When Your Grandparent Has Died
Like most people, when you were little, you considered your grandparents special. When you think of grandparents, your thoughts are filled with memories of the nostalgia which surrounds the old saying, “Over the River and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go...” You recall the memories of fresh-baked cookies, fishing poles, wonderful summer days and the aroma of gingerbread at Christmas. Your grandparents gave you unconditional acceptance and a lot of love and hugs, took up for you when you were naughty, always tried to get mom and dad to lessen your punishment. You could always count on your grandparents to cheer you up.
But, some people only have dreams of grandparents that would be like this. You always hoped beyond hope that, through some kind of miracle, your family would become the ideal Norman Rockwell family. So, even if your childhood memories are ideal, you probably still have a special place in your heart for your grandparents.
When a grandparent dies, you lose your connection with the past and the wisdom of a generation. You lose the ability to retreat to the safety of your grandparent’s home. Your safe haven is gone forever.
If your relationship with your grandparent was not what you would have liked, you forever lose the opportunity to develop a good relationship and to receive the feeling of unconditional love and acceptance. You grieve both childhood memories and childhood wishes.
What Am I Feeling?
Grief is a natural and normal reaction to loss. It is a physical, emotional, spiritual, social and psychological response. It is a complex process that affects every aspect of your life. Love, anger, fear, frustration, loneliness and guilt are all a part of grief. It is important to understand that grief is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith. People grieve because they love and care for the person who died. Indeed, grief is the price people pay for love.
You may experience sleep irregularities and find it difficult to fall asleep or you may sleep all the time. You may have a change in appetite, finding yourself feeding that hole in the pit of your stomach or not wanting to eat at all. Heartache, restlessness, crying, irritability, upset stomachs and feeling like you have a knot in your throat are natural responses to grief.
Grief sometimes comes in waves and can be paralyzing. You may feel numb, frozen inside and exhausted. You may not be able to concentrate or remember things. Sadness or feelings of emptiness may temporarily overcome you. You may experience headaches, muscle aches and generally be tired and overwhelmed. Grief hurts.
Anger and guilt are common emotions. You may feel angry with God, your parents, your spouse, your family or with others. You may be angry with yourself. The ‘if only’ thoughts and ‘should have’ thoughts can cause tremendous doubt. You may think of all the things you wish you had done or said. Feelings of guilt often accompany or follow anger. You may feel afraid and worry that you will lose all of the special memories that are connected with your grandparents and your childhood. You may want to withdraw and be left alone. Life just doesn’t seem fair. You’ll need to grow up and face the reality in life called death.
With the death of your grandparents, you move one step closer to being the person family members turn to for leadership. You may feel cheated, particularly at holiday times when everyone has a tendency to reflect on the past and the richness of family traditions. You may become the person responsible for family celebrations and passing on family rituals and traditions.
Does the Death of a Grandparent Change My Perception?
Very often, the death of a grandparent may be your first experience with death. You learn for the first time that mortality is a part of life. Your carefree vision of the world has been shattered and you may feel overwhelmed.
It is normal to worry about your own parents and what they are feeling because one or both of their parents have died. You may find yourself trying to comfort them. All of a sudden, you are confronted with your own fears about losing your parents. Additionally, you realize that your family, your children and your grandchildren will not get to create their own happy memories and experiences with this special person or persons.
How Long Does Grief Last?
There are no time frames for grieving, although many expect it to be over quickly. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. So, be patient with yourself and others in your family. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is just your way!
What Can I Do?
Allow yourself to experience the feelings and pain that accompany grief. They are normal. If you try to push them away or hide them from yourself or others, they will prevent you from finding the space to remember the good times you shared with your grandparents.
Take care of yourself by paying attention to your diet. It is important to limit caffeine and drink more water. Getting exercise is important because it can reduce the stress of grief, just 15 to 20 minutes of walking is all it takes to break the stress cycle and give you a fresh outlook on life.
Recognize that the relationship you have had with your grandparents can never be taken away from you. You can treasure and save these experiences forever. Record your memories in a journal or scrapbook. Make a photo album that tells the story of your grandparents’ life and the life you shared with them.
You might want to create a family tree or a genealogy chart. This will allow you and your family to hold onto your heritage. It will give you something you can pass on to your family as time goes on.
Share your thoughts and feelings. You may want to talk with someone who has traveled the journey of grief before you. It will help you understand that you are not alone, crazy or a failure. You might put pressure on yourself thinking you should be over grief faster. Grief can last far longer than anyone expects. Be gentle and kind with yourself.
When a grandparent dies, and you think of moments that can never be shared again, remember that those moments will never lose their wonder. Hold tight to your memories and remember first and always that your grandparent lived a full life.