Hug Your Grandchildren With Your Words Every Chance You Get

This touching personal guest post is by Kerry Byrne, Ph.D., the Founder of The Long Distance Grandparent, a mission-driven business helping grandparents nurture strong and meaningful relationships, no matter the distance between. Kerry is a mum to 2 boys and a research scientist in the area of aging, care, and relationships. She draws on both research-backed ideas and her own personal experience helping the grandparents in her children’s lives stay connected from a distance.

Have you lost that person in your life who was your number-one cheerleader?

Maybe a spouse, a parent, or a sibling? Someone who always believed in you – in that unique way that makes life feel softer and somehow more manageable, even on the hardest of days?

Six months ago, I lost that person.

A Cherished Aunt

My aunt, who was like a mother to me – and grandmother to my children, died of cancer. We barely had time to wrap our hearts around this diagnosis and a month later, she was gone.

We all called her Doobie – a nickname from when we were children because we couldn’t say Debbie. The name stuck for a lifetime. All my friends still call her Doobie.

When I told my oldest son she died, he didn’t believe me. He is very into pranks – and thought I was ‘pranking him.’ I didn’t have the wherewithal in that moment to tell him death is something that doesn’t fit into the prank category.

When I finally convinced him that I was serious, he burst into tears – and to this day, his 4-year-old brother will randomly shout ‘Doobie is dead!’

I’ve since learned that kids process grief in chunks – and when a therapist told me this, I thought, wow and so do adults.

It has indeed been a chunky process to break down all the feelings because even though we spent most of our lives living at a distance from one another, she was there for all the big moments in my life.

But do you know what I miss the most?  Her constant and steady presence, listening, validating my feelings, and encouraging me, all from a distance.

It seems that months later, it is this cheerleading I’m grieving for myself – but also for my children.

I can’t shake this deep sadness, knowing they are down one VIP in their life.

A person who cheered them on and delighted in their achievements and would’ve walked with them through their mistakes too.

Grief Is Complex

Grief makes you rethink everything. After a career that spanned university, not-for-profit and business settings, starting my own business, The Long Distance Grandparent is the hardest and most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. When the new year began, I spent time digging deeper into why I feel so strongly about continuing this work of helping grandparents and grandchildren nurture strong relationships.

Turns out, in the cheesiest of ways, it all comes back to love. And in this case, GRANDlove.

The kind of love rooted in the encouragement every child needs more of – the kind my children and I were lucky enough to experience because of my aunt.

I want The Long Distance Grandparent to be part of spreading more love and encouragement between generations.

I know what it’s like to lose it – and I want more grandchildren to receive it from you.

So now, I find myself on this mission to spread GRANDlove to a million grandchildren.

As a starting point, I drew on the work of Dr. Mansson from Penn State Hazelton University who found that adult grandchildren who report feeling emotionally close to grandparents, also report high levels of something called affectionate communication.

One aspect of affectionate communication is loving and encouraging statements shared with grandchildren that also build their esteem, so they feel good, loved and cherished.

Specifically, it is telling your grandchildren you love them, miss them, are proud of them, enjoy spending time with them and that they are special to you.

I renamed this a GRAND Word Hug because it sounds a little catchier than affectionate communication!

It’s all just a fancy way of saying that the cheerleading and the sentiments and feelings shared with your grandchildren matter – a lot.

To make it easier for grandparents to be more intentional about sharing these sentiments, I created a printable pack of GRAND Word Hugs filled with 37 bright and colorful Grand Word Hugs you can print out and mail to your grandchildren every month.

Now of course, you can be a grand cheerleader in whatever way works for you. If mail isn’t your thing, text or email your grandchildren encouraging words.

And remind yourself, you are the GEO of your family: Grand Encouragement Officer.

What’s in a hug?

When we found out my aunt was terminal, I was on a plane on my way to her within a few days. I tried so hard to be in the moment for that week together, but the truth is, I knew I had to say goodbye and it was in the back of my mind and in my heart the whole time.

I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, I would never see her in person again. She didn’t want me to be there when she died – she wanted me to remember her alive – and we all knew she had weeks to live.

The night before I left, I kept thinking, how exactly do you do this? How do you say goodbye?

 And then you just do it.

We stood on their front landing, and we hugged, and I said, This hug has healed me so many times.

It was the truth, and it just came out in her arms.

With time to reflect, I’ve come to realize it was more than just the physical hug that was a healer in my life. She hugged me with her words every chance she had.

So while GRAND Word Hugs were originally developed based on research about grandparent-grandchild relationships, I now see them as a way to honor my aunt.

I’ve created a product that embodies her encouragement and love, but I also hope to make it easier for you to be a grand cheerleader and spread love to your grandchildren – who will no doubt find solace in your warm hug, but now also, across the miles, they can feel you hug them with your words.


3 thoughts on “Hug Your Grandchildren With Your Words Every Chance You Get”

  1. Ruth Ann Larson

    Thanks, Kerry, for those beautiful words from your own life and also the encouragement to us GEOs. This loss is profound and yet you are using your grief in such an honoring way to this aunt who meant so much. May you continue to heal and take her positive influence with you into the spaces asking for your wisdom.

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