Grieving a grandparent

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Whether expected or sudden, loss is never easy. Our family recently experienced a great loss with the death of our beloved Oma, German for grandmother. She battled difficult illnesses, and her body couldn’t fight any longer. 

As far as mothers-in-law go, I hit the jackpot with Oma. She lived in the Marina, and was a part of our daily lives, regularly attending sports games, making ice cream deliveries, and walking with us around the Palace to feed the ducks. To know Oma was to love her — she made everyone she met feel like family. While she had been suffering for a while, death is something you are never truly prepared for. It is a challenge to help your children grieve while you are also grieving. This is new for us, and every family and circumstance is different, but here is some guidance that might help if you are ever in the same situation:


Throughout Oma’s illness, we were very open and honest when speaking to our kids about what was happening. Seeing someone you love deteriorate physically and mentally can be hard and scary. We talked to our kids about how Oma helped them growing up and how it was now our turn to help her. They were able to visit her often, make her smile or help her with a small task, which was a gift to see. 

When she was close to death, we gave each child the choice to come and say goodbye. Each of them chose to come. When she took her final breaths, she was surrounded by her grandchildren, who were sharing stories with her, holding her hand, and telling her they loved her. Death can be scary, but this experience was beautiful. 

Later, there were a lot of normal questions about what happens to her body and where she will go next. We were clear they could ask us anything and we would try our best to answer. For us, the answers are grounded in our faith, so we explained that Oma had gone to heaven and is now our guardian angel. She is always looking over us, even though she is no longer physically with us. Your answers may depend on your own belief system, the relationship to the person who died, and your child’s age and developmental stage. 


We all process grief differently. I heard someone say recently there is no way around grief, only through it. The sadness is overwhelming and comes in waves. Grief can have a big impact on our physical health — lack of sleep, inability to sleep — so it is important to take care of yourself. 

Children may process grief at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. Make sure to carve out time and space to create a supportive and comforting environment for them to ask questions and express their feelings. One idea is to encourage them to draw a picture or write in a journal if talking about it is too hard. It’s O.K. to share your feelings with your child. We let our children know regularly we miss Oma and feel sad too. Sharing a memory or pointing out something that reminds me of her helps the kids feel less alone. It also helps model for them what it looks like to grieve and carry on. 


Finding ways individually and as a family to remember your loved ones is helpful. In the short term, it could be asking if someone would like to participate at the services and what that might be. This could be anything from greeting people to a speaking role. Long term, it could be planting a tree or doing something special together on your loved one’s birthday or anniversary of their death. We received a wind chime that is now in our backyard. When the wind blows, the chime is a reminder that Oma is always near in our hearts. Mementos also help children to remember loved ones. These can be a piece of jewelry, a special coin, or a favorite picture of them for their room. 

The loss is still raw, and I don’t have all the answers. I do know it takes time and we need to be gentle with ourselves and our children during our time of grief. Oma was my most loyal reader of this column, and was always helping others, so I know she would be glad I shared this experience with all of you. Godspeed Oma! 

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