02/23/2015 03:51 pm ET Updated Apr 25, 2015

Self-Care Strategies After Losing a Grandparent

My father-in-law passed away this week. A man who came into my life in late 1973, he and my mother-in-law were my second set of parents, even after their son and I divorced in 1996. Grandma and Grandpa, together, gave my children a lifetime of memories, spending time with them every weekend, attending every type of "show" in which they were participating, taking them all dressed up in their fanciest clothes to the nicest restaurants in town, fishing, playing bingo, and taking them to every other place else and doing every other thing you could possibly imagine.

Watching my children deal with the pain of aging grandparents, one of whom was very sick, I saw the role reversal that often happens when one generation becomes more frail and the other generation, formerly in need of being cared for themselves, become the caregivers for those they love so dearly. Listening to my younger son, once so very shy, deliver a speech at the funeral on behalf of all the grandchildren, watching my children take turns spending the night with their grandmother so she wouldn't be alone after 67 years of marriage, listening as they discussed possible solutions to family issues sure to arise... this part wasn't sad. Yes, sad that circumstances necessitated the conversations and caregiving, but also pride and awe at the adults they have become. Loving the fact that they knew to band together, that they wanted to work as a team, to try to solve problems, or even head them off at the pass.

I know my children will continue their mourning once they leave town and return to their work, their families, and their regular, daily lives. Yet I do wonder if they have the tools to cope with their loss and the many accompanying emotions that are sure to come. Do they know to allow themselves the time to experience thoughts and feelings openly to themselves, and, should they be needed, to outside professionals? Do they realize that keeping their emotions bottled up can have an incredibly negative impact on their overall health and wellbeing? I wonder if they realize journaling is a wonderful strategy that not only allows for expression of emotions, but will often bring greater clarity of thought and provide a direction for next steps. Will my children, especially my sons, allow themselves the gift of an emotional release by crying, fully and completely and hard, without holding anything back?

The loss of a loved one is one of the life cycle events that are sad, but inevitable. I can only hope that my children have listened when I spoke about how mindfulness helped me through my devastating losses. Mindfulness of breath and sound helped me quiet my thundering heart. Body scans brought awareness to where and how I was holding my hurt and pain. And short bursts of mindfulness throughout the day helped me carry on with the business of living my life, interacting with others, and managing the baggage that was such a burden for more time than I like to recall.

The one thing I wish for my children is that they implement strategies sooner rather than later. They, like I, often believe they can "just deal" with whatever unpleasant event is taking place in their world. I learned the hard way that I didn't have to just deal. I learned that lesson after waiting much too long before consistently using the strategies, allowing the pain to last longer and go so much deeper than necessary just because I waited so long.

We all need to remember to take care of ourselves sooner rather than later. We must be careful not to drop ourselves in order to pick someone else up. The knowledge that we will not be fit to take care of those we love if we don't take care of ourselves should be a known fact. And we should certainly realize that we are all worth the effort.

You are worth the effort.

Dr. Wolbe can be contacted via her website at