Let’s Hear it For Gogo and Oupa
As the Church celebrates the feast of the grandparents of Jesus this month, we’ve chosen that aspect of family life for reflection in July.
Some introductory thoughts: “Grandparents, as they grow older, may have difficulty with the walking, but probably not with the talking.
“Their wisdom and maturity should earn them respect. Many play an important role in families, assisting with passing on the faith which is rightly a parent’s responsibility, or caring for grandchildren and continuing to support their adult children in their tasks.
“Care for the elderly themselves is a family’s responsibility returning the love they have and continue to receive.”
Pope Francis in his letter The Joy of Love writes: “A family that fails to respect and cherish its grandparents who are its living memory is already in decline, whereas a family that remembers has a future.“
We perceive grandparenting in so many different ways. You are called Granny, Ouma, Nan or Gogo in a generic way by all the workers in the retirement village because it is easier than remembering the many Mrs So-And-Sos or the fewer Mr This-Or-Thats.
In today’s type of families, with divorce and remarriage, children may have three or even four grandmothers — something quite hard for them to keep up with.
But would you have thought that being a grandparent is likely to take up a large portion of your life, for some even the greater half?
Becoming a grandparent is one of those life situations that you don’t choose, like widowhood.
A three-generation family is not uncommon, and it is less than ideal if it is grandmother, mother and children — sons or daughters.
Hundreds of such families also subsist on the grandparent’s pension or some social grants. That is one form of poverty that needs to be addressed.
A Poverty of Intimacy
However, another form of poverty, often spoken about by St Teresa of Kolkata, is the poverty of intimacy, of a lack of love, poor relationships or neglect, which can happen in any income group.
Many residents in retirement complexes depend on fellow elderly residents for companionship because they don’t see or hear from their children, let alone their grandchildren—unless they need a loan.
In many such cases families have become divided, children might have moved overseas, and grandparent-grandchild relationships hardly exist.
Other older folks are good at social media and communicate regularly on Facebook or WhatsApp.
Of course, these social media relationships mean that the beauty of nice letters to write or read has all but disappeared.
It can also be painful to find out about your grandchildren’s achievements on Facebook, especially if not particularly addressed to you.
Being a grandparent is, of course, also a source of so much joy: from the time of the baby’s birth throughout the years of growing up.
Being a grandparent requires give, receive and take, graciously and gratefully too. There has to be an active component, but not an overly pushy one.
There is much that can be done, but it may be little more than loving (maybe from a distance) and praying about the challenges they face now and in future, their dropping out of church and concern about their faith-life.
So I recommend that parishes have a Grandparent Commemoration, remembering them at Mass around July 26 — the feast of Ss Anne & Joachim, the grandparents of Our Lord—thanking, blessing, supporting and informing the community about their needs.
I also suggest a prayer time for those intentions, privately or in a group.
Maybe the prayer on page 11, from the July-September Family Faith Focus booklet, hits the right note.