Outnumbered!

Raising a larger than average family.

When children lose a beloved relative

Helping my kids deal with their grandma's death.

My kids' paternal grandmother is in the last days of her 10-year battle with cancer. It's a fight she had been, against all odds, winning over and over, but a couple weeks ago, the disease took a very noticeable lead and will soon be the victor.

Carmen is one of the most amazing people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. Not only is she incredibly strong, both physically and emotionally, she never loses her temper, remains hopeful and easy-going no matter what the situation, creates a peaceful and loving environment wherever she is and she has been instrumental in my journey as a parent. Most of the good qualities I have as a mother are thanks to watching her with her kids and grandkids.

Because she is such a remarkable person, her impact on my children's lives has been tremendous. Though losing her probably isn't quite as difficult as it would be to lose me, I'm guessing it's a close second, especially for my 11-year-old twin daughters. Carmen is the kind of grandma who wants her grandkids with her as often as possible and she drops everything but the necessities to spend time with them.

I first told my children about Carmen's impending death when they got home from school one day nearly three weeks ago. She had been admitted to the hospital and told that the tumors in her abdomen were growing quite rapidly. My daughters, aware of her continuous bouts of illness over the years, cried silently, but my sons, ages five and seven, who really have not understood what is going on with Grandma, immediately began to sob and wail loudly.

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Carmen's still with us, but she's dwindling. We know how incredibly blessed we are to have these last days with her, time that many people don't get with their loved ones. Being able to say goodbye and imprint these final memories in our hearts won't make it any easier to lose her, but the grief process has begun and we can watch her go with no regrets.

Throughout this ordeal, this is what I've learned so far about helping kids deal with grief:

Kids, especially younger kids, give a wonderful example of healthy grieving. They cry until there's nothing left, take a deep breath and move on, until the next crying jag begins. Don't stifle those feelings. Be there to give reassurance, if needed, but let them feel and express their emotions fully.

Try to be sensitive to what your child needs from you. One of my daughters likes to be hugged and comforted when she cries; the other would rather be left alone to work through it on her own.

Encourage your child to write down or draw her feelings. This not only gives her an outlet for her grief, it can be a source of comfort later as she looks back at her journey through the grieving process.

Use the opportunity to talk about what your family believes regarding death. They'll ask plenty of questions, so be honest and forthright. They're looking to you for guidance.

Be aware that younger kids will most likely be tactless. You know how it is; they call it like they see it. The first thing Logan said to Carmen when we saw her in the hospital was, "Grandma, Mom says you're going to die." While I was absolutely mortified, it struck me later that his lack of inhibition actually led to less anxiety on my part about addressing the proverbial elephant in the room.

Carmen & all her grandkids

Grandma (Carmen) and Grandpa (Rick) with their ten grandkids at the hospital a week ago.

Sarah E. Ludwig is a writer and mother of four. She has written for The Christian Science Monitor, Parenting, and Twins Magazine.

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