QUESTION: I’m about to have my 89th birthday and I’m in great physical and mental shape. My wife died six years ago. I live in my own home and have the financial resources to pay for a housekeeper and gardener.
My problem is my grown children and their families. On birthdays and holidays they give me lavish gifts that I don’t need, but the time in-between is the most important to me. Rather than give me expensive gifts, I’d rather see more of them. I don’t complain or criticize because I don’t think that would give me any results except to make them feel guilty and I don’t want that, either. I also don’t want them to feel they have to visit me. I’m a good conversationalist and I’m interested in what is going on in my kids’ and grandchildren’s lives.
Please say something about families spending more time with their elders.
~ Not Going to Be Around Forever
Dear Not Going To Be Around Forever,
Do you wait for your children and grandchildren to call you? If that is the case, it is in your power to turn this around by using all the smarts you have amassed over your long life. Think about each person you wish to have around more often and invite them individually to do something with you that they enjoy doing and you will enjoy as well. Everyone enjoys going out to lunch in a pretty setting. There is the Santa Monica Pier, for example; why not call your son or daughter and invite him/her to pick you up and spend the afternoon going there followed by dinner? Invite your grandson or granddaughter to experience the sunset with you from a local highpoint where you can see the inspiring view and share a few moments together. When you are together, make sure to ask questions about the persons’ life, her aspirations, her triumphs, his trials, relationships, work and leisure time activities. Be the one to bring something up and happy into their lives and they will smile when they see you coming.
If you have never taken the initiative like this, understand that you might have to be clever and persistent to make this happen. It is not easy to break habits of a lifetime. However, when you are the one to offer and invite I believe your family will appreciate being seen by you and will respond with accepting your kind offers of fun times
together. I know I would.
Rabbi Janet Bieber
Jewish Community & Learning Center of the Foothills
Dear Not Going to Be Around Forever,
While I don’t know your particular family dynamic, I can venture to guess that there are two different lifestyles in play here that create your situation. You’re a retired senior with your needs comfortably met, and there are probably few demands on your schedule. You wonder why the kids don’t just drop in and visit, as you could drop everything to converse and enjoy company. Your children are not in that place. They still struggle with life’s exigencies: paying bills, meeting deadlines, getting to-and-fro and essentially powering through the daily hustle and bustle. I’m sure they love you and would like to see you, but they probably have difficulty finding time (which could explain the lavish consolation gifts that make no sense to you). They probably do feel that they “have” to visit you, because they should; you’re their dad, but they aren’t doing a good job of it because everything else gets in the way.
At nearly 90, you’re right, you’re not going to be around forever and if something doesn’t change, they’ll regret it and you will be forlorn unto death. I say that they need to hear your concerns. You might start with your upcoming birthday. Have some cake, thank them for the presents, but tell them how much more valuable would be their presence. See if you can establish regular visitations. In my work, I hear people lament the fact that they can’t find time to pray or read their bibles. I tell them they’ll never “find” it; they have to make it. And so your kids have to “make” the time to ensure the patriarch of the family is not abandoned to himself or from themselves.
And with your spare time, arrange to make their visits invaluable. Prepare something more than just sitting around talking about new medications or how the Dodgers are doing. Make ice cream together. Go somewhere special. Pull out old family photos. Tell stories that haven’t been heard before. Help them view their visits with Pop as respite rather than just more responsibility. And invite them to church for Easter!
Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
QUESTION: I think it’s probably an age old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I’d like to go a step further and ask, “And how can we as friends and family help them through the bad times?”
My neighbors have a beautiful 7-year-old son who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. The little guy and I get along really well. Sometimes he would just come over and talk to me when he saw me sitting in my porch swing. He’d help me carry in groceries and, if he thought my porch or sidewalk needed sweeping, he’d sweep them without asking.
I have my own grief to deal with over his condition, but more importantly, I want to support him and his family without being intrusive. What is the spiritual thing to do?
~ Love My Neighbor Kid
First of all, ask the parents if they’d mind if you said a prayer or two about their son. Next – assuming you have their permission – get a prayer group together and pray for the boy. If you go to church, maybe you have a prayer chain in your church. My church has one. And if your church doesn’t, maybe you could start one.
One thing I want to throw in here is that prayer helps, but it isn’t necessarily a cure for a brain tumor. In a movie about the Oxford don C. S. Lewis, Anthony Hopkins played Lewis, and one of the things Lewis’ character said is, “Prayer doesn’t change God; prayer changes me.” Also, in an old hymn we sing in my church, one of the verses has the line, “Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.”
It is interesting that this issue of the little boy suffering a brain tumor should come up now, in Lent, with Holy Week not far behind. This season in the Christian calendar is a reminder that we all die, that it hurts to live an authentic life, and that sometimes right does not triumph over wrong (the crucifixion of Jesus, for example). We have hope, of course, in the Resurrection that follows – but life is not fair, and pain is involved in living.
The philosopher Renee Descartes is well known for his famous quote, “Cogito ergo sum,” which means, “I think, therefore I am.” I think we can add something to Descartes’ observation: “I hurt, I feel pain; therefore I am human.” Or to put it another way, “I suffer; therefore I am.”
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Canada Congregational Church
Dear Love My Neighbor’s Kid,
What a wonderful neighbor you are to care so much for this 7-year-old boy! The age-old question of, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” will never cease to be a mystery. I believe the best way to approach that question is with another – what would love do? How does love respond? It sounds as though you are doing just that.
When conditions of life occur, we may call something good or bad, but if we are willing to view each circumstance as a blessing and a gift, we can use it as an opportunity to love more and to be more of the unique expression of life we came here to be. Physical problems and illnesses have a way of bringing us fully present in the moment. They help us to appreciate the simple things of life and have more patience with those around us. They also remind us that life is a treasure. We begin to see that issues that appeared to be a priority lose their power when we face the truth that only love matters.
The relationship that you have established with your neighbor is an opportunity to dig deep to the love inside of you and when you do you will find you are grounded in your Source, the Divine Mind of Spirit. In doing so you are not only helping the boy and his family, but yourself in the process. Continue to be that soft place for your neighbor to land – be present and know that love is always the answer.