One of the most overlooked areas of grief is the grief experienced by grandparents. Your child has just suffered the death of their child or children and you could not protect nor shield him/her from this devastating loss. Further, you have lost your grandchild(ren). Your own hopes and dreams for the future are shattered. To further complicate matters, the grief process is a long, often painful journey which has no timeframe and which is very personal. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, only your way. With the loss of a baby(ies), we are changed forever. Hopefully the following will assist you, as the Grandparents, in coming to terms with and handling not only your own grief journey but also that of your child.
It is natural to want to protect one’s child from pain but that is not always possible. As you watch your child suffer and the dreams for the future are shattered with the death of your grandchild(ren), you can only stand by and watch. You feel powerless. It is difficult to offer comfort when you are also grieving yourself. You must try to offer comfort at the same time as you grieve.
- Take your child in your arms. Hold them, cry with them. Let them tell you how they feel. Listen with your heart, soul and with love. Words aren’t particularly necessary as you hold, support and love each other.
- If you are able to share some of your own feelings of sadness, do so. When we share difficult moments together, it makes the burden a little lighter. Concealing your own pain or feelings may only make them feel that you don’t care.
- Try to avoid telling your child how they should act. “You can have another baby.” “Try to pick up the pieces and get on with your lives, you are young.”
- If at all possible, try to see the baby(ies), to hold him/her, take photos with everyone, name the baby(ies). Encourage your child to do the same. Do not be afraid to use the baby’s name. After all he/she existed and was a real part of your family’s fantasy and future. To ignore the pregnancy or the loss will only make the mountains higher.
- Remember that the loss of this baby(ies) is not your fault. You did not cause the baby(ies) to die, but you can be supportive and available when possible to do so.
- Do not feel badly if your grief is initially ignored. As the parents try to come to terms with a new reality, they may inadvertently exclude you and not recognize the depth of your grief.
- Avoid blaming: “Do you think you exercised too much? Or drank too much coffee?” You might ask, “I know I wonder if I could have done anything differently, do you have similar feelings that are bothering you?” Try not to judge nor interpret any responses.
- Take care of yourself. Make sure you eat nutritiously and that your child and their partner does too. One of the first things that falls to the side after a death is appetite. A snack of cheese, fruit or vegetables ensures that health and strength are kept up. Try also to get adequate sleep and exercise during this painful period.
- Try to keep the lines of communication open between family members. Offer to assist with meals, childcare if there are other children, share resources and books.
- There are things that you can do to celebrate the memory of your grandchild(ren):-
- plant a garden or a tree in a local park;
- do some volunteer work;
- make a donation to a favorite charity;
- write about your feelings and perhaps give the journal to your child at a later date;
- do something special on anniversaries or birth/death days.
- Grief is a very powerful emotion. Remember your other grandchildren if you have them. Don’t let your grief overshadow your ability to interact with them or others.
- If your child and spouse feels comfortable with it, you may wish to include the child(ren) who died whenever speaking about your grandchildren, especially when mentioning how many you have.
One bereaved grandmother advised that she was told by her son and his wife (both doctors) that she must never refer to the babies again (they died at 5-1/2 months gestation). This grandmother felt blocked and ignored regarding her own feelings. She felt that being doctors, they should be in a better position to understand grief, loss and how to deal with them. This is not always the case and while no doubt being able to dispense wise advice to their patients, were not able to acknowledge their own pain and loss. Denial regarding their loss was also inflicted on the grandparents. If such is the case for you, join a bereavement support group, try some grief counseling or speak to a good friend, doctor or religious support person. You don’t have to go through this alone. Your feelings are real and painful. You, too, have suffered a loss but you may need to explore some avenues on your own in order to obtain appropriate support.
Grieving Grandparents, by Sherokee Ilse and Lori Leininger, Wintergreen Press Inc.
Loss Support Network, Multiple Births Canada, www.multiplebirthscanada.org
Centre for Loss in Multiple Births (CLIMB), Alaska