Preserving Dignity at Every Stage of Life: Grandfather and the Wooden Bowl

I am sure you have heard different variations of the following story. I share it here because it carries such a powerful message:

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered.

The family ate together at the table. But the old man’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his fork onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, the milk spilled on the tablecloth. The son and daughter-in-law became irritated and decided to relegate him to another smaller table in the corner, so that they would not have to put up with the spilled milk. Because the grandfather often dropped a dish or two, they served his food in a wooden bowl.

One day the father noticed the little son playing with wooden scraps on the floor. When he asked him what he was doing, he replied simply: “Oh, I’m making a little bowl for you and Mommy so that you will have something to eat from when you get old and need to sit in the corner.”

Immediately the man and his wife realised how badly they had treated Grandfather. With tears of shame streaming down their faces, they escorted Grandpa back to the dinner table to eat with the rest of the family. For the remainder of his days, Grandfather ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband or wife seemed to care any longer when a glass was dropped, milk spilled, or a tablecloth was soiled. 

In the coming ten or twenty years more people will be involved in elder care than in childcare. How will you care for your elderly loved ones?

Rabbi Richard Address, who is one of our keynote speakers at Canadian Boomerfestreminds us that we must always respect the dignity of the individual, no matter what his or her stage of life. In his book, Seekers of Meaning. Baby Boomers, Judaism, and the Pursuit of Healthy Aginghe quotes the Palestinian Talmud. According to this, the person who tells his or her elderly parents “just to relax and enjoy life and I’ll take care of you”, has far less respect for their aged parents than the one who helps to create a safe environment in which the elderly parents can continue to work and contribute to the family’s well-being. In this way the dignity of the elders is preserved.

Perhaps a better variation of our story about the elderly grandfather and the wooden bowl would include not only a place at the dinner table for Grandpa, but also a nice workbench where he could continue to be creatively involved and contributing to family life.

In Memory of Grandma Shirley: Grandparenting as Vocation

This past Sunday some of my friends and neighbours celebrated Grandparents’ Day. Yes, there is such a thing as Grandparents’ Day! it’s a day on which we celebrate and honour the special people we call Grandma and Grampa OR Nana and Poppa OR Gran and Grandad OR Oma and Opa OR whatever special names we call them. Usually this in an older person, normally but not always the parent of our parent.

For example, our children became very attached to a very dear older friend in our first congregation, whom they called Grandma Shirley. She was a wonderful grandmother to them, and celebrated all their birthdays and Christmas celebrations and graduations and never missed an opportunity share her love for them. She looked after them when they were small and watched them grow up with joy. After my own mother died in 1996, her devotion to them became especially important, even to my husband, whose own parents lived across the ocean in Scotland and could not often visit. When Grandma Shirley died four years ago this month, we were all heartbroken.

Today a wonderful book arrived in the mail: The Spirituality of Grandparenting by  Ralph Milton with Beverley Milton. I have just started to read it, but so far I am entranced! And I don’t even have grandchildren! A few ideas from the Miltons stand out even from the first pages:

— Grandparenting is a vocation, a calling: the grandparent’s spiritual vocation is to delight in one’s grandchildren.

— Grandparents come in a variety of  shapes and sizes and many styles and kinds, but they have one thing in common: a relationship between older adults and children.

— Grandparenting can be great fun and deeply rewarding; but it isn’t always a happy relationship and it doesn’t fulfill all of a grandparent’s needs or all of the grandchild’s needs!

— The spirituality of grandparenting is more than a nice warm feeling and more than being able to share your religious beliefs; it’s more about praying for or with your grandchildren.

— Spiritual grandparenting is about learning the art of trust from our grandchildren, a lot like the trust we need to have in God.

I am looking forward to reading more about the spirituality of grandparenting in this wonderful book. Why don’t you order your copy too and join me on the journey? Even if, like me, you do not have grandchildren, you can learn a lot about spirituality in the second half of life from this beautiful testament to grandparenting. And who knows, maybe God is calling you to be a surrogate grandparent to someone on your street or in your faith community who is hungering for the wise, warm, unconditionally loving care of a grandparent — just like our kids’ adopted Grandma Shirley!





Sweet and Sour: Newly Retired Teachers Face both Freedom and Joy, as well as Lack of Purpose and Belonging as School Starts Back Without Them Tuesday….

Two of my friends have recently retired from lengthy careers as teachers.  This will be their first Labour Day in years that they won’t have think about getting themselves psyched up for the start of another school year. No more anxious moments the night before Day One, wondering what the new classes will be like or whether this year’s batch of students will be keen to learn or not.

While there will be no “back to school jitters” for them, I expect they will have mixed feelings tomorrow when those big yellow school buses drive by their homes and they know that they won’t be at the school to welcome all those excited kids off the bus. After all, they loved their jobs and were good teachers. “It’s like sweet and sour,” says one teacher who taught for 34 years before retiring from a career he loved. There’s the freedom that comes from not having to get up early every morning and be on top of your game, five days a week; not to mention the freedom from after school coaching or late night prepping and weekend marking.

On the other hand, there is the sense that one no longer belongs anywhere, or worse, there may be a real void in one’s life, a lack of purpose, or deep feelings of emptiness, at least for a while until new opportunities present themselves and a new routine develops. Retirement specialists often say that this is normal. Many even recommend that newly retired people should take a “gap” year. Don’t commit to anything major for a year. Too often people jump into an endless string of busy activities, finding themselves with less free time than they had when they were working and with no clear sense of how they want to live or what they want to do. Best, the consultants say, to give yourselves some time and space to discern where and how God is calling you to serve in the world.

Sounds like a good idea to me! What do you think? If you are a newly retired teacher and this is your first Labour Day weekend when you have not had to think about getting orgnanised for a new teaching year, I would love to hear from you! How are you feeling this week as the kids all head back to school? And if this is your second, third or even fourth year you have not had to head back to the classroom, please let me know how things have gone for you and how you find meaning outside the classroom today.

As for me, I am just about to pack my lunch, lay my clothes out, and try to get a good night’s sleep before heading back to the office tomorrow! I expect I will follow a number of school buses with excited schoolchildren on my way.