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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The sound of settling

    The signs of spring have been hard to miss: astonishing blue skies, couples holding hands, bursting bouquets of sugar bunnies in the Walgreen’s aisles.

    This time of year, it is easy to get lost in the promise of the future, whether it be budding love or changing seasons. But amid the pastel celebrations, don’t forget to share your love with those much older than you: your grandparents.

    While this time of the year is often devoted to candy-coated new loves, it has a different significance for my family. One year ago, at age 92, my grandmother passed away. In the two years before her death, she provided a continual reminder that life is not always consumed by the uncertainty and anxiety of the college years.

    My relationship with my paternal grandmother was, as I suspect it is for many, one of appreciation but not devotion. When I was young, phone calls felt like an obligation, consisting of dutiful reports of schoolwork while I sat cross-legged on the floor by the telephone.

    As many of my friends and others will attest, that seems to be the societal norm for our generation: Relationships with grandparents tend to be, as one friend put it, genial but distant.

    We can fear dementia, we can fear the fading of beauty, but in the end these parts of life are as unavoidable as the passing of night and day.

    This was not, and will not always be the common experience. Grandparents’ involvement in raising children has been steadily increasing as Baby Boomers join the 65 and older ranks. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 1970 to 1997, the number of children living in a household maintained by a grandparent rose by 76 percent. While this may have not been my case, the last two years gave my family a taste of the tears and laughter that can come with a close relationship with grandparents.

    Life for my family dramatically changed when my grandmother moved in with my parents. During her last year and a half, we watched the slow decay of her razor-sharp memory and acute social awareness as her body ground to a halt. All the other deaths in my life had been sudden, searing cleavages. My grandmother’s death, though, was like the slow setting of a crimson sun. Her passing showed me that, unlike the violence we’re used to seeing on TV, death can be a gradual exit from life, welcomed like the steady years of growth that turn infants into independent adults.

    Coming to terms with a grandparent’s death, while difficult for students, is usually much harder for parents. A grandparent’s death, said Jeff Greenberg, a social psychology professor at the UA, is “”a rare time, if not the first time, when as a young adult one has to provide comfort to one’s parents.”” Coping with death can in this way be means of growing closer as a community.

    For many young adults, the idea of dying, especially the gradual winding down of life, is a difficult thought to confront. Many friends, when asked, told me they would rather die a sudden death than die gradually in a nursing home. Degeneration flies glaringly in the face of all that seems important and pressing to us; success, work and beauty are but distant memories for the elderly. We can fear dementia, we can fear the fading of beauty, but in the end these parts of life are as unavoidable as the passing of night and day.

    Because of this, there can be an inherent disconnect between youthful adolescence and the weathered elderly. While I was entering adulthood, filled with ambition and energy to embrace life, my grandmother was exiting life, growing tired and weary.

    But the more time I spent with her, the more I realized that aging, when taken day by day, is the same challenge we face as students daily. We must decide to resist the temptation to obsess over our problems, resolving to focus on the here and now. Finding enjoyment in life, regardless of the number of candles on the birthday cake, often means learning to resist the temptation to be overwhelmed and overburdened.

    Michael Hammer, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a business management expert, once said, “”When memories exceed dreams, the end is near.”” As Hammer hints, life is always marked by a struggle between the push and pull of living too much in the past or too much in the future. Finding the right balance is key to not only coping with difficult deaths, but also finding common ground with our grandparents.

    Yesterday, there was no card from my grandmother, signed in her old-fashioned cursive scrawl, waiting in my mailbox. But there is a picture sitting on my desk that is a constant reminder to me that life is a circle of growth and decay. A circle that must be taken one day at a time, and shared with the ones we love most dearly. During this season typically devoted to professions of new love, make a phone call just to let your grandparents know you thought of them. You’ll never regret it.

    Matt Rolland is a junior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at

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