Grandparents are usually in a very difficult position when faced with the death of their grandchild. You are mourning the loss of your grandchild, but also dealing with the pain of seeing your own child facing an immense loss. As a Grandparent you will face the challenge of balancing your own need to grieve with supporting your child and possibly other grandchildren at a very difficult time.
The bond between a grandparent and their grandchild is very special. Understandably many grandparents feels it is unfair that their grandchild has died before them. Grandparents often say they feel guilty that they have experienced a full life while their grandchild, who had their whole life ahead of them has died. Even though there is no reason to feel guilty, it is a very normal feeling which can be difficult to shift. You may also find yourself feeling sad, helpless, hopeless, angry, bitter or even relieved that your grandchild no longer has to experience illness.
You may also find yourself distressed by the loss of all the hopes and dreams you held for your grandchild. You may already have planned things you wanted to teach them and activities you hoped to do together. The loss of these plans add to your feelings of grief after your grandchild dies.
It is not uncommon for family members, including Grandparents, to think about their spiritual beliefs when grieving the death of a child. While religion or spirituality can be a comfort in difficult times, a child’s death can cause some people to question their beliefs. It is OK to feel angry or ask questions as this is a normal response to grieving. If this is your experience, it may be helpful to explore these thoughts and feelings with a spiritual advisor, chaplain or staff member from the Palliative Care Team.
Ways to Support your Family
Grandparents frequently report their struggles with feeling helpless while watching their child suffer. Unfortunately you cannot fix your child’s grief or protect them from the pain. Your grieving child may sometimes wish to be alone which can add to your feelings of powerlessness as their parent. It can be helpful to ask your grieving child and their family how you can best support them. It is often the little things that can be invaluable for the family. Examples include:
- Providing a listening ear and comforting presence
- Assistance preparing meals
- Helping care for siblings
- Practical support with transport or after-school activities
Ways to Support Yourself
Whilst understanding your wish to support your child and other family members it is important to recognise your own pain which is real and valid. You need to take time to care for yourself. The experience of grief is unique for each person. As grandparents you may grieve in completely different ways. Some people like to keep busy and focus on practical tasks whilst others need to talk a lot about what has happened. It is important to remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve (See also the section on Different Styles of Grieving)
Your relationship with your grandchild has not disappeared with their death and you may wish to find ways to honour the relationship you shared. For some people this creates a sense of ongoing connection and meaning. Examples of this may include:
- Reflecting on photographs & memories
- Writing Letters or cards
- Listening to shared or special songs
- Exploring a hobby or creative activity in their honour
- Visiting important places such as their resting place or locations of your favourite memories
- Developing personal rituals for anniversaries or birthdays
The death of your grandchild may also bring back feelings from other experiences of grief in your past. It can be helpful to know what helps you in times of great difficulty. For example, going for a walk, taking some time to do some breathing exercises, or talking to close friends. It is normal for grief to come in waves which can be brought on by any reminder of your grandchild. If you are finding it hard to recover some sense of normality and pleasure in life, you may need to seek additional support (See the section on Bereavement Support).