“You’re coming home with us,” I said. My husband and I and our twin grandchildren were standing by the hospital’s emergency entrance. Tragedy had found us again. Nine months ago, their mother (our daughter) died from the injuries she received in a car crash. Their fatherhad just died from the injuries he received in another car crash.
It was beyond belief. While each year has its triumphs and tragedies, 2007 was a really hard year. My daughter and father-in-law died the same weekend, my brother died a few months later, and now my former son-in-law was gone. Like the words of the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace,” I was blind and couldn’t see.
Life had stopped.
Now the twins (one boy and one girl) were orphans and we were GRGs, grandparents raising grandchildren. Would I have the energy to raise grandchildren at age 72? Could I grieve for four losses and stay upbeat for the twins? What would become of me? I was haunted by questions and all I could do was put one foot in front of the other.
If you asked me to provide details about “the year of death,” I could give you only a few. As time passed, however, I was able to see my recovery path, the steps I took, and my winding journey from darkness to light. Ten percent of all of the grandparents in the nation are raising their grandchildren and you may be one of them. My survival tips may help you.
- Eat dinner together. Meal time isn’t just about food, it’s about family values, sharing news, and learning how to cope and solve problems. We expected our grandchildren to eat dinner with us. I’m a made-from-scratch cook and my grandchildren appreciated this. “I love your salad dressing more than the salad!” my granddaughter constantly exclaims.
- Support school activities. We cheered for our granddaughter at gymnastics meets and applauded our grandson’s trumpet playing at concerts. Sometimes the twins asked me to help with their research papers and I was glad to help. “I’m only proofreading,” I assured them, “and won’t change your style.” The twins appreciated my help and I was impressed with their writing.
- Set new goals. Making it to the next hour was my first goal. After I could do that, my goal was to make it through the day, then a week, and then a month. Step-by-step, I inched my way along the recovery path. Though I took several detours, for the most part I kept moving forward. Setting goals gave purpose to my life, helped me see my location on the recovery path, and how close I was to the end.
- Practice self-care. Writing is self-care for me. Friends thought I would have to abandon my writing career to care for my grandchildren. Giving up writing would feel like another death in the family and it would be mine. So a week after my daughter and father-in-law died, I sat down at the computer and poured out my soul in words. I’m still writing. Think about how you take care of yourself and keep doing it.
- Embrace silence. Like many who are grieving, I was afraid of quiet times, the pain I would feel in that quiet, and the discoveries I would make. But in the silence – a few moments of meditation each day – I found a wellspring of strength I could tap again and again. I still go to that wellspring and always find comfort. Instead of avoiding silence, you may want to make it part of each day.
- Believe in yourself. “I will survive this” was my mantra and you can make it yours. Attitude has a lot to do with how we approach each day and I gave myself frequent “attitude adjustments.” When a negative thought came to mind, I balanced it with a positive one. This takes practice, but the results are worth it.
- Trust life again. When you’re raising grandchildren there isn’t time for self-pity. My grandchildren’s trust in me enabled me to trust life again. Four years have passed since they moved in with us. Their energy and interests have changed my life forever. Instead of me saving my grandchildren, they have saved me.
Both of the twins graduated with honors, and the high school ceremony was an emotional experience for us. The man our daughter planned to marry came to the ceremony, took a photo of the twins, and emailed it to me. Every time I looked at the photo I cried, yet I couldn’t stop looking at it. What was going on? I looked at the photo closely and realized I was crying because it was the first time I saw hope in my grandchildren’s eyes.
When I began my grief journey, I was blinded by sorrow. Today, I’m living a new life, a happy life with my husband and grandchildren. I’m also a far stronger person. As the hymn says, I “was blind but now I see.”
Harriet Hodgson 2011