I have had ample opportunity to visit with my own parents during our family’s loss of my son and had many a discussion with them as well as other grandparents about the potholes out there when traveling the road of a grieving grandparent.
When a grandchild dies, the anguish of grandparents is doubled. Their grief for a son or daughter suffering this tragic loss only adds to the pain of the loss of the grandchild.
When Grandparents outlive a grandchild this death seems out of order. They often feel guilty for surviving. Wondering why they couldn’t have died instead. With the death of their grandchild goes the death of their immortality as well. This idea brings them deep grief.
Grandparents also grieve the loss of their child, as they were before they were thrown into the grief of child loss. They find they can not save their child from the grief as much as they would like to. They find themselves often in arguments and discussions leading to disagreements over things such as:
- how grief should be expressed
- how death rituals should be handled
- the right and wrong way to grieve
- how long one should grieve
- individual reactions to the loss
These things can be like a minefield for grandparents to maneuver while watching helplessly the anguish of their child’s grief.
There are no guarantees, even in the best of relationships with their adult child and family there may be misunderstandings. One of the most talked-about subjects in groups of bereaved parents is the lack of understanding from their parents.
Understand that Grandparents cannot protect their child from, or take away the child’s pain as much as they’d like to.
The efforts needed by Grandparents to be on call to their adult child all the while watching their suffering is tremendous. It puts an unbelievable demand on grandparents’ love, understanding, knowledge, and abilities—not to mention stamina. No one expects to ever be in this position. The emotional and psychological efforts seem unending and beyond endurance at times. Even when finding some peace over the death of their grandchild many still mention the sadness they feel over the pain they see in their own child through the years.
Written below from a grief website is an excerpt written by Author Margaret Gerner who many years ago lost her 6 year old son and then years later her 3 year old granddaughter. It is a good example of how terrible it is to not only miss your grandchild but the feelings of helplessness you have with your adult child which can be even greater:
I am powerlessness. I am helplessness. I am frustration. I sit with her and I cry with her. She cries for her daughter and I cry for mine. I can’t help her. I can’t reach inside her and take her broken heart. I must watch her suffer day after day.
I listen to her tell me over and over how she misses Emily, how she wants her back. I can’t bring Emily back for her. I can’t buy her an even better Emily than she had, like I could buy her an even better toy when she was a child. I can’t kiss the hurt and make it go away. I can’t even kiss even a small part of it away. There’s no band aid large enough to cover her bleeding heart.
There was a time I could listen to her talk about a fickle boyfriend and tell her it would be okay, and know in my heart that in two weeks she wouldn’t even think of him. Can I tell her it’ll be okay in two years when I know it will never be okay, that she will carry this pain of “what might have been” in her deepest heart for the rest of her life?
I see this young woman, my child, who was once carefree and fun-loving and bubbling with life, slumped in a chair with her eyes full of agony. Where is my power now? Where is my mother’s bag of tricks that will make it all better.
Why can’t I join her in the aloneness of her grief? As tight as my arms wrap around her, I can’t reach that aloneness.
What can I give her to make her better? A cold, wet cloth will ease the swelling of her crying eyes, but it won’t stop the reason for her tears. What treat will bring joy back to her? What prize will bring that happy child smile back? Where are the magic words to give her comfort? What chapter in Dr. Spock tells me how to do this? He has told me everything else I’ve needed to know.
Where are the answers?
I should have them.
I’m the mother.
I know that someday she’ll find happiness again, that her life will have meaning again. I can hold out hope for her someday, but what about now? this minute? this hour? this day?
I can give her my love and my prayers and my care and my concern. I could give her my life. But even that won’t help.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP YOUR GRIEVING CHILD?
- Encourage talking. Let them talk about their child and their child’s death. This speeds up the healing process.
- Allow your child to cry. Crying and sobbing are all necessary means to working through grief. It will pass and your child will feel better. Try not to be disturbed by your child should she cry in front of others. Your child is not there to take care of them.
- Talk about your grandchild. It tells your child you care. It does not worsen things. She is thinking all the time of her child as it is. If it makes her cry realize that can be good for her.
- Listen to your bereaved child. The greatest gift you can give your child is to listen. Few bereaved parents have someone who will listen to stories about their child or to how guilty or angry they feel. If you really listen, you’ll understand. Your child needs you to listen and needs you terribly.
- Physically help your child. The fatigue of grief is great! Many have jobs and perhaps other children etc. to take care of while grieving and can use your help. But always ask first. Taking over without checking first can also produce stress for your child.
- Take the surviving grandchildren for stretches of a day or even a half day. This gives them a break away from the sadness in the home as well as a chance to talk with someone else about how they feel.
- Physically hold your child. There are times now as in the past that your child wants to be comforted. A touch on the arm, a hug, a kiss, a tear or to sitting near them while stroking their hair all are ways that you can actually feel like you are finally able to do something to help!
If you are a grandparent who has lost a grandchild, you have every reason to grieve deeply. Sometimes there are no good answers for questions such as why did this happen? Or what am I suppose to learn from this? For now your job is to mourn this grandchild and take good care of your self as best you can.
WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR YOURSELF?
- Look for support through groups, mental health centers, friends who have lost grand children etc. Read books and articles substituting grandparent for parent when necessary.
- Be patient with yourself.
- Don’t try to suppress your grief. Stoicism won’t work.
- Select the relatives or friends who give you comfort, and tell them how you feel.
- Don’t accept a comparison of your grief to that of others; grief is unique to each person.
- Take time off from your grief occasionally.
- Go visit a friend or take a short vacation at a place that you love.
- Losing a beloved grandchild is a severe blow, but avoid thinking that life has no more to offer.
Some of the world’s greatest works such as music, writing and art came from personal tragedy. Consider allowing them to comfort you and even possibly take them up as therapy for yourself either in studies or your own works. Find your own ways to express your loss. Find ways to fill the void in your life. If you have always wanted to paint, take up classes and possibly dedicate your efforts to the memory of your grandchild. Sign up as a volunteer for a local hospital or food bank. Helping others can strengthen the nurturing part of you that has been injured by this death. By putting your pain to work, the good that comes from it can heal.
When a great loss hits, we are numbed and life seems meaningless for a while. But as time passes we begin to see that life is still worth living not just of others but for us as well. Just as you loved your grandchild there are others friends, neighbors, even strangers who await your love. For all the cruel twists in life it is still the only one we are given and you have every right to be a survivor and make the most of each day, each month, each year.
So I invite you to consider starting right now!!
Peace & Light,
Certified From Heartbreak to Happiness Coach
“Who then can so softly bind up the wound of another as he who has felt the same wound himself?”