I read the email to one of our daughters over the phone and heard my voice crack.
“Where does he live?” she asked. “Is he close by?”
“I have no idea.”
The email was responding to a lighthearted column I’d written wondering if the grands would still come around when they’ve outgrown the inflatable pool and can’t be lured with Oreos. The column triggered a flood of responses, many talking about the joys of older grands who still greet grandparents with big hugs and even bigger smiles.
And then there was his email:
“I will soon be 96 in a few weeks. I am a widower with grandchildren in their 40s. My great-grandchildren range from 12 to 17. Two thirds of them live within a few minutes from me. The rest are a few hundred miles away.
“Granted, they are all busy people, doing meaningful things. They are happy and healthy, and for that I am very grateful.
“As the years go by, the distance between us gets wider.
“I am not looking for, or asking for, anything. I am not seeking accolades from anyone. But it would be nice, as well as comforting, in my older age to know that they care or even think of me. I guess the word I am trying to say is respect. Is that asking too much?
“I rarely see or even hear from them. I make excuses to myself, but it grieves me. They, especially the great-grandchildren, are growing up and I am not in the loop. That is sad! Very sad!
“At this stage of my life, what else is there to look forward to?
“I guess just knowing they are well, happy, and safe, will have to suffice. But, does it?”
You learn of someone else’s situation, indignation flares and you think, “How hard can it be for someone to stop by?” Then names start coming to mind of elderly friends, relatives who’ve lost a spouse, people I’ve been meaning to call but haven’t gotten around to it.
Maybe that man’s kids, grands and great grands aren’t the only ones remiss.
Another email poignantly illustrated the regret of letting time slip by.
“Concerning visiting Grandma, when I was growing up in the ‘40s and ‘50s, we often visited my only grandmother, because that’s what many families did on holidays, and we took virtually no vacations due to the expense.
“Grandmother was born in 1873 in the Reconstruction Era Mississippi, to a Civil War veteran. She witnessed a huge and important swath of American history, and her knowledge of family history was irreplaceable.
“She came to live with us in her 90th year, while I was in college, and on spring break in 1963, I mentioned to her that we should spend the summer getting family history and stories taken down for posterity. She agreed, and her mind was still as sharp as a razor, but unfortunately, she contracted pneumonia and died while I was taking final exams that May.
“Her knowledge of family history was lost forever — one of my great regrets! So don’t wait. Talk with your grandparents and all older relatives while they are able to remember! All life is fleeting.”
Both writers answered that perennial question of what to give the elderly people in your life.
Time. Sweet, precious, wonderful time.
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.