I remember fondly the days when my grandmother would let us set up elaborate tent kingdoms in her living room using card tables, chairs, and every quilt we could find. Then she’d get down on her hands and knees and play in our blanket houses with us. Sometimes, she’d take us camping for real in a little pop-up tent trailer and she’d sleep on a miserable lawn recliner in the middle of the camper while the cousins and I shared the beds. I have pictures of my grandmother riding my bike and sitting on my brother’s motorcycle. But now, she’d say those are the things she “usta-could” do. As she approaches ninety, life is different.
Last month, after 65 years of sharing the same roof with Grandpa, they slept on opposite sides of town. It wasn’t by choice. Grandma needs more skilled care than the family can offer right now, so she’s had to move to the Christian Care Center across town. My husband’s grandparents moved into an assisted living center just weeks ago too. And my other grandparents are nearing this season of life as well.
It would be easy to be drawn into my own hurricane of busyness without thinking about my aging loved ones. But as I watched the autumn leaves swirl in my front yard this week, nostalgia brought me back thirty years to another autumn when we moved away from my grandparents’ hometown. Grandma started a little game with my siblings and me. When a visit ended and we climbed in the Volkswagen for the trip back up North, we’d try to touch her last before she could touch us last. If we could yell “touched you last” and slam the car door fast enough after touching her, we’d win. The giggles erased the sadness of saying goodbye and made it something fun instead. As she aged, Grandma couldn’t chase as fast, and sometimes she’d try to get us with her cane instead of her hand. We usually won. Now, I often let her win, but we still play the game.
I may touch her last with my hand, but she has touched me last with her life. So, as the leaves swirled and the memories floated around me, I picked up a pen and rummaged for stationery. In these days when most of my communication takes place with a mouse and a keyboard, I wrote a real letter to my grandpa and grandma and wondered why I so seldom write to them. After I signed the letter, I inked my finger and placed a print on the paper. Next to it, I wrote, “Touched you last.”
David, the Psalmist wrote, “Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:17-18). Grandparents have so much to teach us, so many stories about God’s faithfulness, but so often they’re forgotten amid our busyness. I realize that many of my readers don’t have grandparents anymore, but when we look around us, there is no shortage of wise elderly people.
Notice how David asks God not to forsake him. There is a loneliness that accompanies growing old, a sense that the world has moved on, that it has abandoned those who no longer actively participate in the community. David reminds us of the need to be remembered in our old age, as well as the need to tell about God’s power and might. It’s a two-way street. The elderly need to be remembered and honored, and the young need to hear what their predecessors have learned along the way so that they can carry on in faith.
This month, I urge you to remember those who are in their autumn of life. Make time for a phone call, a letter, a visit to someone who would be honored by your attention. And now, I have another letter to write, to my other grandpa and grandma.
Article reprinted from my “Habits for Quality Living” column in the October 2009 issue of Wisconsin Christian News