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How My Family Learned To Grieve From A Distance

how to grieve from a distance

Three weeks ago I had to break the news to my kids that their great-grandpa had passed away.

Though my grandpa had been sick for a while, and we’d had the chance to visit him several times before we moved away to Germany last summer, his death led to mixed emotions. There were all of the normal grieving responses like sadness and fear, but also a longing to be close to family. We’ve always been a tight-knit group, and it hurt being apart. It was the first time since our move that I struggled with home-sickness.

My kids felt it, too. Their expressions showed that they were at a loss for what to do with the news. Then, one night as I tucked them into bed, my oldest son asked me to tell him something about Grandpa.

“Like what?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I just want to know more about him.”

Pushing away the temptation to tell him the same stories he’d heard before--the safe stories--I dug deep into my childhood memories. I told him about Grandpa’s witty sense of humor that hardly anyone understood, or his uncanny ability to calm scared animals. I told him about Grandpa’s accomplishments in business, and the many roles he played, like the role of father to my mom and her sisters when they didn’t have a dad at home. In many ways, my grandpa was a hero in our family. Talking about him brought light to my heart and a smile to my face.

More than that, talking about Grandpa brought a smile to my son’s face. Those new revelations prompted new questions, but also brought the memory of our grandpa to life in a new way. “I wish you would have told me all of that before,” my son said at the end. “I would have liked to have known it before we left.”

I sat back. I’m not sure why I never told my two boys so much about Grandpa, and it made me sad to think they knew him without really knowing him. That night I promised my sons I would tell them more. Since then I’ve shared memories when they come to mind, whether big or small, and we’ve also taken time to pray for Grandpa when comes to mind.

Though it felt funny to my boys that first evening to pray for someone who is gone, we got the chance to talk about what it means when a loved one passes from this life to the next. I explained that they aren’t really gone; they continue to live in a place we can’t see right now. Not only that, but it’s good for us to lean on God in these times for our own peace, and prayer is the best way to hand our troubles over. Coming to God blesses both the person praying and the person receiving prayer.

These Two Things Helped Us Cope with Loss In A Big Way: Prayer and Stories

My boys lit up at that. They both prayed that night, and the weeks following, for Grandpa, and we’ve made more time to tell stories. These two things have helped us cope with the loss in a big way. Grandpa is still with us when we share, laugh, pray, and hold on to his legacy. These are simple acts but they’ve made a world of difference.

Though we still feel the distance, and my arms ache to hug my grandma or mom tight, we’ve learned that no matter how far away you are when something like this happens, you can keep your family close simply by sharing your memories and leaning on God in prayer.

Try it! Don't wait for a family tragedy to share favorite memories about relatives and pray for them. Pick a favorite memory today to share with your kids.

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