Deathbed Relationships

My great-uncle has been depressed lately.

He lives in the same apartment building and my grandmother, his sister.   They are just down the hall from each other.

Over the holidays, he’s seen a steady stream of people visiting my grandma, bringing cards and pictures, or taking her out to eat.   Over Christmas weekend, she spent far more time away from home, celebrating with her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids than she did at home.

He’s never met his great-grandchildren.    He’s in his 70s, living in a retirement home attached to the nursing home he will most likely die in, and he’d like to see his descendants.

It’s too late.

He didn’t lose his relationship with his kids and grandkids in a fight.   Instead, he spent his entire life doing his best to avoid all forms of responsibility.   He spent 50 years avoiding supporting his family.  He wasn’t there for them.

Of course they won’t be there for him.

There is a simple way to get your kids and your grandkids to dote on you in your old age:  You spend your entire life being there when you’re needed.


Building a relationship that can survive–or even thrive–in the times when you’ve got very little left to give takes a lifetime of commitment.

It starts the day your children are born, when you hold that precious little high-maintenance paperweight and swear that nothing bad will ever be allowed to happen to them.   Then you teach them to walk, and teach them to talk, and kiss their booboos when they fall.   And they will.

Day in, day out, you be there.   You feed them, clothe them, punish them when necessary, and love them unconditionally even when they make it hard to like them.   Every blessed day.

You soothe their pains, manage their fears, help them grow and turn into useful adults.  Every flipping year.

When they are adults, you lend an ear, you lend a hand, you help with their babies, you offer advice, you listen and talk and you are there.   Decade after decade.

Then, when you are old and broke and broken down, you’ve got people who love you, who cherish their memories with you.  These are the people who will drive an hour out of their way to pick you up for dinner.   They’ll carry you up the stairs you have trouble with.  They’ll sit at your feet and listen to you tell stories.  They’ll be there for you because you’ve always been there for them.

That’s how you get your kids and grandkids to visit you in the nursing home.  Simple, not easy.

If you’ve missed their childhood–for whatever reason–it’s still possible to build that relationship, but it’s so much harder.   You start by taking time out of your life to do spend time and be there.  Help when you can with what you can.  Be there.

If you wait until you are old and broke and broken down to start your relationship, it’s too late.   Your kids will know that it’s just another example of your selfishness.   If you’ve never made an effort to give, you’ve got know business expecting to get.  You’ll be lucky to get an occasional phone call and a greeting card for the holidays.

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    1. I have really had a personal wake up call the last couple years. I have always had good relationships but in the past I have taken them forgranted. This past year I have been making a real effort to nurture the relationships I do have as well as start new ones. I don’t want to have regrets when I am older and on my deathbed.

      Great post!!

    2. (Sniff, sniff)

    3. This is one of the reasons, I made family and my children a priority. I wanted the relationships for a lifetime and I have. I nourish it every day by talking with my children and to me surprise they like being with us.

    4. A very sad situation. What is even more sad is it seems he must have had an entire life of loneliness; when you spend time with others and help them through life you are full of love. If he spent his entire life shirking responsibility and relationships, I don’t see how he could have been happy all of those years.

    5. This is heartbreaking to hear about. It reminds us that life is precious. Every day is a gift!

    6. Excellent post, Jason. I know that I am there and I will be there for my grandmother who has done so much for me. As for those that didn’t give a damn during my childhood and don’t give a damn now… they can’t expect much in return.

    7. That the truth. We are all super busy, but family comes first. Take care of your kids and they will take care of you.

    8. Excellent post, and I totally agree with what you’re saying. Give your time and energy selflessly to your kids over the years, and they’ll be more likely to be there for you later. Family first. Actually, as I think about it, old friends who you invest time in can be there later too in a different way. Again, showing that you care and are there for someone over the long haul makes them more likely to help you when you’re in need.

      • It sounds cold and calculating, but if you don’t give when you have something to give, nobody will give to you when you’ve got nothing left.


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