Grandparents Crossing the Globe by Angela Caldin
The Pain of Separation
A year or two before I became a grandmother, I had a job providing support to witnesses called to give evidence in criminal trials at a magistrates’ court in London. All kinds of people of all ages, races, socio-economic groups, prejudices, temperaments and beliefs flowed through the doors and I remember very few individual cases. But two people have always stayed in my mind: an elderly couple who had been the victims of a fraudulent builder who had marched the husband to the bank and made him draw out a vast amount of money for an inadequate job. An alert bank clerk had noticed what was happening and had called the police with the result that the builder was prosecuted and the couple were called to give evidence. I discovered, while talking to them as they waited to go into court, that they felt extremely isolated. They had few friends and their only son lived in Australia with his wife and children; they had no support, no-one to turn to and felt the distance from their son to be insurmountable.
I had huge sympathy for them, but after they left I wished I had asked, ‘Why don’t you overcome the distance, scrape the money together and go to Australia too?’ At the back of my mind was the thought that I might be in a similar position myself someday, and sure enough, not long after, my daughter in New Zealand had the first of her three daughters. For the first time, I felt the distance between us to be overwhelming, so great was my longing to spend time with my grandchildren. It was a pull like the effect of the moon on the sea: inexorable and relentless. I would look with enormous envy on friends who happily pushed their little grandchildren around our neighbourhood and cared for them every Tuesday or Thursday while the parents went to work. I was so jealous of the easy contact they had – only a short car ride away from each other, while I had to cross the whole world. As each year went by my husband and I spent longer and longer periods in Auckland, ending up applying for residency so that we could spend as long as we liked. We became the uprooted parents, impelled to follow our children to the other side of the world.
Yes, it’s true: I was in danger of falling into a terrible state of self-pity. But then the reality began to dawn on me: we were by no means alone; we were constantly bumping into and having long conversations with people who had upped sticks and followed their offspring and their offsprings’ offspring to the most far-flung of places. We know a couple who have left Bolton for Brown’s Bay, another who have a house in Greenlane but keep a flat in Greater London, a man who leaves his Welsh sheep farm in the hands of friends for six months so he can spend the other six months near his family in Wellington and yet another couple who have left Gerrard’s Cross for a house in Pukekohe near their son as well as acquiring a flat in Switzerland where their daughter lives. And what is the cause of all this toing and froing across the world, all this incessant globetrotting? It’s a desire to be near family, to see grandchildren grow up, not just for a week or two once or twice a year, but for a meaningful slug of time which will allow for real relationships to develop.
Shaking up Your Life
If we expected anything in our retirement, we certainly didn’t expect this: the vast sums of money spent on air fares, the horrendously long journey between hemispheres, the indecision about where exactly to live, the worry about taxation and pensions, the disinclination to part with the family home, the reluctance to be far from Europe, the unwillingness to leave long-established relationships and the challenges of making new friends. But place against all that the joy of seeing grandchildren grow up and of sharing in their day to day lives and there is, quite frankly, no contest. As the man with the house in Pukekohe with a garden full of fruit trees said to me, ‘It’s good to shake your life up once in a while.’ I can’t help but agree with him.