Grandparents can have a special place in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives during times that are joyful and challenging. Freepix photo
Grandparents can have a special place in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives during times that are joyful and challenging. Freepix photo
Pope Francis obviously has a special place in his heart for grandparents.

This was something I rediscovered while preparing to write a story about World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. I read much of what Pope Francis has written over the years about his pontificate concerning the need to value, care for and be present to the older members of society, and grandparents, no matter how old they are.

 Although there were many beautiful teachings and stories, one grabbed my heart and brought me to tears. It was the story about his love for his grandmother Rosa Bergoglio, who was a great influence on his life. Rosa cared for Jorge almost daily from a very early age, shared her wisdom, her stories and her faith, but most importantly her generous love.

When Rosa was dying, just a year after his ordination, Jorge, the future Pope, wrapped his arms around her until she took her final breath, sharing a special kind of love in one last embrace. That image took hold of me.

On the roller coaster that is grandparenting we may rarely think about that final moment. How we will be remembered? What will be our legacy? Will someone be there for the last hug or hand-holding? Our mortality is hard to face.

But in the middle of this tearful reflection, my phone rang; a video call from my nine-year-old granddaughter. She wanted to show me her new kitten, and, also, one for her younger sister. Apparently, several boxes of kittens were left on the side of the road, so they adopted two to replace those they had lost during the pandemic. The first thing my granddaughter wanted to do, said her mom, was “call Abuela to show her.”

This morning, I received another video call from her sister to show me the tooth that had fallen out the day before, with a detailed explanation of the structure of the tooth (the pointy end here, and the rounder end here), and a close look inside her mouth to see several gaping holes. I saved the video on my phone, along with the photo of four grandsons posing silly for my birthday greeting.

These video calls, almost daily to share whatever is important in their lives at the moment, and the many photos I get regularly, bring to mind Pope Francis’ exhortation to families: “Use the inventiveness of love, make phone calls, video calls, send messages, listen to them and, where possible, … go to visit them, too. Send them a hug.” 

These are moments of joy, of gratitude and laughter. But grandparenting is not all about happiness. Sometimes, it’s about pain and fear and doubt and having to live by grace alone. It was a tough year for many grandparents who couldn’t visit their grandchildren, or for those who were ill and couldn’t have visitors. It was tragic for those who died without family or friends to hold them.

Personally, within a period of eight months, three of my youngest grandchildren were born prematurely, one with a serious medical issue which required six months in a NICU out of state. During those six months I moved in with my three young grandsons five days a week so their parents could stay with their new baby brother in the hospital.

He was released from the NICU just two months before my youngest granddaughter was born 10 weeks early because her mom had been very ill and required emergency surgery while pregnant. I traveled to North Carolina to stay with my daughter-in-law while she recovered, and to help care for my granddaughters.

Those months were a time of great worry, sleepless nights and many prayers. Even now, there’s a need to rely on faith to get through each day. Certainly, I am not alone in having to face the unpredictability of the future.  

For me, these critical situations were opportunities to fulfill what I believe is the covenant relationship between grandparents and their own children, as well as their grandchildren – to love without measure, to be of service in whatever ways possible and to model strength through faith in God.

Members of a family are meant to belong to each other, to give their best to each other, to be forgiving and to nurture the same in others. Today, many have lost sight of the covenant relationship, the promises that are made on both sides. It’s a two-way street, so to say. A give and take for all involved.

It’s not always easy, because people, even family members, can be very difficult.

 But neither does our culture encourage covenant. It encourages the superficial. It encourages “do whatever is best for you.” And in those encouragements, grandparents, elderly or not, are often pushed to the edge of the family instead of living in its heart.

It’s an issue of great concern to Pope Francis, who has, throughout his pontificate, spoken of the beauty and wisdom of the elderly, who are often abandoned to the care of others, or worse, to no one but themselves. It’s an issue, I believe, that can only be solved by a willingness to love well.

I also find the inspired observations of my three-year-old grandson help. When asked what we should do the last time I watched him, he replied, “I hope we get to go outside ’cause this is a lovely day.”

He reminds me daily of the many blessings that come with living a covenant relationship – getting a video call, collecting photos, making sacrifices, enjoying a lovely day, or sharing the last embrace.