How to prioritize intergenerational living

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The digital age, while offering unprecedented tools for communication, has paradoxically limited the depth of our conversations, propagating trivialities while neglecting the essence of what it means to be human. Among the casualties of this age are the stories and experiences of our elderly relatives and friends, whose wisdom and memories make our lives richer and, thus, deserve to be honored and cherished. As the Church prepares to celebrate World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, it’s an ideal time to pay tribute to our parents, grandparents and other loved ones, and preserve the stories and faith they hold dear.

Our grandparents possess a wealth of experiences and knowledge. Years of life have shaped their hearts, making them stewards of the past and cultivating virtues worth emulating. Their stories, often untold and even more often ignored or overlooked, typically carry a profound sense of empathy and understanding. When our grandparents share their tales, they transport us to other times and provide us with a glimpse into their joys, sorrows, triumphs and challenges. Their narratives resonate deeply with children especially, since these memories help children to know who they are and, more importantly, to whom they belong.

In the age of smartphones and digital distractions, we should encourage our children to use these devices not merely as tools for entertainment but as instruments for recording precious memories. We ought to remind them to capture moments spent with their grandparents. By doing so, we can create a repository of memories that will endure long after our loved ones have passed, ensuring that their voices and legacies live on.

The bonds of our faith

Think about the hilarious and embarrassing stories about parents, gleefully recounted at family gatherings by grandparents. They often become the stuff of family legend. These anecdotes not only bring joy; they serve as a reminder that a family’s history is a tapestry woven together by love, laughter and the occasional misstep. Such narratives remind children that their parents and grandparents were once young, knowing their share of mischief and mistakes, making them more relatable figures. Family stories remind us that we are part of something greater and that our actions have the power to echo far beyond our years.

The importance of honoring our grandparents goes beyond personal connections and family bonds; it extends to the very fabric of our faith. In his message for the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, Pope Francis encouraged grandparents, saying: “It makes no difference how old you are, whether you still work or not, whether you are alone or have a family, whether you became a grandmother or grandfather at a young age or later, whether you are still independent or need assistance. Because there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to your grandchildren.”

The Holy Father understands the significance of intergenerational relationships and encourages us to value the elderly members of our communities. Moreover, he knows that their presence serves as a link between past, present and future, and their stories become a conduit for passing down the rich heritage of our Catholic faith — the true meaning of tradition. But they have to believe it themselves!

Seek out their stories

A living conversation between young and old: This is what intergenerational living chiefly consists of. We do not have to share the same roof to cherish and prioritize the presence of the elderly in our lives. Whether they are part of our immediate family or members of our parish or nextdoor neighbors, they have a witness to offer, and we would be wise to receive it.

Visiting the graves of our departed grandparents connects us to previous generations and provides an opportunity for remembrance. By paying our respects at their final resting places, we demonstrate our gratitude for the lives they lived and the faith they handed on to us. It is a chance to acknowledge our roots and pay homage to those who have gone before, paving the way for the blessings and opportunities we enjoy today.

In our efforts to honor our grandparents, we may well uncover hidden treasures — stories that surface and captivate us, stories we have never heard before. These revelations have the potential to become cherished legacies that enrich our lives and connect us; each story a new thread, woven through the years in the tapestry of family life. By actively seeking out these stories, by sitting at the feet of our grandparents and listening with open hearts, we ensure that their wisdom and memories endure for generations to come.

Amid the constant noise of the digital age, both the young and the old suffer from a kind of silence, trapped as it were, by social networks that aren’t real. Ensnared by memory, the elderly suffer from regret even as young people overlook the present and never engage with the past because they are trapped in a merely virtual world. Stories can be part of the answer. Their telling will call hearts and minds to the things that matter. As Ray Bradbury, in a touching tribute to his own grandfather, concluded in his introduction to his novel “Dandelion Wine,” when we call the past to mind and pass it on to others in stories, our loved ones continue to be present to us beyond the end of their earthly lives. “The wine still waits in the cellars below. My beloved family still sits on the porch in the dark. The fire balloon still drifts and burns in the night sky of an as yet unburied summer. Why and how? Because I say it is so.”

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board consists of Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, Gretchen R. Crowe, Matthew Kirby, Scott P. Richert and York Young.