Figuring out how to grieve for my great-grandmother during COVID times
A handsome couple- my Grandma Sarah and Grandpa Dale
Losing a family member to covid
I got the news in the form of a text while on work break.
Hi honey, we just found out Grandma Sarah passed away this morning, the message from my mom said.
I didn’t have much of a reaction at first, since my great-grandmother Sarah had been admitted to a nursing home years ago and seemed to have just as many good as bad days. My family all knew it was coming, given the isolating conditions at the nursing home and her declining mental state.
It was later that night when I found out my grandma had died from complications of COVID-19, thankfully in her sleep.
I’m not alone in losing a loved one during COVID-19, and I feel fortunate that it wasn’t anyone younger than my great-grandmother who died at 94 years-old.
Like many people around the world, we won’t be able to celebrate her life in the way she deserves. This in turn cuts off an important step in the grieving process, yet another casualty of 2020.
Without the ceremony or the tradition I had to figure out how to remember and mourn for her on my own.
Going through the stages of grief
When I first got the news from my mom, I had to be back to work in 5 minutes and couldn’t let the tears start to roll.
All of the emotions came later once I got home. First, anger over receiving the info in the form of a text. My family was on vacation out of the country while the coronavirus cases continued to spike.
Then, regret over not seeing or talking to my great-grandmother more often. I’d only made the trip out to Iowa to see her this summer for the first time in a decade. The trip came at a time when I couldn’t even hug her or get closer than outside her nursing room window.
And finally, relief. Relief over having made the trip out to Iowa and to have seen her one last time. We had a great conversation one of the days, while she made my mom, grandma and me laugh over the many random conversations she started. It solidified my memories of her and her playful humor.
I especially felt relieved knowing that she didn’t have to sit alone in her nursing room bedroom, staring at the TV or out the window day after day with her only company being a nurse.
I sat on my couch that night, letting the sadness soak in.
Grieving when you can’t have a memorial
With over a thousand new coronavirus cases in Iowa as of Jan. 13th, there won’t be a funeral or memorial for my grandmother anytime soon.
She lived in the small town of Spirit Lake, IA for most of her life. It’s where she met my great-grandfather and taught at the local school for over 40 years.
There wouldn’t be a chance to hear stories about her with her former students or with my family.
What did comfort me were comments on the funeral home website from dozens of her former students, neighbors and friends. Over and over again, people proclaimed that she was their favorite kindergarten teacher. One former student even said they pretended they failed kindergarten so they could have her as a teacher once again.
She was the quintessential kindergarten teacher- kind and patient. She’d also stoop down the level of the little ones in her classroom so they felt heard.
My grandma had just as much fun with little kids as they did with her. Reading some of the comments reminded me of our time together when I’d come to visit during the summer. I have distinct memories of our tea parties in her backyard by the lake, under the gazebo. I’d set up my dolls around the table, even though they were too short to reach their tea. We would sit there, laughing and filling up the tea cups that the dolls would never drink.
Let it go
I wish I could share these memories in-person with people that knew her better than I did, but reading all the comments from people who loved her was a good substitute. I read some of them out loud to my husband, just so he could hear what kind of person she was.
My family isn’t really the type to put their emotions out there, but the next time we can all be together I’ll make sure she’s part of the conversation.
There will be a service sometime this summer for my great-grandma when the ground thaws out and her ashes can be buried next to my great-grandfather. Until then, I’ll keep remembering her in all the ways I can.
It’s clear from all the online advice on how to grieve for a loved one that it’s not healthy to hold back your emotions or ignore them, especially when we can’t communicate our loss in the normal ways.
If you recently lost someone, Remembering a Life offers online resources from the world’s largest funeral service association, and has a comprehensive, free guide to losing someone to COVID-19 and/or during the pandemic. You can read it here.
If you or a loved one you know are looking for additional support during this time and are interested in scheduling a free in-home assessment, please contact SeaCare In-Home Care Services today! A SeaCare family member is standing by. 425-559-4339.