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Helping a Grandchild Deal with Death

QUESTION: I am 15 years old. Two weeks ago I lost my great-grandma. We were very close. I finally had the courage to go to her room a week before she died. She had no idea who I was. It made me feel very confused. How come she didn't know me? It was like our whole relationship was gone. I am afraid to talk to my grandparents about how I feel. Should I tell them, or hold my feelings inside? I can't talk to my parents because they died two years ago.

ANSWER: It is not unusual for elderly people to enter an altered state of awareness before they die. Your experience of your great-grandmother's inability to recognize you is not at all uncommon. Still, without anyone to talk with about it, no wonder it has left you feeling quite upset. Not only have you lost a very dear relative, but you felt you were "forgotten" in her last moments of life. Do not stay alone with this loss. Definitely let your grandparents know your feelings!

This loss may be especially difficult to bear because it comes only a short time after the loss of your own parents. Great-grandma's death will likely make you think of the losses of your mother and father, too. You will need the support of your grandparents to mourn.

Consider asking your grandparents to help you honor your great-grandma with a family ritual. Invite people to share stories about her life ... funny ones, tender ones. Use this opportunity to share your feelings and relationship with her. Let others know what she has meant to you over the years. Write a poem, draw a picture, or tell a story about your great-grandmother. Do not be afraid to let your tears flow openly, in honor of your relationship. Sharing it with others allows her to live on in the hearts and minds of those around you, as well as your own. Do not be shy to include memories of your parents, too, as they no doubt are an integral part of these family memories.

Do not be surprised if you feel not only sadness, but also anger. When loss has been great, it is not unusual to feel angry at the course life has taken. Your confusion will clear and your anger will soften as you are able to share and express your feelings, rather than keep them inside.

Your great-grandmother was very special to you. Your relationship with her will continue to live on, as you hold her inside of you. The relationship you had with her is far from forgotten. Instead, it becomes a part of who you are, and is woven into the stories you will tell your children and grandchildren. Share this pain with your family who is also grieving. Let them be there for you. After all, being there for one another is what family is all about!

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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