Grandparents – A lifetime of memories

By Wendy Johnstone
June 11, 2010

“What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humour, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.” ~Rudolph Giuliani
I’ve just finished baking cookies. As I pull out the ooey-gooey tray of sinful delights, I can’t help but think of my grandmother and a rush of memories follow:

Meet Wendy, a bean-pole 9 year-old with eternally frizzy hair visiting her Nana J’s house, located just around the corner from her family home, in Toronto. Like any kid, I’m hanging around the kitchen like a bad rash, salivating as I watch my grandmother take out some chocolate chip cookies. I start jumping around the kitchen from foot to foot, like a sprinter preparing for the 100 metre dash. My Nana looks over the rim of her glasses and says, “Dearie, do you ever stop moving those limbs of yours? Let me get these cookies into that hollow leg of yours and then you can show me how you do those cartwheely things on the front lawn.” She winks and smiles and pats my behind out of the kitchen and sets me to work, – putting out placemats, cups and saucers, the sugar bowl, creamer and side plates.

I’m jolted back to present day as my own 8 year old is doing the splits on the kitchen floor and asking me if she can do cartwheels down the hallway all the while swiping a cookie off the rack. I chuckle to myself and think, “At least she comes by it honestly.” She leaps back into the kitchen and reminds me we need to Skype her Nana J back in Toronto tonight. She wants to show her the science poster she made at school.

Fast forward 15 years later. I’m at the hospital sitting beside my Nana J, who is near the end of her life at 92 years old. I’m 24 years old, fresh out of university and ready to fly away on my own. She takes a ring that I’m used to seeing on her hand and tells me she wants me to carry her friendship and love with me through my life. That was the last time I felt the warmth of her hand. The words she spoke that day are still in my heart.

Two months later I, got on a plane heading west to Vancouver to pursue my Master’s Degree in Gerontology and kept my Nana’s promise and friendship close to heart.

Grandparents link the past to the present and the future. As parents, we are the bridge between the two generations. We play a vital role in developing grandparent relationships. We can choose to define it, recognize it, validate it, support it, and celebrate it in a way that continues to empower all generations.
During this holiday season, take a moment and think about your own grandparents. What memories do you still carry with you? What memories do you want to create with your own children and their grandparents?

My Nana J gave me unconditional love and told me countless times how special I was. She supported my dreams, soared alongside my accomplishments and held my hand through broken hearts and tough times. I learned many valuable life’s lessons from the time spent in her presence.

It’s this treasured bond that I want my own daughter to continue enjoying with her grandparents.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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