WITH Pope Francis’, a.k.a. “Lolo Kiko”, declaration of last Sunday (July 25) as World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, this piece is modestly offered in honor of our beloved grandfathers and grandmothers, or elderly parents.
Let me start with the following fascinating story:
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 elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.
The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. “We must do something about father,” said the son. “I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.” So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner.
There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl.
When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food.
The four-year-old watched it all in silence.
One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor.
He asked the child sweetly, “What are you making?”
Just as sweetly, the boy responded, “Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.” The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.
The words so struck the parents so that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks.
Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done.
That evening the husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days, he ate every meal with the family.
And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled. End of story.
Poignant the story may seem, yet we can readily deduce some palpable lessons.
One, for the husband and wife, the hard lesson is: Do not treat your old parents the way you don’t want to be treated by your child when you grow old. Or, as the story suggested, “do not spurn or serve you frail parents with a wooden bowl if you don’t want to be treated the same way when you grow old”. Old parents ought to be loved, not despised.
Another valuable lesson perhaps that we can draw from the story is the importance of good modelling for our children. The husband-and-wife’s decision to make a wooden bowl for their old man had set a wrong example for their four-year-old son to do the same.
Ostensibly, children are remarkably perceptive. If they see us patiently provide a happy home atmosphere for family members, they will imitate that attitude for the rest of their lives.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6).
And the last, but most important, lesson is: our grandparents or the elderly are God-given treasures; they never cease being useful.
I remember an article published a few years ago in the New York Times revealing that “in one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who didn’t feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful.”
Verily, among the elderly, the sinking feeling of being useless gets amplified and is likely to hasten their journey to their graves.
But, again, like everyone else, grandparents and the elderly too are no less endowed by God with self-worth – and thus, as we likewise desire when we grow old, they deserve our love, affection, respect, and gratitude.
Pope Francis, in his recent message for the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, titled “I am with you always”, thus aptly put it:
“I want to tell you (grandparents and the elderly) that you are needed in order to help build, in fraternity and social friendship, the world of tomorrow...Among the pillars that support this new edifice, there are three that you, better than anyone else, can help set up. Those three pillars are dreams, memory, and prayer. The Lord’s closeness will grant to all, even the frailest among us, the strength needed to embark on a new journey along the path of dreams, memory, and prayer.”