My children have learned loss at a very young age. They lost their paternal grandfather very unexpectedly when my oldest two were almost three years old. Their maternal grandfather has a disease that is taking his mind. They are walking a road I wish no little child, or anyone for that matter, had to walk. This is not meant to be somber, but a sharing in how our family is walking a road of grief, while keeping the joy and legacy of their grandfathers alive; being the memory keepers of the lives of these family members we love so much.
During the weeks surrounding my father-in-law’s sudden passing, we lived with my mother-in-law. It was a time that was heart-wrenching and confusing, many moments running on adrenaline and shock. While my husband was deep in grieving his father’s sudden loss, I needed to keep my head on straight despite the pain my own heart was feeling. I needed to provide a little bit of normalcy in this new, not-so-normal world these little hearts were facing. Their hearts and minds are so open and ready to be filled with so much good, and when a sudden loss in the family happens, you have to help them in a new mode, one of grief processing.
Since our children are young, we kept them away from the deepest moments of sadness the week their grandfather passed away, but they understood there were somber moments. And currently, with their grandfather who is sick, we visit and bring him pictures and goodies we’ve always enjoyed together, and we spend time with him watching his favorite movies. But in the moments he is most confused or frustrated, we give him a little space. Just like adults, children all react to situations differently, being different ages and personalities. We kept that in mind when explaining and exposing them to things.
Instead of focusing on the sadness and the confusion that our children faced, we chose joy, choosing to keep going the life and legacy of their grandfathers. At the right time, we explained in a way their ages could understand, what was going on — what happened to one grandfather and what is happening to the other — but we are keeping their memories very much alive.
Now that our children are walking this road, we have tried to do some things that would make their grandfathers laugh, smile, and be oh-so-proud. For keeping the legacy of my father-in-law alive, we choose things that were special to him, or special to us that we hold memories of together. My father-in-law loved golf, so while my little ones can’t play a full round of golf, going to mini-golf is a really fun way our family can enjoy something he loved. If the family member loved fishing, take your kiddos fishing.
Another way to honor your loved one is to go to a favorite restaurant you frequented together and have a “Grandpa” (or whoever the loved on was) meal. My father-in-law loved milkshakes. Gosh, that man could down them like water! So we always get milkshakes for him on the anniversary of his death. Throughout the year he is very much a part of our life and our conversations, but on his anniversary or birthday, we kick it up a notch! We talk about our memories we have with him, or in my kids’ cases since they don’t have as many as my husband and I do, we tell them lots of stories and things he loved to do with them. Even add something fun like having them draw pictures of their memories or the ones you’ve just retold to them.
One an incredible doctor and one a most respected police officer, both of these men were the most loving and proud grandfathers you could have met. If you had asked either of them, or anyone close to them, their most treasured gifts and accomplishments were not the letters after their names or brass bars on their chest. For the both of them, it was their grandchildren, the pride and joy in their lives. While we grieve the loss of one grandfather not being here for us to make new memories with, and the other we are walking with through a hard road of sickness . . . forgotten memories and little opportunity to make new ones . . . we are encouraging our little ones’ hearts to be their memory keepers, having them make these memories into their grandfathers’ legacies.