Look to lessons of grandfathers, uncles when facing challenges of coping

Posted2/23/2019 7:00 AM
  • Baheej with four of the six grandchildren, when they were young.

    Baheej with four of the six grandchildren, when they were young. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

Grandfathers and uncles are often major influences in a person's life. They are loving role models, advisers, comforters and teachers.

So the death of a dear grandfather or uncle can be a shaking event. And these deaths will usually happen to one as a child or young adult.

My own husband, Baheej, was a very positive and loving influence not only on our own children, but on the grandchildren, nephews and nieces. He had a way of connecting, giving affection and advice when needed, and demonstrating how much he cared for them.

As a result, Baheej had a very close relationship with them and it was awful when he died. The funeral was an elaborate Greek Orthodox ceremony in our church with the casket up on the altar level.

I distinctly remember one of our granddaughters telling me, "It's like a funeral for a king or a prince." She was about 19. It was indeed a beautiful service. And so sad. What she said stuck in my head. He was a prince.

For many, our grandfathers and close uncles leave us with a lot of gifts -- including how men can be great role models, companions, teachers, family men and loving people.

I was lucky with my own grandfathers; I knew both well. I spent a lot of time with my grandfather Anderson. I was 12 when he died, but luckily I had grown up with him close by.

I was in my 20s when my grandfather Hicks in Oklahoma died. He was a positive, but a very different kind of role model, who was also dedicated to the family. My uncles were positive influences and very nice, but more distant; they lived in Oklahoma.

My grandfather Anderson was the second son of Swedish immigrants, so he was raised in the Swedish way. Modest, calm, rather quiet, dedicated to the family, kind, a great provider, dignified, loved his grandchildren. He was an amazing role model for me.

My eldest brother and I were the beneficiaries of all that because we spent a lot of time with him growing up. He lived four blocks from us and right across from our grade school. He died suddenly at 59. It was very difficult for me.

Grandfather Hicks was the son of Oklahoma territory settlers in the 1800s. His father was a child in the back of a covered wagon when they "ran the Cherokee strip" as "Sooners" and claimed land for a wheat farm in north central Oklahoma, where they still lived when I was a child.

We spent a month every year in July-August on that farm. So I had lots of farm experience growing up, all the way up to my senior year in high school: animals, horseback riding, chickens, fresh eggs, wheat fields, hot dusty weather, the whole farm scene.

My mother grew up on that farm during the Great Depression, which accounts for her generous personality -- always making sure we kids had a softer life.

From Grandpa Hicks I learned a lot about the land and weather, watching the sky for tornadoes; I learned about independence, dedication and perseverance, farming, dogs, the strength of family ties.

So the point is -- you can draw on the role models of grandfathers and uncles for strength when you face your own challenges of coping with and managing long-term grief. Lessons from the past are a great reservoir of stamina and hope.

It's true what is said about "positive role models" being an important influence on your ability to cope with challenges and hardships that come your way. Long-term grief is one of those big challenges. You can cope. Draw on all your personal childhood resources.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a Ph.D. in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College, and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at sakhleif@comcast.net or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com. See previous columns at www.dailyherald.com/topics/Anderson-Kleif-Susan/.

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