- Written by Victor M. Parachin Victor M. Parachin
It is estimated that more than 160,000 American grandparents lose a grandchild to death every year.
And when that happens, the grief of a grandparent is doubled. They grieve not only the death of a grandchild but, additionally, they grieve for their child whose child has died.
In spite of this double-grief experience, grandparents are often ignored, neglected, overlooked, and sidelined as invisible grievers. Support and comfort is directed entirely at those regarded as the primary mourners: the parents and the siblings of the child who died.
Here are some suggestions for grandparents who are dealing with the death of a grandchild.
Be understanding when your grief as a grandparent isn’t acknowledged. People don’t intend to be unkind or dismissive of your grief. In reality, they are untutored in the area of grief, particularly that of a grandparent.
As a result, they erroneously think it is not your child who died, so your pain must be less intense. Also, because grandparents have more life experience, they simply assume you, as a grandparent, have better skills for dealing with bereavement.
Expect a bumpy ride because grieving generates a wide range of confusing and conflicting feelings.
“Grief is a roller coaster of emotions. You may be in denial one day and then sad or angry the next. Unfortunately, experiencing such a painful loss can’t be summed up by one idea or emotion,” Dr. Alejandra Vasquez, J.D., a certified grief counselor, says.
“This process will change often and usually when you least expect it. As time goes on, you’ll begin to have good days … Given enough time, with conscious grief recovery, the pain will subside, and your grandchild will forever be in your heart.”
Read up about grief and the process of grief recovery. Visit a bookstore or library to locate books about loss. The information you glean will be empowering and provide you with an “emotional GPS” for finding your way through grief.
Some good books include Healing a Grandparent’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas After Your Grandchild Dies by Alan Wolfelt; Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love: Daily Meditations to Help You Through the Grieving Process by Raymond R. Mitsch and Lynn Brookside; Healing Grief by Victor M. Parachin; and Grieving: Your Path Back to Peace by James R. White.
Learn from others who are like you. Try finding other grandparents in your community or your place of worship who have had the sad experience of losing a grandchild.
Two excellent online resources where you can learn from other grandparents are the Compassionate Friends organization (compassionatefriends.org/the-grief-of-grandparents) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) (aarp.org).
Honor your grandchild by doing something in their memory. Plant trees; establish a scholarship; self-publish a small photo book of their life; make a donation to a nonprofit in their name; advocate for a cause that relates to their death.
Honor your grandchild in whatever way feels comfortable to you.
Remain hopeful that your journey through grief will come to an end. Vasquez reminds grandparents:
“Where there’s light, there’s hope. While you may feel the pain will never end, seek comfort in knowing that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Although you’ll never quite get over losing your loved one, the heartbreak will subside as you learn to accept the loss.
“There’s no actual timeline as to when you’ll get through your grieving process,” she says. “Have patience and know that emotions will improve with time. Learning to appreciate every moment of every day is a great way to keep the memory of your loved one alive. In time, your life will develop new meaning.”
Victor M. Parachin, M.Div., is a grief counselor, bereavement educator, and author of several books, including Healing Grief.