THE BLOG

The Gift I Would Give to Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

04/27/2015 06:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015
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They say that there may be children, someday, who could live to be 1,000 years old. Can you fathom that? Some humans could continue to live for what would be well more than ten current lifetimes. We aren't there yet. But this isn't so far out of the possible. Some medical researchers are already talking about resuscitating those who die up to five hours after death. It involves special technologies that aren't widespread, but it's on the horizon.

Of course, if humans could live that long, who would we allow to do it? Would we choose only the best and the brightest to live such long lives, or would it be the right of the rich? Would we favor the genetically gifted? Would we, instead, grant fantastically long lives only to those willing to travel to other worlds through centuries of the blackness of space, spreading humanity to the far reaches of the galaxy?

If we could reverse the course of disease, if we could suddenly undo the physical and mental ravages endured by untold millions from injury and illness, I would offer it first to those who have suffered the most. I would pick those who spent lifetimes in wheelchairs, in hospital beds, unable to enjoy the wonders of this world except vicariously. Who better to spend 700 or 900 more years, walking, talking, working, loving? Who could enjoy it more thoroughly than those with the incredible perspective of liberated prisoners?

But then again, aanother group comes to mind. And that would be the amazing, and dedicated, grandparents who are currently spending their old age raising their grandchildren. I see them all the time in the emergency departments where I work. For whatever reason, their children cannot (or will not) raise their own sons and daughters. And for reasons of love and devotion, of duty and mercy, grandparents fill the void.

Some are young grandparents; raising children again in their forties or fifties is not easy, but the memories are fresh. They still have much of the strength of years recently past. Others, however, are 60, 70 or more. Ordinarily, they would slow down and rest. They would take what little retirement they had saved and visit family, friends or places they always dreamed of seeing. Instead, out of absolute passion for the children of their children, they circle back around once more and start fresh.

They fight for custody, they change the diapers, feed and bathe the children. They take them to school, clothe them, care for them in their sickness. They help them with homework and take them on vacation. They protect them and indulge them. Sometimes, the original family is reinstated with time, or after troubles have passed, jail terms have been completed. Many times, however, grandparents are the only parents children will ever know.

If I could, I would grace these people with fresh youth. I would reset their cells, renew their joints, freshen sick hearts and lungs, build new muscle, eradicate the risk of death from cancer. I would fit them for the task ahead; for running in parks and swimming in rivers, for wrestling and jumping on trampolines. I would give them the strength they need to keep working to support their grandsons and granddaughters, the strength they desire to have fresh, unmitigated passion and capacity once more.

And then, when they had done that precious, monumental task, when they had modeled parenting and protected and cared for their descendants, I would let them start all over. I would reset them so that they could go to school again, try new careers, travel to new places. I would give them the ability to continue on in health, joyous in the knowledge that they did what was necessary, what was vital, for their vulnerable grandchildren. It's a long way off, no doubt. But I can dream.

Just like I dream of a world where all children are safe in families. Where no child is abandoned or lost, ignored or wounded or left to his own insufficient devices. The grandparents I see who are raising their grandchildren have the same dream, and are willing to sacrifice to see it come true. And from what I've seen, simply being with their grandchildren is a kind of rebirth and extension, by necessity, of a bit of their own youth.

If I could give them 1000 years, I would. But it appears that for most, raising those children in safety is all the reward they really want.