It can be very hard to cope with the death of a grandparent at any age, especially if you were close.
However, we often grieve the loss of our grandparents differently depending on at what age we lose them. We interviewed one of our readers, Tracey, who has, sadly, lost all of her grandparents, some as a child and some in adulthood to find out how she experienced these losses.
What was your relationship with your grandparents like? At what age did you lose them?
“I was fortunate to meet all my grandparents before they passed on. As a kid, my family and I lived in a big city, but would always travel to the village every December to celebrate Christmas with our extended family. Being Africans, we had little or no choice as it’s a huge part of our culture for families to travel from distant towns to the villages for Christmas festivities. This practice definitely gave me the opportunity to know all my grandparents.
Whenever we went to the village, we would live with my paternal grandparents, who both died in a house fire disaster when I was just 7 years old. To be totally honest, I do not remember much about their personalities, aside from the fact that they told me beautiful stories about our traditions and often took me to a village river for swimming.
What was the experience of losing a grandparent like as a child?
I don’t remember much about losing my grandparents when I was a child apart from feeling bad because my parents were sad. We were living away from my grandparents at that time, and I probably didn’t totally understand what was going on. Moreover, I didn’t attend the funeral because my parents left us in the city and went to the funeral in the village. I honestly don’t have a vivid memory of how I felt since I wasn't present during the burial. However, I understood what death was, but didn’t know it could leave an everlasting wound in the hearts of loved ones.
However, as I grew older, I got to understand from my father and his siblings what a charismatic couple my grandparents were. Both of them were village primary school teachers who knew how to strike a balance between giving their children the best life and not spoiling them. They were generous and very funny. My grandfather was particularly filled with humour and would crack jokes at the slightest opportunity.
Looking back now, I feel sad that our time together was quite short. It’s a pity they didn’t watch me grow into a matured woman; they didn’t live to witness my wedding nor meet any of my kids. All I have right now is a few pictures of my grandparents and although I regret the fact that death snatched them from us so soon, I’m consoled by the legacy they left behind. To date, my family is highly respected in our village because my grandfather was a man with integrity.
How was it different losing a grandparent as an adult?
On the other hand, I lost my maternal grandmother five years ago. She had been very instrumental in my life since I was 9 years old. My parents had a messy divorce and my mother had no choice than to take my siblings and me to her mother (my grandmother) while she struggled to heal and move on with her life in the city. As a child who was used to city life, I found many difficulties and challenges adapting to the village setting, but my grandmother made it a lot easier for me. She would sing beautiful songs to cheer me up whenever I was sad and moody. She would go out of her way to buy and cook certain food stuffs that were never readily available in the village just to make me and my siblings happy. Many a time, I fell sick and my grandmother would take me to a local health center for treatment. Whenever I flash back to how caring she was, it’s hard to not shed a tear. She was indeed the definition of a strong woman. Unlike my paternal grandparents who were educated, my maternal grandmother had never been to school. Yet she understood the value of education and enrolled me and my siblings in a local primary school. Every evening, she would find out if we had assignments and would make sure we had time to do them, so we would not be punished in school the next day.
My siblings and I spent up to 6 years in the village with our grandparents, before our Mom came for us. Even today, I still continue to see my maternal grandmother as my number one heroine and role model. She is the woman I keep striving hard to become. She was never rich nor educated, but she had so much love and wisdom to give out. She made mebe ambitious in life and one of my highest dreams was to become rich so she could enjoy the fruits of my labour before exiting this world.
Unfortunately, she died six years ago after a long illness associated with old age complications. Even though her death wasn’t a surprise to me, the pain was still intense. I remember sobbing profusely upon receiving the news of her death. The good thing is I’m currently at the point where I feel proud that we gave her a befitting burial, which was the talk of our village. I think she deserved that and much more. I also feel consoled that she was present during some of the best moments of my life, like when I got married and when I welcomed my first baby. I will never ever forget her because of the endless sacrifices she made for me when I was younger.
I also knew my maternal grandfather very well who died 12 years ago. He was such a caring man who complimented my grandmother so well. He also helped in shaping me for the six years I lived in the village. He would tell me interesting stories and I really enjoyed going to the farm with him during the holidays. Sadly, he collapsed and died on a fateful Sunday, about twelve years ago. The pain was intense and the fact that his death traumatized my grandmother made things even more difficult for the entire family. His death was such a shock as no one saw it coming. My entire family grieved for so long and things really took a toll on me considering that the people I loved so much (my grandmother and mother) went into depression. Luckily, they gradually came to terms with the situation as the days went by. I was also lucky to have caring friends who were there for me. Also, going for a holiday trip with a few of my friends to a neighbouring country really helped in distracting me.
Did your childhood losses help you cope with grief better when you were older?
Dealing with the death of my grandparents was quite draining. Luckily, I had a strong support system considering that I, my cousins, aunts and uncles were in it together. Moreover, it was easier for me to come to terms with the loss of my maternal grandmother since I had already experienced the death of my paternal grandparents when I was just 7 years old.
Having spent time with my grandparents before losing them to death, the major lesson I have learnt is to make the best of every moment. I therefore urge all of us to try as much as possible to show kindness, compassion and love to our relatives because life is too short and the next day is never guaranteed. Above all, let’s be reminded that death is inevitable and will definitely visit our families at some point in our lives.
My heart goes out to everyone who has just lost a grandparent, whether you are a child or an adult. One thing is sure that you are not alone as many of us have been there. Just take it easy and try to stay close to your support system. It’s also OK to distract yourself with some of the things you love doing. Remember, there are no clear rules for how people mourn, so just do the things that make you feel better as long as you are neither hurting yourself nor others in the process. As cruel as death is, you can rest assured that the burden will become a lot lighter for you if you choose to look at the bright side of things. That said, learn to appreciate and cherish the beautiful moments that you spent with your grandparents.
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