Topics on Aging

By Juan Gallo

How Do You Honor a Grandparent If the Relationship Has Been Broken?

December 29, 2023

As we prepare to enter 2024, I have a simple message: Take the new year as an opportunity to reconnect with an estranged grandparent. 

When a relationship with a grandparent suffers hurt or broken trust, it’s often too easy to avoid the person entirely. It’s tricky enough to stay connected to grandparents we like — especially if they don’t live nearby. 

However, I would encourage you to take that extra effort and reach out. What’s wrong with calling to wish Grandma or Grandpa a happy new year? 

Putting your own baggage aside and just doing what’s right can go a long way, especially when someone is older. 

To mend or not to mend

When relationships are broken, most people think you must mend the damage for that relationship to continue. People assume that if there isn’t an apology or an attempt to address the hurt, then there should be no contact. 

I don’t believe that. I think you honor people — especially when it comes to older relatives. Checking in with your grandparent doesn’t have to mean they deserve your effort. 

I equate it to attending a funeral for someone you don’t like. You’re not always at a funeral because of the person’s track record in life. 

Sometimes you show up as a sign of respect because they’re family or because of the relationship you once had. Sometimes you’re just honoring the fact that that person was human and they deserve a display of dignity.

Why should we wait until the person dies to show that respect? 

One important caveat 

Now, I don’t mean to say that you should put yourself in danger. This advice is not for those relationships that ended because of abuse — of any kind. 

If that’s your story, a display of respect at their funeral is likely the best option. I would not attempt to unpack that level of trauma with a few paragraphs of advice. 

Your own physical safety, mental health, and/and emotional wellbeing should NOT be sacrificed for the dignity of someone else. 

Prison visits

For the rest of us, the Bible doesn’t say to love your mom and dad. It does say to honor your parents.

I believe the same applies to a grandparent. Maybe you don’t have the best grandparent. Maybe they offended you or did something unforgivable. Maybe they never apologized and never saw themselves in the wrong. 

That doesn’t mean they should never be cared for ever again. 

People in prison are being punished for something they did wrong. If their punishment is just, the temptation is to think: “Let them rot for what they did!” 

However, Jesus taught us to visit those in prison

Sometimes I feel like we put people in an emotional jail. We think: “You wronged me.” Or
“You wronged my parents, so now I’m never going to talk to you again.” 

I don’t think that’s right. 

Lost history

Sometimes we don’t know the full story. We believe our parents and trust the stories they told us as kids. 

Now as an adult, you can appreciate that every story has at least two perspectives. You get to the age where you have to find out the story on your own. 

Take time to listen to your grandparents’ stories. If the recent past is too fraught with emotional baggage, ask for older stories. What was their favorite childhood game? What was school like? What did they think about their first job? 

Those stories are part of your history, even if your relationship with the person isn’t something you want to dwell on. 

Filling in family history is worth the effort of connecting to a grandparent alone. If nothing else, you gain the ability to learn from history and not repeat mistakes.

Let 2024 be the year you honor your grandparent by reaching out. 

Read more about:
Juan Gallo
Juan Gallo is the CEO of Heart2Heart Outreach, where he oversees the mobilization of volunteers to provide hope, share love and restore purpose to the lives of the aging population across South Florida.

He also serves as a local pastor and as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University, where he is teaching a course on diversity and aging. Juan has a master’s degree in counseling and psychology and is a licensed mental health counselor intern.

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Juan Gallo

This blog is a frank conversation about what it means to age in our society.

I want us to consider what a wider range of diverse experiences when we talk about aging. I want to reflect on how we, as a community, want our neighbors and our mothers and fathers and our grandparents to live out their latter decades of life. I want us to consider each one of their voices as we strive to meet their needs.

Join me for weekly discussions about what it means to be a senior in South Florida and how we can and should respond to the growing needs of the aging population.

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