When I go digging through my closet, I find old receipts and expired coupons. When I explore my grandma’s closets, I find family treasures. The last time I was visiting her, someone found a painted portrait of my great-great-great-grandmother Lizzie. It was an eerie feeling staring into the eyes of someone related to me who was born in 1848 — before the Civil War.

I wonder how much of my life is shaped by people I never met who lived generations ago. I never met Grandma Lizzie, but she influenced the generations who influenced my grandma, who influenced my mum — and they both certainly influenced me.

Most of us have heard since we were kids to “honour your father and mother.” In biblical times, that cultural context of honour included grandparents and any other living ancestors. I only have one living grandparent, and I don’t want to look back with regret on the time I have left with her. The idea of honouring my grandma may not be as clearly defined as the idea of honouring my parents, but simple gestures can make a big statement.

1. Keep them informed about your life

We’re the real winners here. Where else can we find such an attentive audience? Grandparents are usually interested in our lives. They love to hear what we are doing, and they probably update their friends on our lives. My grandma enjoys hearing about the trips I’m planning, career choices I’m considering and how I spend time with friends. Finding similar experiences can lead to some meaningful conversations. Since my grandma taught young children in church for several years, I love to tell her stories about my preschool class.

2. Get interested in what they’re doing

We’re adults now, so our conversations need to be two-sided. Let’s ask questions about what our grandparents are interested in or doing with their free time. Who are some of their friends? What books or movies do they like? My grandma enjoys books, so we talk about what we’re reading.

This is also our opportunity to learn more about what their lives were like years ago. What are some of their most memorable childhood experiences? What stories can they tell us about when our parents were small or our age? What do they want to tell us about when they were our age?

3. Thank them

Our grandparents have given us a family heritage, but they also usually give us material help. We need to appreciate these gifts and be specific in telling them how they’ve helped us. I remember when my grandma gave me spending money for a trip I took shortly after high school. I loved knowing she was interested in my trip. And she loved hearing that her efforts in my life were not forgotten.

4. Call or visit regularly

I’ve heard too many stories about senior adults who rarely receive visits from family members. For those of us (like me) whose grandparents live out of state, we can at least call them regularly. Once after I had called my grandma at her assisted living facility, I found out that she had later told all her friends about my call. Hearing how much it meant to her made me prioritise those regular check-ins.

5. Remember important dates.

TV commercials and Facebook ads won’t let us forget about Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, but Grandparents’ Day slipped right by me last year. Not this year! It’s Oct. 27, 2019 in Australia, if anyone would like to know. I’ve already marked it on my calendar.

Texting may or may not be your grandparent’s preference, but they might like a phone call or real mail for their birthday, Valentine’s, Christmas or other important dates. And if you can’t be with them for a holiday, please reach out with a phone call, a card or maybe even a text.

Honouring our grandparents won’t happen on its own. My grandma lives in another state, which makes staying involved in each other’s lives that much harder. But it’s possible. Technology can help, as proven by the fact that both of my grandmas had Facebook accounts before I did.

None of our grandparents are perfect. If yours were not the committed and available grandparents that you wanted, the cycle could end with you. Take the time you have left with them to change your relationship.

I never met Grandma Lizzie. And the likelihood of having my own kids who could meet (and remember) my grandma is unlikely, too. But while our grandparents are here, we have an opportunity that won’t last for decades. While we can, let’s be a part of their lives — writing letters, sharing stories, making memories and maybe even looking through some closets for treasures.

© 2019 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at boundless.org

Lauren Dunn

Lauren Dunn is a writer and toddler teacher, and she blogs at These Traveling Days. She loves to read books that are so good they make her want to crawl into their stories, and she can never have enough of her favourite Pixar movies or chocolate chip cookie dough.

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