By Kelly Bothum | Catholic News Service

I got rid of one of my grandmother’s old lamps last week. After years of use, it had become more shabby than chic.

I held onto it because it was a tangible reminder of my grandmother, a fiery woman with a head of red hair to match. She worked as a librarian for a magazine at a time when most women stayed home.

When I was a kid, she’d make a spot for me in the bed and tell stories about what it was like meeting famous people and working with reporters breaking political news in Washington.

She and my grandfather provided more than just after-school help to my mom. They formed a critical part of my childhood. My grandfather picked me up from school. He checked my math homework, taught me how to throw a spiral and made me practice my flute before dinner.

Truthfully, I can’t imagine the trajectory of my life without them. I used to joke that my relationship with them was hero worship, but it was so much more than that.

They supported me. They challenged me. (My grandfather once fired me from my job raking leaves because I goofed off.) They cheered me.

Having them in my life will always be one of my greatest blessings.

I’d like to believe this is the kind of relationship Pope Francis has talked about in celebrating the role of the elderly. In a faith that treasures life from the womb to the tomb, it’s no surprise that we as Catholics are called to recognize the gift provided by our elders.

With their roots firmly planted, our older loved ones can offer the strength, support and understanding needed for us to grow and add to the branches of our Catholic faith.

Through their wisdom, their perspective and their own example, they teach younger generations that nothing is insurmountable and that God always provides in his own perfect time. Just like God’s word, all we need to do is listen.

It’s a lesson that all children – both young and adult – should heed. And that precious relationship between grandparent and grandchild is such a powerful vehicle for this.

My grandmother drilled me on spelling bee words but she also taught me about my faith. She told me stories about saints I had never heard of and gave me statues of Mary and Jesus to keep in my room.

I was fascinated with the glow-in-the-dark rosary she tucked under her pillow at night. She told me that when she couldn’t sleep, she would pray.

It was from her I first heard about Thomas Merton, and it was her dog-eared copy of “No Man Is an Island” that gave me a needed glimpse into how my relationship with God is reflected to the rest of the world.

If faith is a journey, she pointed me toward the most accessible path. I can think of no greater gift.

It’s not always easy to value our elders, especially when they are sick, when they are grouchy or when they are nearing the end of their journey on earth. But we must see how precious they are and how our connection to them transcends death. I watched my grandmother take her last breath, but I know she is always with me in the way I view the world.

I am grateful for my relationship with my grandparents and the many ways it grew me as a person. I see it now in my own children’s relationship with their grandparents – the excitement they feel in seeing them, learning from them and sharing special moments with them.

Grandparents are a source of light in a world that can sometimes seem smothered in darkness. I may have given away an old lamp, but I will never lose that light.

Bothum is a freelance writer and a mother of three.