Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of April  8, 2008)


A risky time for grandparents


  By John Martin

Lock up your grandparents because it's just about that time of year again. What time of year is that, you ask? Why, it's the end of the semester and that can only mean one thing - a whole new batch of grandfathers and grandmothers are about to suddenly pass on as college and university term papers are now due. And it doesn't end there because final exams are just around the corner and that keeps the old people dropping right till the end of April.

Anyone who has taught in a college or university will tell you the same thing. As soon as term essays and assignments have to be turned in, there's a line-up of students who would love to submit on time but it seems they're too traumatized by grief for the loss of a grandparent. And of course those who have experienced this unexpected loss are in no condition to write the scheduled final exam and will require a make-up test at a later date or have the exam waived altogether. And after all that time spent studying too . . . what a blow.

No one is quite sure what it is about week 12 in a semester that ushers in this rash of sudden deaths with the same predictability as the Canucks missing the playoffs yet again. Maybe the elderly share the stress and anxiety of their grandchildren and vicariously succumb to the pressures of being a student these days.

The epidemic is so common that when faculty get together for department meetings and exchange notes, some students, it seems, have lost half a dozen grandparents over a four-year program.

While the phenomenon has yet to be explained there are some patterns that require attention.

It tends to be grandfathers that female students lose, while for male students, it's grannie that's moves onto the next world.

Strangely, it seems there are two times when this tragedy occurs. It either happens the night before the exam or a few days before a major paper is due. And wouldn't you know it; this is exactly the block of time the student had set aside to write their essay.

I had one student who phoned me and left a message after office hours. She was so broke up she could barely explain what had happened and why she wouldn't be able to take the exam the next day. I could hardly understand her message in between the crying and sobbing and it was fully understandable that she couldn't finish and had to hang up mid-sentence.

But in her incoherent state she didn't quite hang the phone up completely and the connection remained open. The strange thing was though, suddenly there was hysterical laughter from two or three girls on the message before it ended. Oh well, people are entitled to handle grief in whatever way they manage.

In any event, if you have grandkids in college or university, please take the utmost care these next few weeks and best of luck surviving another end of semester.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2008