happened in the worst years of your life and still, it is very good. Well done, dad.”

They say that it takes three generations for each of us to be forgotten. Our grave is one where the last name is recognized, but there is no longer a memory of the days we lived. 

And so, we have the opportunity to make memories for the generations that follow.

1. Bless them with your presence. Be there when you can. Fly to weddings, go to dinners, be part of their graduations. Go to their homes for meals. Invite them out to a restaurant with you. 

2. Know them one by one. Take time to be a part of each life individually. Write them cards, write them letters. Phone them. Face-time them. Ask them if you can visit them at their workplace.

3. Ask them about their lives and spend your time listening. A good question to start the conversation is, “What important things are taking place in your life right now?” 

4. Ask them how you can pray for them. Prayer is a blessing that they may not appreciate until years later.

5. Give them special gifts. My husband received a Bible from his grandparents for his highschool graduation. It was signed by them. He was not a believer, but loved and respected his grandparents. It’s now in his office at the church he pastors.

6. Tell them you believe in them. Last year, we had a young man live with us. He was struggling with addictions. When he  thought about who still believed in him, it was his grandpa. It was grandpa who had given him the self-esteem to cling to in his darkest hours.

7. Leave your story for the ones who follow. Write, record or video your story. Your experiences will be interesting to the family as the generations pass. What was modern to you is unknown to the children of today.

8. Don’t let your pain or your illnesses stop you. Do whatever it takes to be part of the family action.

9. Spend your money on your family. You know if you have the money to spend, don’t extend yourself beyond your means, but make memories with them now.

10. Be their cheerleader. Do this with words, even if you are not a big talker. Be encouraging. Be hopeful. Be kind. Be the one who cheers them on. 

My son is getting married this weekend. My husband will officiate the wedding ceremony. It will be very special for us all. There will be an empty seat, however, and an emptiness in all of our hearts. It has been nine years, but the missing doesn’t get better. It actually gets worse, I think. At least it does for me. So much has happened in these nine years that dad would have loved to be a part of – graduations, careers, a great-granddaughter, weddings, trips, dinners, card games, laughs. I miss my dad,

So, I invite you grandfathers and great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers on this Father’s Day to make the most of the days that you have to be a part of the generations who follow you. Encourage them to follow you as you follow Christ and have a very blessed Father’s Day.

Sharon Simpson is the director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Home in Abbotsford, BC.

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