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In the blink of an eye, the love of Sharon’s life was gone. She wanted just to curl up and hide under the covers. To wallow. All their hopes, plans, and dreams evaporated in that moment when Tom died. If ever there were a time to collapse and zone out on responsibilities, this was it. No one would expect or demand anything of her at this time. But there were these people—little ones and teenagers—clamoring for Nana. Their grief-stricken Nana.
Sharon couldn’t imagine navigating through the waves of grief crashing over her life, let alone grandparenting without the love of her life. Perhaps you, too, are in her boat.
I offer the following six gentle suggestions gleaned from real-life experiences of those* who have gone before you on this journey. These ideas should not be viewed as a rigid to-do list with condemnation that inevitably results when something is missed. Instead, consider how you can grieve the loss of your love as you simultaneously move into the next season of grandparenting life.
*Names are changed
1. Look Outside Yourself
Karina: When my Dave died, I felt paralyzed. I didn’t want to go anywhere or see anyone. I just couldn’t function. But my grandkids’ needs motivated me. I couldn’t let them down by not coming to see them. I thank God for using them to help me put one foot in front of the other.
Grief brings both emotional and physical pain. Excruciating pain. Our minds fix on simply surviving. It seems impossible to look outside yourself at these moments. But if we follow Christ, we are never excused from imitating Him (Philippians 2:7). Even in our grief. Even in pain. Jesus gave up His divine privilege—what He deserves—to die on a cross for our sins. As imitators of Christ, we give up what we think we deserve to do what He has called us to do.
Children have a way of pulling us out of ourselves. Their needs press us, drawing us into their world. We can, and sometimes do, resist. We reason that our grandchildren don’t really need us. That they have parents to take care of them. We might think it’s okay to ignore their needs to tend to our own. While we balance processing our loss and reaching out, grandparents must recognize their important role in influencing grandchildren.
2. Don’t Try to Fill the Shoes of Your Love
Gabriella: It was tempting to try and continue the things my husband did with the grandkids. He liked to do building projects with them. But I realized it just wasn’t me. It wouldn’t be authentic. So I did what felt natural for me. I can’t be him.
When the love of your life is gone, you shoulder so many new responsibilities. Where work was once shared, it now falls entirely to you. You find yourself doing tasks you never dreamed of—fixing a leaky faucet, cleaning out gutters, keeping track of birthdays, and much, much more.
In the same way, it’s tempting to try to keep up with all your spouse’s traditions with the grandkids. To pick up where they left off. Perhaps they worked on a car together. Or played a particular card game. Or went to breakfast together once a month.
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Before jumping in, ask God to direct your steps. Don’t be afraid of allowing a void if you know you can’t continue the tradition. No matter how much you’d like to be both grandma and grandpa to your grandkids, you probably cannot fill your spouse’s shoes. Trust God to permeate the emptiness in their lives left by your spouse. Concentrate instead on doing what you do best and helping your grandkids accept and cope with their loss.
3. Cry Together
Linda: Tears were always close to the surface. While being with my grandbabies sometimes relieved my pain, there were times tears just spilled out. Sometimes you just have to cry together.
Remember that your grandchildren have experienced loss too. Often, it’s the first time they’ve faced death. Though losing the love of your life is different and more profound, children acutely mourn the loss of a grandparent. The Bible tells us there’s power in experiencing the ups and downs together.
Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15 NLT).
You have the challenging but blessed opportunity to help grandchildren sort through their grief even as you process your own.
4. Remember Together
Teresa: Most people were afraid to talk about Mark around me for fear of hurting my feelings. My grandkids are too young to know any better. They blurt out whatever they remember. Surprisingly, it felt good to talk about him. I love keeping his memory alive in their hearts.
Friends often tiptoe around when someone has died, afraid to mention their name. They feel awkward, not knowing what to say. But children don’t know the social norms of mourning. They naturally talk about whatever comes to mind. While unpredictable, their chatter often relieves and releases pent-up emotions.
Being able to reminisce with your grandchildren about your spouse fills the void left by the usual silence. You may be surprised at how your grandkids perceive and remember your spouse. When you hear their take on events, you may even see your love in a new light. Laughing together and crying together as you remember pours healing balm on wounded hearts.
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We also want grandchildren to know their heritage. Hearing about and remembering their Mimi or PawPaw helps form their identity. Sharing favorite memories reinforces that they are loved. If faith was integral in your spouse’s life, make sure your grandkids know it. When you intentionally weave threads of faith into memories, grandchildren learn to honor God in their own lives.
5. Offer Hope
Amy: I knew Paul was in a better place with the Lord. I knew God promised I would see him again. But I felt so vacant – so hopeless after he died. The last thing I wanted to do was put a happy face on it. But I could see my grandkids were devastated too. They needed me to tell them how to trust and hope in Jesus. Looking back, I see how encouraging them bolstered my own faltering faith.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Your grandkids probably don’t know how to grieve with hope. Though it’s not an assignment you requested, God has uniquely positioned you as their teacher.
So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you (1 Peter 4:19 NLT).
God promises to give purpose to our suffering. Helping grandchildren understand there’s hope of life after death is undoubtedly a purpose grandparents should embrace. Remind them that this lifetime is limited, but an amazing eternity with God awaits all who put their trust in Jesus.
6. Spend Time
Megan: Every summer, Rick and I took the grands for a week of Grammy and Pappy Camp. After he died, I couldn’t imagine pulling it off on my own. I wanted to sit in a corner and cry. But I pulled up my big girl pants and did it for their sake. I wanted them to know I was still there for them even though Pappy was gone.
In my ministry with elementary-aged children, I often hear the sadness that comes from losing a grandparent. Kids fondly describe how Nana made cookies with them or how Grandpa always came to watch their sports.
Time equals love.
When grandparents spend time with children, it communicates they are important. They feel loved by the one who takes the time to be there. If you spent time with your grandkids before you lost the love of your life, try to continue. Children depend on your faithfulness, just like we need steadfast God, as the world around them rapidly changes.
Time also equals opportunity.
It takes time with kids to get to the deep stuff. Especially as they get older, children need to spend time with you before revealing what’s underneath the surface and opening their hearts. Be patient and consistent. You will be rewarded with opportunities to sow seeds of God’s truth and unconditional love into their minds and hearts that will yield an abundant crop in due time.
You are equipped for such a time as this.
Your life is in God’s hands. He prepared you in advance for this awful yet bittersweet season of grief and purpose. May he [God] equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen (Hebrews 13:21).
Right now, you may be simply slogging through the muck of your grief. And that’s okay. Processing grief is not a race. But remember, God joins you there in the mire. He grips your hand to direct you to new and solid paths as you learn to grandparent without the love of your life. Will you allow God to instill His good and pleasing purpose into your loss to bring glory to Himself?
Ultimately, you will find that God uses your commitment to grandparent without the love of your life to heal and restore your shattered heart.
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Annie Yorty writes and speaks to encourage others to perceive God’s person, presence, provision, and purpose in the unexpected twists and turns of life. Married to her high school sweetheart and living in Pennsylvania, she mothers a teen, two adult children (one with intellectual disabilities), and a furry beast labradoodle. She has written From Ignorance to Bliss: God’s Heart Revealed through Down Syndrome. Please connect with her at http://annieyorty.com/, Facebook, and Instagram.
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