We live a considerable distance from our own grandparents. Our six children are fortunate if they see them more than once a year. They love their grandparents very much, enjoy visiting them, anticipate and remember visits, and try to keep in touch through telephone calls, letters, and pictures, but distance is simply a tough restriction and limitation on the relationship between our children and our parents.
As my wife and I talked about this situation, we concluded that we wanted our children to learn about family traditions, family history, values, the aging process, illness, death, and life changes by experiencing them with loving older persons. The question was, how? That was when we came up with the idea to adopt some grandparents closer to home. Of course, these special people do not replace our own parents in our children’s minds. Our children know that they belong to our parents by being born in the family and that there is more than enough love to go around—for us, for our children, and for our adopted grandparents.
We acquired our first set of “adopted grandparents” more by chance than planning. Our eight-year-old daughter asked to accompany me on my next visit to the “place where old people live,” a retirement home in our ward boundaries. It was an imposing structure on a hill with beautiful trees and gardens. I had visited with several couples periodically and usually related interesting bits of information about my visits when I came home. One couple was especially stimulating. They had no children and had been converted to the Church late in life. We had shared some good visits and I had had a wonderful experience in giving Sister Geiger a blessing.
Michelle was full of questions about the home as we drove up the hill past the guard. I sensed her awe of the huge buildings and gardens and her uneasiness with the older people who spoke to us as we walked up the broad steps and waited in the parlor. She held my hand as we followed Brother Geiger up to their apartment. After introductions she sat nervously on the edge of her chair while we adults chatted, but Sister Geiger asked Michelle a few questions and showed her some exquisite needlework. Michelle has a cat and loves stuffed animals so she was soon admiring Sister Geiger’s porcelain cats. We left with Michelle promising to return soon.
All the way down the hill Michelle bubbled over with ideas about things she wanted to make for her new friend, Sister Geiger. All week she coaxed me to take her back. Her enthusiasm was so contagious that her five-year-old sister asked to accompany us on the next visit. Both came away enchanted.
Gradually our whole family began to make the visits. Our three-year-old son was especially taken by Brother Geiger and always wanted to sit on his lap. Their names appeared in the children’s prayers soon after the visits began, and they remain there to this day. Ryan can’t remember Cooper, Chamberlain, or Geiger but we know all are accounted for as he blesses “grandpa and grandma and the other grandpa and grandma and the other grandpa and grandma.”
Soon we felt at home. When the switchboard operator saw us coming, she would call the Geigers and say, “The Coopers are here to see you,” and then tell us to go on up. The children would skip down the halls saying “hello” to all they met and competing to push the elevator buttons. When we watched a movie in the home, our six small children were patted by others, given treats, and showered with attention. They loved it.
Our children made gifts, wrote notes, and prepared songs to sing and play on the violin just to make Brother and Sister Geiger happy. Holidays were enlivened with special activities for them. The Geigers reciprocated with cards and letters on special occasions and little treats when we visited. In a short time and in a natural sort of way, they became “Grandpa and Grandma Geiger.”
The Geigers gave our children experiences and blessings we as parents could not have provided. Each visit was a learning experience. The younger children felt the warmth and affection of being loved by someone other than parents and teachers. Our two older girls have pled tearfully with the Lord during Sister Geiger’s illnesses and operations. They have recognized some facts about the life cycle and the limitations of age from what they have seen and heard in their visits.
An excellent by-product of our visits has been concern for people outside the children’s natural circle. Our whole family has passed from uneasiness to genuine comfort in the presence of older people we know. In fact, we didn’t realize how deep these feelings were until we had to relocate three-thousand miles away. Our farewell at the home of Brother and Sister Geiger was a tearfilled, moving experience for us all.
Since our relocation, the Geigers have remained in our children’s prayers right along with the natural grandparents. The children send loving messages to them, and the pictures they give are identical to the ones they send their natural grandparents. One of Sister Geiger’s porcelain cats sits in our living room, now transformed into a bank for missionary funds, a treasured possession from an adopted grandmother who wants to help remind her “grandchildren” of a future duty.
This marvelous couple have been a real blessing in our lives, but now they are three thousand miles away. They taught us, though, that the more we love, the more we can love.
This lesson inspired us to begin a search for another set of adopted grandparents. We discussed the matter for several weeks and then decided to ask for guidance. Two days after our family prayer on the matter, we were out working in the back of our acreage in the garden and a retired gentleman farmer living on the adjacent 80 acres drove up on an old tractor.
He and his wife lived on their family farm in a hundred-year-old house—no children, no grandchildren. By the time the first day was over, we knew our prayers had been answered. A warm relationship quickly developed. In time, we shared garden produce, kittens, walks in the woods and holidays. For us, the finding has been well worth the seeking.