A Letter From My Grandmother in 1943

It’s as if she is writing about our world today

(Photo: Paul Simpson/Flickr)
(Photo: Paul Simpson/Flickr)

The letter below was penned by my maternal grandmother, Gertrude Stern, to her three children. For unknown reasons, my father had kept the letter for 32 years and then read it aloud during the memorial service for my mother in early 1987. My grandmother, like my mom, lost her life prematurely to tragedy at the age of 52; my mother passed at age 56. Unfortunately, I don’t know what specific happening other than the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, spurred her to pen this letter. What I do know is that her words are extremely relevant today and I only wish I had the opportunity to meet her.

There is certainly something on my mind, and it is giving me great concern. I have three children growing up and my responsibility to them as a parent is very great. We are living in a very different world than we hoped our children would find. They are old enough to understand and be affected by the terrible forces let loose in the world today. Greed and lust for power, war with all its horrors have enveloped almost an entire world; they hear of suffering and of want, of a cultured civilization suddenly become barbaric and ruthless in its path of destruction.

The history books they have studied at school have become very real; history is being made before their very eyes. They are face to face with reality, and we cannot shield them from life which seen through children’s eyes is incomprehensible. And so, we as parents must keep their faith in human beings alive; we must give them ideals by which to live; we must prepare them for the tremendous task they will find as adults.

What can we do now to prepare them for the job ahead? First, I want to instill in them a belief in humanity and prove to them that people cannot get what they want by force. I want them to have a feeling of security — not financial security, for that I cannot guarantee or plan on, but the security that comes from a a happy home, from being surrounded by people who have learned one must give first before one can get. Here in our home, my children can learn the democratic way of life — to work together in peace and harmony; to share equally with the other members of the family; to give and take — which are the essentials of everyday living.

Rather than have my children feel that money and success are important to them, I would like to instill in my children a love for beauty, for the fine things in life, so that in days to come they will not run with restless feet looking for an elusive bluebird.

I want them to find beauty in simple things, in a glowing sunset, rippling rivers, the thrill of watching nature at work.

I want my children to be self-reliant; to be able to stand on their own feet and be able to clearly face a problem and make their own decisions, and when a mistake is made to profit by it. These children will not run away from life but will be able to face and challenge it, no matter how difficult it may be.

I want to do everything in my power to help them grow so that both their minds and their bodies will be healthy. I will not worry about my children or the kind of world they will live in, because I know that with these essentials they will do their part to make it a better place to live in. And, above all, I will teach my children to have faith in the Almighty, for without that light that guides us in the darkness, we would all be lost.

Susan McPherson is a serial connector who believes business can be a force for good. She’s founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, a social-good communications consultancy in New York City. She can be found often on Twitter at @susanmcp1. A Letter From My Grandmother in 1943