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Grief, Grandma’s Way

A “walk” at this point was a short and slow stroll around the yard. But she was still teaching. “You see, dear, when things are hard, it’s important to walk and sleep and eat as if they weren’t. If you take care of your body, it will take care of you.” My grandma, the sugar-holic, preaching good health habits? I was incredulous. This was a woman who would gladly eat chocolate cake three times a day if it were available. I said as much. “Honey, when you get to my age, it doesn’t matter anymore. I ate my vegetables for over 80 years. If I want to eat cake now, I’m going to eat it!” Right.

When my grandfather died, I felt guilty for not being able to fully cope for awhile, especially since Grandma seemed to be handling it better than I was. “Don’t fret about it,” she said. “Grief just takes as long as it takes. It you just let yourself feel it fully for a little while each day, you can do the things you have to do. Besides, I’m more used to it.” She taught me to respect that everyone’s timing in grief is as individual as our timing in all other things. She taught me that we can carry on with our responsibilities if we make sure to carve out some time to feel the grief fully at a special time each day. She taught me that time does heal and that, over time, even death becomes more manageable.

The loss of another friend this week brought all of my grandmother’s words back to me. Feeling at sea and sad made every task feel daunting. Then I remembered: Make time for grief. Talk about it. Remember the joy. Eat your vegetables. Be patient. Those are practical instructions I can follow even while feeling mad and sad.

Of course, I eventually lost Grandma too, at a still young 94. She was wise and with us until only a few months before death when she turned inward, getting ready. But of course, I really haven’t lost either my grandma or my friend. Gran lives on in all she taught me. My friend lives on in me in lots of good memories. And both are on my nightly list.

Grandma’s lessons for coping with death

  • Accept that death is part of life and as such is nothing to fear.
  • Death is random. We really have little control over who or when. Accept that too.
  • Love and sharing don’t stop with death.
  • You only really lose somebody if you stop remembering them.
  • Every new grief is an opportunity to remember all those who have gone before.
  • Talk about those you’ve lost with people who care. It’s good to share your feelings.
  • Make room for the sadness. Then remember the joy.
  • Take care of your body and it will take care of you.
  • Be patient with yourself. Grief takes as long as it takes.
Grief, Grandma’s Way

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). Grief, Grandma’s Way. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.