Neglecting the older generations

My husband and I are both thirty-somethings with living grandparents in their 80s and 90s. For the last few years I have begun to feel a lot of guilt about not paying enough attention to my surviving grandparents.

All of them are still mentally sound (even my mother’s mother, who turns 97 this week) and live more or less independently in their own houses. None of them are shut-ins and all of them have rich social networks in their own towns.

We manage a visit to each of them once a year, perhaps more if something comes up (like my grandfather’s funeral last winter). All of them live far enough away that getting to them is a matter of a long drive, not a plane ride, so the visits take up a weekend. They’re all too old and tired to visit us, of course.

On their birthdays I send my grandmothers cards with checks in dollar amounts equal to the number of years they’re turning, and we talk on the phone.

I just feel an overwhelming guilt for not paying more attention to them. I have been awfully busy myself–in the last five years I’ve finished my PhD, taken a full time job, bought a house, moved states, gotten engaged and married, renovated a house (we did all of the demo and most of the finishing ourselves), moved house again, and gotten pregnant. Taking a weekend to visit doesn’t sound like much, but when there are six million other projects on the line that you can’t work on during the week, it sort of is.

I should call and write them more often than I do.

How often do you talk to/call/visit your grandparents? Just how guilty should I feel?

My husband, who is younger then me, still has two living grandparents, while all of mine are gone. I find I go more trouble to visit his grandparents then he does; I know that they will soon be gone.

Contact has been better since we have our toddler son, their great-grand son. Talk and pictures of him fill up my blog on facebook. Both grandmothers are computer literate, so they keep up with those monthly bolgs and leave comments, so that is a nice natural way of contact. One grandma is a great leaver of comments, so we talk through those and e-mail. Otherwise, we’ve seen her on average once a year or less. The other grandma does her part in organizing family reunions. Last month, she invited only her grandchildren with their kids. All the kids came because it was a great cousin-reunion. A few of the cousins did their part in organizing all of it, so all grandma did have to do was host it at her place.

I also piled up a digital photo album with pictures of their generation and beyond. It was a project to do family research, and the great thing about digital albums is that you can make a print for every famliy member in your branch. Such an album is a graet excuse to visit them and talk about what they remember of their parents and great parents.

You’ll always feel you haven’t done enough. I really suggest writing - my grandmother just died this past January at 91, and she enjoyed my letters (which of course I should have sent more frequently) a lot. She’d read them to anybody who came over. It’s a great way to communicate with people who are hard of hearing - it was impossible to talk to her on the phone. My mom made it up there maybe four times a year, and I went with her at least annually. But you never feel like you’ve done enough.


Take the time to write more often. They really enjoy letters that just update them about what’s going on with you. They don’t have to be formal letters and they only cost $0.44 and about a half hour of your time, every month or so.

I had only one living grandparent during my adult years. She lived over an hour away, but right off the Interstate. Anytime I was on the road and had the time, I would give her a call to see if she would be around, which ended up being about once a year.

I also had an aunt in another city about two hours away, and I always called her when I was in the area to see if she was around, so I’d see her at least once a year. Ironically, the two aunts that I had in the same community as my parents I saw less often–my reasoning being, “Well, I can always visit them.”

If they have photo albums or home movies, you could make a date to view them together and share stories. My Mom recently donated two boxes of old photos and clippings to my somewhat cramped house. She drove them from Idaho and stayed a few days. She identified relatives I had never met, or never seen as children and I did the labeling. She did this because she’d inherited her mother’s photos and hadn’t been able to identify a lot of people. Grandma hadn’t labeled photos of people she knew well.

I’m 32 with 1 living grandmother. I only think about her when I remember to ask my Dad about her (his mom). And of course, threads like this.

Write letters. Elderly folks often appreciate letters far more than younger people do, and like Zsofia said, it’s especially great if they’re hard of hearing. A letter, even once a month, can make a huge difference.

I’m 22. I lost my last grandparent (my dear grandmother) last month after she struggled with Alzheimer’s for seven years. And even though you’ll always feel like you could have done more, right now is your opportunity to DO more. You can. And after they pass, you will be grateful for every letter you did write and every phone call you did make.

It’s extremely rare that I contact either of my grandparents, but we were never close and I feel a bit conflicted about both of them. I feel like I should want to talk to them, but after seeing some of the shit they’ve pulled and hearing about other incidents, I really don’t have anything to say to them.

I fully intend to keep in touch with my own parents, however, and I make sure to call or visit them every few weeks.

I have three…or four grandparents (I could go higher, but am only counting the step-grandparents who were around during my childhood).

I talk to one for a few minutes almost every day. I know she feels bad that she doesn’t see or hear from her other grandchildren often, so I try and keep in touch.

For the others, we’re in contact once or twice a month, three or four times per year, and almost never. Sometimes I do feel like I should keep in better contact with a couple of the others, but it’s easy to slip my mind when there are so many other things to do, and we were never really close. This thread has made me decide to set some time aside tomorrow, for a few phone calls, for sure.

In high school, I was a pallbearer for each of the three grandparents who lived long enough for me to know them. Mom and Dad have been gone for over 20 years now. Trust me when I say: write them letters now, or call them. You’ll be glad you did.

I write postcards. Every 2-3 weeks I send out another batch of postcards to everyone…parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. I find it does a great job of maintaining contact but keeps things short and it includes a pretty picture. My parents have actually made an album of all of the postcards I send them and my grandma keeps them in a stack to show people when they come and visit her. It also gives you a topic to write about if you don’t have anything new to say. “Grandma, the picture on the front of this postcard is of The Guggenheim. They have lots of interesting art! Last time I was there they had several cars hung in the air from the ceiling as an art piece. Cool, huh?” is a lot more fun to read than, “Grandma, how is Michigan? I hope it isn’t too cold!”