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Dealing With The Loss Of A Grandmother

The Loss of A Grandmother
9″ X 12″
Watercolor on Arches coldpress paper

One loss that most of us will go through is the loss of a grandmother. Sometimes, this loss occurs when we are young and at other times when we are much older, maybe even adults. I am singling out grandmothers in particular for this article because of this is where my experience is. I did not have a grandfather figure while growing up but I know that many people have also experienced just as much positivity and love with them as well as grandmothers. So, maybe my feelings around my grandmother can apply to grandfathers as well.

I did the above painting in 2021, shortly after my grandmother died. It was another one of those intuitive art moments. I wanted to express my grief over losing one of the most important people in my life and I couldn’t think of anything better to do that than the tale of Red Riding Hood.

You all know how the story goes. A girl who is obviously close with her grandmother journeys through the woods to bring her some goodies. On the way she is accosted by a wolf, who runs ahead of her and eats the grandmother. There are various endings, such as Red Riding Hood also being eaten after she arrives at the house and a passing woodchopper rescues them. Other more grim versions don’t even have that rescue, the grandmother is just gone and sometimes, the girl is as well. Fairy tales are really rather dark and grief filled, especially if you read all the original stuff before Disney got a hold of them and prettied them up a little more.

What’s So Special About Grandmothers?

I think there is the typical storybook, fairytale image of a grandmother – actually of grandparents in general – that is presented anyway. But for a lot of us, that’s almost an accurate feeling. I have known a lot of people who, like me, loved visiting with their grandmothers, especially as children. Grandmothers tend to do all the fun stuff, right? They’re there to take you out for ice cream, bake you cookies, buy you toys, tell you and everyone else how wonderful and perfect you are, no matter what devilish things you might really do on the side sometimes.

One thing that makes it easier for them to be like this is that they typically don’t have to deal with the every day responsibilities of child rearing any longer. They can (hopefully) leave the majority of all that stuff to the parents. They get to show up for the fun stuff because they’ve done all that other day to day stuff already.

Grandmothers might also be retired as well. Mine was a nurse and she retired when I was around nine years old. If a grandmother is retired, that often means that they are freed up to spoil you even more because not only are they not dealing with parenthood anymore, they are not trying to manage a full time job either. So, if this is the case, you might get extra attention from grandmothers.

But most of all, I think what makes grandmothers so special, is the unconditional love. They just tend to radiate it, in my experience. And it’s all for you.

Why I Loved Mine

My grandmother was the first person I really remember. Like my very first memories are really of her. My mother was really young when she had me, 19 years old, and so she was still in college. My grandmother was working and apparently, I did have a sitter, but my grandmother was the one who was with me whenever she wasn’t working. I really don’t remember my actual mother much at all until I got to be around four years old. For a period of time, I actually thought my grandmother was my mother and my mom and my aunt, who also lived with us, were like my big sisters. That’s what it felt like.

But when I was around three or four, my mother got married, and because my dad was in the military, we had to move around a lot. I had to leave my grandmother, which I never really got over, because I honestly felt like I was being taken away from my mother, even though she wasn’t really it. My actual parents were super young and trying to work and they didn’t really have much time for me. And when they did, it wasn’t a great experience. They seemed impatient with me and punished me a lot because I was acting out due to my loneliness and misery. I didn’t want to do my schoolwork or keep my room clean, which no kid probably wants to do anyway, but my ongoing unhappiness made it worse. And that made my punishments from my parents worse. (Just wanted to add right quick, our relationship got better over time, more so when I was grown and gone.)

I retreated into art and books at an early age due to that plus all the moving around we did. I was quiet anyway, which my parents tried their hardest to “fix” at times and they were frequently frustrated with me. It was so different when I was around my grandmother, who not only loved me but also liked me. I was perfect to her. She was interested in anything and everything I did. And no matter what I did, I knew she was super proud of me.

One reason I think my grandmother was the way she was with me was due to an experience she had before I was born. She did not have grandparents but she had an aunt, a very special aunt. This aunt was someone I heard so much about, not only from my grandmother, but from my mother and my own aunt as well. I wish I could have met her based on everything I’ve heard about her. This special aunt’s name was Laura and she died several years before I was born. Laura was the person in my grandmother’s life who thought she was the most wonderful kid ever. And when my grandmother had children, Laura loved them, too. So, they were all crushed when she died. It occurred to me, after I lost my grandmother, that this experience with Laura is what most likely led to the amount of love my grandmother gave me. I think she was grieving so badly from losing her special aunt Laura, and then I came along, and she took that love, that love that had no place to flow to like it had before, and gave it to me instead.

My grandmother’s best friend once told me that when I was little, my grandmother was preparing for one of my birthdays. She had all kinds of presents and plans. And my grandmother’s friend said, “That’s an awful lot for just one little girl.” And my grandmother said, “Everyone needs someone in their life that thinks they’re special. And I want to be that person for Nikki.”

I miss her so, so much.

How My Grandmother’s Loss Was Different From My Other Losses

Despite the level of closeness and love I had with my grandmother, I feel far more peace with her death than with the deaths of my mother and my spouse. I am not filled with the levels of despair and anger that I often feel surrounding those losses. I think it’s because I felt like everything that happened with her was what feels, I guess, ideal, if you have to deal with death. She lived a very long life, she was 87 when she passed. She never really had any severe health issues throughout her lifetime, like heart disease or stroke or horrible cancer. Towards the end she did suffer dementia but she still never ever forgot me. And ultimately, she went in her sleep one night.

It was so different than what happened with my mother and my spouse. My mom was just here one day then gone the next. Gone at the age of 52 and only knew my kids, her grandkids, for what felt like two seconds. And then my late husband, Charlie, having to suffer endlessly from cancer, always in horrific pain, dealing with surgery after surgery, leaving him disfigured for life, before finally succumbing to it all and leaving behind a family that loved and needed him. Those deaths feel grossly unfair. Not just to me but to them, too. My grandmother, while also incredibly sad, does not really feel that way to me.

I miss her terribly but I just feel like if one has to deal with death, then you ideally want the person to have a long, fulfilled life, one with love, and not with much illness if any at all, and to go in one’s sleep. It all seems much more peaceful than the way I lost my mother and husband.

Despite this peace, I still felt the grim wolf of grief and that’s why I painted this painting when I did lose her. No matter how it happened, having it happen after losing my mother and husband, just reignited this terrible, dark, deep in the woods, feeling of loss and how it really did feel like something devoured the remaining piece of my life that had always been there for me.

Do you have an grandmother experience that you’d like to share? Feel free to post in the comments below, I have nothing but kindness and support for you. Take care!

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