A Warm Welcome for Nana

January is drawing to a close, yet the indelible memories of Christmas with my daughter, son-in-law, and two young grandsons continue to buoy my spirits. Not only that, but those dear little boys, flesh of my flesh, are a powerful incentive to do everything I can to give myself the best chance possible of celebrating many more Christmases to come. This must be why social scientists, in study after study, have shown that strong family ties are one of the most important keys to enjoying continuing vitality as we age.

What’s so amazing, though, is that my family members and I are close without living close to one another. In fact I sometimes wonder whether my special status as a Skyper and holiday visitor who has never had occasion to babysit or discipline my grandsons doesn’t actually enhance our relationship. A favorite anecdote of mine is the time my daughter asked the older boy when he was three to name someone he’d like to have over that afternoon for a playdate. “Nana,” he said without missing a beat.

He’s four now and his brother is two-and-a-half. They were at the airport in December along with their parents and the Yellow Labrador to greet me when I arrived in Phoenix from New York City. As I made my way toward the baggage claim area, the boys spotted me and started jumping up and down and chanting “Nana! Nana!” When I waved back, the other travelers grinned broadly while clearing a path so I could hurry toward the waiting arms and kisses. Even the dog, not to be outdone, managed to pull at his lead and jump up to lick me with such enthusiasm that he nearly knocked me over. What a welcome! All that was missing was a hug from my grown son, who couldn’t make the trip from his home in Washington State because of work commitments. I called him and put my cell on speakerphone so everybody could chime in with good wishes. We felt connected after all.

I live alone now that my kids are grown but I’m not lonely. Because I was a single mother from the time they were teens, our bond was always especially profound. Even so, I wanted them to follow their own stars and they did. People ask me if I’m sad that my children live far away. The answer is no. I have two wonderful places to visit, the Southwest and the Northwest, and I have a powerful sense of being linked to my family across the miles.

Of course I also have plenty of what researchers call “social support”, including meaningful work with colleagues I like and respect as well as friends and fun activities in my daily life. But the welcome I got in December 2012 at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport plus the phone call soon after with my son trump everything else. I know for sure that loving my family so deeply and feeling the love they give back to me literally “does my heart good.”

Sondra Forsyth is Co-Editor-in-Chief of Thirdage.com and Founder and Artistic Director of Ballet Ambassadors.


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