Grieving for my great grandma

This letter writer hasn’t felt the same since their great grandmother passed away. 

Our elder shares her own experiences of grief and counsels, give yourself time.


Dear EWC

I don’t really know how to talk about this kind of thing but my great grandma passed away in October. I haven’t felt like myself since then. I haven’t been able to experience pure feelings such as real happiness. I want to talk about it but I don’t know how I always feel like the black sheep of my family and I don’t want to bring it up to them. I don’t know how to explain it and even though it sounds crazy but she wasn’t just a person to me. I don’t mean it like she was the only person I felt close to kind of deal but more like she was symbolic to me. I knew when I went to see her that it meant things were going to be happy and good. It would mean it would be summer and I’d get to see my dad or go to the beach with her. She represented my whole childhood and now I’m going to grow up without her and I don’t know how to do that. I mean I’m not depressed or anything I mean I’m happy I can smile and genuinely mean it. Every time I think about her and the memories I had with her I can’t help but cry. I didn’t even know anything about her but she meant so much to me and I don’t know why. I don’t think anyone gets truly how much she meant to me. Ever since the day she died I cry over the small things or make myself sad for no reason at all. I don’t know what to do or what’s even going on in my head. I just want help please.


Granny-Nora replies

I’m so sorry for your loss. It is not easy to lose someone you love. I hope I can help in some small way.

Grief is a very individualized thing. We all grieve in different ways. There are many phases of grief; depression, anger, hurt, denial, isolation, etc. We don’t all go through the same phases at the same time. Sometimes we backtrack and go through a phase a second time. Eventually, we come to acceptance. 

I’m old enough to have lost many family members to death – both parents, both parents-in-law, a sister-in-law, a brother-in-law, aunts, uncles, cousins, my brother, a miscarriage, and the loss of my 35-year-old stepson. I’ve also lost quite a few friends. Each time the process of grieving was different for me.

My dad and I were very close. He had been ill for a very long time, so his death was not a surprise. However, my heart was totally shredded. After the memorial service, I sent my two children off to Camp Fire camp and completely fell apart. I was glad they weren’t around to see me totally lose it. Then, I went out and bought paint (bear with me here.) I painted the entire inside of my house. When I ran out of walls to paint, I painted the cement on the front porch and the cement walkway in the backyard. When there was absolutely nothing left to paint, I went to the office. At that time, I had a part-time legal secretary job at night (so that I didn’t have to pay for daycare). Normally, I would work from 4 or 5pm until around 9pm. After Dad died, I worked until 11pm, midnight, and sometimes 1am. I just kept working until I couldn’t think or type any longer. My husband is a very patient man, but he was really worried about me. One night (very late) on my way home from the office, a song came on the radio that I used to sing with my dad. I totally lost it. I pulled off on a freeway exit and parked on the shoulder of the exit (which was pretty narrow). I got out of my little Honda and slammed the door hard enough to spring the door so that it never closed right again. I threw my arms onto the hood of the car and just sobbed.

Before I finish that story, I need to give you a little back story. When my siblings and I were growing up, Dad had a cute trick for keeping us in line in public. If we were being obnoxious in a store, or at a family reunion, or out in public somewhere, he would walk up behind us and set his hand on our shoulder. That was our cue to stop whatever we were doing. If we didn’t stop, he would squeeze the shoulder ever so lightly. If we didn’t stop, he would squeeze a little stronger. There is a pressure point in your shoulder. At some point, even the stupidest child is going to stop! Meanwhile, Dad never said a word, never raised his voice, never broke the conversation he was having with other adults. It was amazing!

So, back to the freeway exit. As I was sobbing on the hood of the car on the unsafe narrow shoulder of a freeway exit at probably 1am, I felt my dad’s hand on my shoulder. Instantly, I knew everything was going to be alright. I knew I was okay; I knew Dad was okay, and I knew my family would be okay. I don’t know if you are a religious person, but frankly, I wish I had turned around when I felt his hand on my shoulder. What would I have seen? I will never know. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to turn around. Maybe I’m not supposed to know what I would have seen. Maybe I would have seen nothing. All I know is that I did feel his hand on my shoulder. Someone (my dad, my Heavenly Father, my Savior, the Holy Ghost, my guardian angel) gave me the kind of comfort I needed when I needed it. After that, I was fine. I moved on with my life.

I reacted quite differently when my mom passed away. It was much easier for me because I knew how very much she missed my dad, and I was grateful that they were finally reunited. I found peace knowing that they were together again. I missed her dearly, but I was at peace with her death.

The death of my stepson was hard. He was filling a pothole on a freeway exit when a 25-year-old kid who was late to work came down the freeway exit at 70 mph and hit him. He left a widow (who is ill), and three children. His stepson was 18, but his daughters were only 8 and 10 years old. I didn’t grieve for three full years. I told myself I had no right to grieve. I was only the stepmother. I felt I had to keep it together for my husband, my children, my grandchildren, my daughter-in-law, and even my husband’s ex-wife who, after all, had lost her son. I took charge of funeral arrangements, spoke at his funeral, helped my daughter respond to media requests, and later testified to the California State Assembly in favor of the Slow Down Move Over law to keep highway workers and emergency responders safe. A year later when the CHP report was finally released, family members could not read the full report. I read the entire 116-page report (in all its gore) and relayed the information to the family that they needed to know. Three years after his death, I was working on a deadline at the office (I worked full-time at that point) when I caught a glimpse of my stepson’s picture on my desk. I totally lost it. I sobbed uncontrollably. Unfortunately, I still had a brief to get to the courthouse by 4pm. I worked the entire day while sobbing. I learned that even stepmothers have to grieve. Delayed grief is not pretty.

Grieve the way you need to grieve. Don’t compare your grief with that of others. Don’t take on guilt. You have lost someone special to you. I’ve lost many family members and friends at this point. Since I married a man who is 12 years older than I am, our friends all seem to be much older than I am – most of them older than he is. Many of our friends have passed away. Grieving for a friend is sometimes as hard as grieving for a family member.

Allow yourself time. The one thing I’ve learned is that the grief process is not logical. It was not logical for me to wait three full years to grieve for my stepson. It was not logical for me to go crazy whacko with a paint brush. It was not logical for me to work myself to the bone at the office. Absolutely nothing about the grief process is logical. It is something that just has to happen no matter how illogical a process it is.

One more thing before I close this letter. Grieving people dehydrate. Please drink plenty of water, and eat lots of good fresh fruit; pineapple, grapes, oranges, melons, peaches, nectarines – whatever you can get your hands on. Keep yourself healthy so you are able to cope.

I hope something I said here will help you deal with this. You will be okay. Take one day at a time – sometimes one hour or one minute at a time. If you need to talk to someone, I am here, and I’d love to hear back from you. In the meantime, you will be in my prayers.

Article #: 454620

Category: Other

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