By Melodie Veldhuizen
Prior to Covid -19 and the accompanying restrictions, many grandchildren and grandparents saw each other at least once per week, or even daily. However, in one fell swoop even those who live just a stone’s throw away from each other are in the same boat as cyber grandparents and grandchildren and the only communication with each other is via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime and WhatsApp. In difficult times a person’s emotions are just as vulnerable, if not more, as the body. Granddads, grandmas and grandchildren suffer and long for each other’s physical presence.
Why is personal contact between grandparents and grandchildren so important?
Alison Bryant, senior deputy president for research at the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), says, “The relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is important for their mental, emotion and physical health.”
The following statement is made in an article in the Wilmington Parent: “Children’s view of a healthy, normal relationship is shaped by their relationship with their grandparents. Through regular contact, emotional intimacy and steadfast support, children experience what a sincere, positive relationship should look like.”
Touch is most probably our most powerful sense. From birth onwards touch pacifies us and conveys the message that someone cares. We experience a warm feeling in the heart when we are touched, whether it be with a hug, holding hands or other physical gestures of rapprochement. It sooths our mind, lessens stress and anxiety and make us feel less lonely. The elderly who live alone often experience missing touch – their spouses have passed on and often their children and grandchildren live far away. This is precisely what takes place during the lockdown because grandparents have to forego the physical contact with their grandchildren.
We are programmed to forge emotional bonds that strengthen our relationships. Verbal communication enhances this bonding and physical communication confirms it. Touch often conveys a message in a manner not possible with words, which is why technology does not fill this gap. David Isaacs, a granddad and professor in paediatric infectious diseases at the University of Sydney, emphasises, “More than ever before, the elderly now need support, which is why physical distance and not social distancing should be the key factor to the health of older people.”
Prof. Henry Brodaty, a grandfather and fellow-director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at the University of New South Wales, (UNSW), warns that the dangers linked to not being able to see their grandchildren, weigh heavier with some elderly than their physical health. He says, “One of my patients is alone and depressed and she grieves over her grandchildren who usually visit her once per week – the one highlight in her life.”
Dr Harma, the Prime Minister of Norway, recently held a Covid-19 press conference for children only. According to her, it is especially difficult for the younger children, who don’t have a concept of time. If they normally see their grandparents regularly, it feels like an eternity for them before it may happen once again. Although it is comforting to hear their voices and see them on video, Skype or Zoom, it is not the same as a warm hug. It is very important for them to realise that Grandma and Granddad still love them just as much as always.
Numerous heart-wrenching stories
From various sources we hear of people who experience loss, anxiety, sadness as well as disappointments due to the lockdown. Some are resigned, while others display an undertone of rebelliousness.
“I understand it, but it’s very difficult. It goes against our view of being together and contact and the fonds we forge with our grandchildren. It’s difficult, especially because we don’t know how long the situation is going to last,” says a sad granny.
Another granny could not celebrate her 90th birthday with a big party. However, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren did surprise her with a motorcade in the street in front of her home but she was sad that she couldn’t greet each one with a hug. She hopes that in the future opportunities for hugs will once again present themselves, “because by the time the virus no longer exists, I might no longer be alive”.
Many tales also exist about grandchildren and great-grandchildren having been born during this time. Blankets crocheted with love in every stitch could not be handed over personally to the newest addition to the family. And who knows when, if ever, the meeting between grandparents and new grandchildren will ever take place. Similarly, baptisms of name-sakes are missed, with the only memento and memory a photo on which Granddad and Grandma shine in their absence.
Children eagerly looking forward to their birthday parties, where grandparents would usually be the guests of honour, have to be content with Zoom parties and the gift that can only be handed over later.
The situation is even more serious when grandparents have to be hospitalised due to the coronavirus or any other serious medical condition, because when a grandparent dies, the opportunity does not present itself to say goodbye. Merely the thought thereof is heart-wrenching. An adult granddaughter relates, “The last time I saw my granny was when she was being taken from the ambulance to the hospitals’ casualty ward. I called after her so that she could know I was still there. I told her I loved her and knew these would be my last words to her. Granny died a few days later on her 88th birthday. It is during such times that you want to hold your dying loved one’s hand and look each other in the eye, so that both can get closure.”
And so, precious time which grandparents could have spent with their grandchildren is lost. An emotional but also physical loss that can never be redressed.
ABC. Net. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-19/how-grandparents-maintain-connection-in-coronavirus-isolation/12067994
Comfort Keepers. https://www.comfortkeepers.com/info-center/category/senior-care/article/the-power-of-touch-and-what-it-means-for-the-elderly
NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/coronavirus-robbing-grandparents-precious-time-families-n1196776
The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/29/grandparenting-from-a-distance-how-coronavirus-challenges-the-closest-bonds
Wilmington Parent. https://www.wilmingtonparent.com/family/five-reasons-why-grandparents-are-so-important/#:~:text=A%20child’s%20perspective%20of%20what,positive%20relationship%20should%20look%20like.