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Keeping memories of a grandparent alive can help you grieve too, says Claire Spreadbury

Grandparents are brilliant.

Imagine them through the eyes of a child – these loving beings who offer nothing but hugs, fun and treats, not to mention the enormous support they give us parents – and you can easily see what an important role the good ones play in families lucky enough to have them.

Sadly, we don’t all get to have four grandparents.

It’s the circle of life. As brand new humans take their first gasps of air, others are sucking in their last.

My youngest daughter, Poppy, was two-months-and-20-days-old when I said goodbye to my mum, who only got to be Nana for four short years.

It’s devastating to lose a parent – of course it is, but as the sadness fades, gorgeously vivid memories can help them live on. And if your children can be a part of bringing those memories to life, it really is a wonderful feeling.

My eldest, Rosie, has told me since the age of three that she wants to be a hairdresser. And she’s been really good at doing hair since about that age too. Friends were often surprised at her ability to twist bobbles and backcomb locks, and although there are a million other things I’d probably prefer her to set her sights on, my mum had her own salon, and I can’t help but hope that’s where it comes from.

Out of nowhere, Rosie will often say something about Nana – about her amazing cakes or ‘the best-ever Bolognese’. She tells me how they used to play puzzles together and do each others’ hair when I was at work. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me feel that she can chat away about someone she’s been without for exactly the same number of years as she was with.

'She’d brush the tears from my cheek and ask me if I was missing Nana.'

In the darker days, when I was sad and grieving (not that this ever really stops), she’d brush the tears from my cheek and ask me if I was missing Nana – like she was the parent and I was the child.

There’s no doubt young children help get you through grief – if only for the fact that you have to love, feed and keep them alive, so the option of staying in bed and cutting off from the world doesn’t apply. But they can also help that loved one live on in your memories; and here are some ways how…


1. Talk about them

If they’re on your mind often, you will want to anyway. If they pop up in conversation, keep it going. Share memories with your children of what life was like when they were alive.

2. Display photos

Showing photographs to kids is a great way to help them remember people – whether those people live far away, or are no longer around. Show them printed photos, or digital copies on the computer. I have adorned our stairway with pictures of everyone who’s important in our lives – from shiny new photos from this summer’s holiday to really old black and white ones of my parents in the Sixties. There are lots of my mum up there, which act as a constant reminder to me and the kids, so we see her each and every day.

3. Imagine

Sometimes, both my kids tell me they’re sad that they will never see Nana again. So what we do is imagine. We close our eyes and picture her face, describing her aloud, to make each of our images a little stronger. And then we say, ‘Whenever we want to see Nana, all we have to do is close our eyes’.

4. Tell them your secrets

OK, so this one’s a bit more ‘out there’ but I believe my mum is now a magpie. Ahem. My mum was – and I am - pointlessly superstitious, so I think she picked that bird (even though they’re pretty vicious) because she knew I’d notice her. After she died, I’d look out our kitchen window and a few houses over, there’s an enormous tree that’s perfectly rounded, and right on the top in the very middle, one sad little magpie would sit and watch. Everywhere I go, I see a magpie, and when you tell children crazy stories like this, they don’t question it, which is adorable. So when someone was over the other day and looked out the window to see a magpie in the garden, Rosie said, ‘That’s Nana!’.

5. Celebrate dates

Last but not least, this one is very important. On March 9 – my mum’s birthday – every year, we bake her a lovely cake. A cake that reminds me of her. And on Mother’s Day (the worst day of the entire year for anyone without a mum), we always remember her. At Christmas, we make a toast to her. Remembering and celebrating amazing people is a great thing to do, and though it is often tinged with sadness, it will make you happy too.