from A Grandpa's Notebook, Meyer Moldeven

Occasionally, among the letters I received, was one that reflected deep disappointment and anguish. The writer had tried to contact a grandchild-or a grandparent-who was too faraway geographically or beyond a barrier of circumstance. There were no answers.


A man in his eighties wrote that he had a couple of dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren scattered around the world. Not one had written to him or telephoned, either on their own or in response to his letters and gifts. He was a widower, lived alone, and was the only remaining grandparent. He wanted his grandchildren to know that he was still alive. He had much to offer them, he said, about the family's history and traditions.

'Should I just give up?' he asked.

I suggested that he, as the only living grandparent, persevere and to not accept defeat. Whatever the past might have been, his advanced years called for him to be nonjudgmental, empathic, and healing. I suggested that his grandchildren have or will have families of their own and, in time, will also be grandparents. As elders, they will reflect on their lives and, with a perspective vastly different from their youth and middle years, recall that Grandpa, in his advanced years, had tried to reach out to them as a grandparent in deed as well as in name.

In remembering, they would better understand their own roles as grandparents and their needs as elderly. Through their remembering he will become the 'grandpa' he had sought, long before, to be. Persistence, I reminded him-not giving up-was vital to his well being if not to his life. To stop trying would be to accept defeat. The elderly do not take defeats lightly; at some point the added weight accelerates their downward spiral.

What he was doing for his grandchildren, I wrote, might have profound effects long after he was gone. Grandparenting is both here and now and for the long haul, and it influences grandchildren across their entire life span, not merely for the few years that grandparents were right there to offer guidance and hold them close.

Grandchildren rarely realize it when they're kids-very often not even well into in their middle years-but the grandparents in their lives are forever. Most adults finally figure it out in their latter years. In time, grandkids figure it out-in their turn.


A woman wrote to me about her pre-teenage daughter's repeated but futile attempts to communicate with her grandfather. He was in his eighth decade and resided in a distant state; the youngster was his only grandchild. Intelligent and caring, she had written to him regularly, sent holiday cards and gifts, and baked and mailed cookies. He did not acknowledge.

When Grandpa did telephone-not often-he spoke briefly with the youngster's parents but avoided talking to her. He had not visited for a long time, lived alone, and was a loner with few friends. The mother's letter did not mention a Grandma, and appealed for a 'suggestion.'

I responded that the parent review grandfather's wellness and what his self-image might be in the light of his past. Had he always been as withdrawn as he now appeared to be? How had he related emotionally to his family when his children were young? Had the family been close, or had Dad been distant even then toward his children and their mother? If he had been a close and caring father, when did changes occur that were significantly different, as currently displayed toward his only grandchild?

What might have brought the changes on? Advancing age can be an important factor: changes that occur during a person's eighth decade and beyond can be ravaging, especially if health had seriously deteriorated or a great personal loss experienced. If such was the case, Grandpa might feel strongly not to impose his difficult problems on to Grandchild?

'I don't know if Grandfather can be changed,' I wrote. 'I do believe that Grandfather needs your understanding and your compassion, and the same from your spouse or partner. Equally, but perhaps not aware of it, he needs the understanding and compassion of his Granddaughter. She keeps reaching out to him; I conclude her sense of compassion is strong. Compassion will not be a burden to her; to the contrary, reaching out strengthens her sensitivity and her developing maturity.

In closing, 'I address to Granddaughter the 'suggestion' you asked for: 'Granddaughter, keep trying. Grandpa might not respond, but he hears you. Do not default; do not ever, ever give up.''

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