Q. I am a 20-year-old college student and I recently lost two grandparents to cancer. I was close to both and am having trouble dealing with guilt and regret for not being there when they died or spending more time with them. What can I do?

A.

Losing grandparents, no matter what age they were when they died, will always make us feel that we just wanted more time to spend with them. The sense that there was more to say to them, more special times to share, and more memories for us to “collect” and treasure for the future may move us to be filled with guilt or regret about not having done enough.

Although guilt can be a common characteristic of normal grief, it should be balanced with the awareness that we really tried to do the best that we could for our loved one given our human limitations.

It is very difficult to lose two grandparents to cancer in such a short amount of time. How does someone grieving two important loved ones cope when the losses are one right after the other? Allow me, if you will, to step into the role of your grandparents and speak to you directly in each of their “voices”:

“As you know, I have always wanted the very best for you. I remember you when you were born, and was so proud of you as I watched you grow up. You were the dream come true for your parents, and the joy of my life in my later years. We spent a lot of wonderful times together, didn’t we?

“The last thing I would want is for you to focus too much on the fact that you may not have been able to be there with me during my last moments. My greatest hope is that, as you live your life, you will hold onto the memories of me, which are deep inside of you.”

This simple role-play exercise may help you to replace the negative thoughts with positive “feedback.” You can also think about your grandparents' most significant qualities, those that you will never forget. Consider that these positive qualities are part of the legacy left to you and everyone else your grandparents cared about.

We offer an online bereavement support group and our social workers can help you find local bereavement services. An additional resource is griefnet.org, which also offers support groups and resources.