THE GRIEF OF GRANDPARENTS
The relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild is very special and unique. When a grandchild dies, the grief associated with the loss is often so intense and painful, it leaves bereaved grandparents feeling hopeless as they experience what many refer to as a double loss. Not only do they mourn for their grandchild, they may also feel a sense of helplessness because they are unable to take away the pain felt by the parents of their grandchild, one of whom is their own child.
Grief is unique
As with any type of loss, the grief of a grandparent is unique to each individual. Some grieving grandparents can easily express their pain through tears and talking about their loss. Others find it difficult to express all they are feeling and may have difficulty with tears or may not cry at all. Research has shown that the amount of tears shed and words spoken are not a correlation of how rapidly grief is processed. Some people cry on the inside and talk when others aren’t listening.
Emotional Aspects of Grief
The grief journey has many emotional peaks and valleys and lasts far longer than society in general recognizes. Grandparents may initially experience overwhelming feelings of denial, shock and numbness. In time the shock will wear off and other emotions such as anger, guilt and regret may surface. The death of a grandchild isn’t something a grandparent ever expected to experience; they expected their grandchild to outlive them. Many grandparents say “I wish it had been me who died instead of my grandchild”. There are times when the emotional rollercoaster of grief can be very confusing as bereaved grandparents experience a variety of intense emotions which may vary from one moment to the next.
Numbness and Shock
There are many facets of grief, but no certain order in which they will be experienced. When a grandchild dies, most grandparents feel a protective numbness or shock. Even though they may know their grandchild has died, their minds may want to deny it and the numbness allows this. They may find themselves talking to and about the grandchild as if he or she were still alive. They may “see” the child somewhere, only to realize it is someone else.
As the numbness lessens, the pain and frustration a bereaved grandparent experiences may become more intense. It has been said that grief truly begins when the shock has worn off. As grandparents begin to fully feel the extent of their pain, they may feel overwhelmed with sadness, anger, guilt, regret and questions of why. It can be helpful to seek the support of others who have experienced a similar loss who can provide a safe place to share feelings and offer encouragement.
Not everybody experiences anger as part of their grief journey, but many do. Anger may be directed inward or outward toward others. Anger may be focused at God, on the spouse, the child or even the grandchild who has died. It is not uncommon for a bereaved grandparent to have anger at themselves for not being able to prevent the death which has devastated the family. While anger is often associated with being a negative aspect of grief, it can also be used constructively. Anger over injustices and diseases for example have led those in grief to turn their anger into action toward raising money, funding scholarships, changing laws and making the world a better place in honor of their loved ones who died.
Some depression is a normal part of the grieving process, yet it may feel so overwhelming to bereaved grandparents that they fear they are going crazy. Bereaved grandparents may also experience additional stress concerning the emotional and mental well-being of their own child who is grieving. Friends may burden them further by voicing their concern in this respect. Occasional thoughts of suicide are not abnormal when experiencing intense grief, but a focus on this aspect indicates professional support and counseling is needed.
Grief And The Family
Because each person’s grief journey is unique, many bereaved grandparents find they are grieving much differently than their spouse and other family members. Grief can affect the family dynamic, as everyone processes their grief at different speeds and in different ways. Each grandparent had their own relationship with their grandchild and will likely have their own way of grieving as well, which may create added stress within the family relationships. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there are no time tables. Communication, understanding and patience with one another are critical while on the grief journey.
Grief is Hard Work
Grief is hard work and it requires a lot of energy and a commitment to survival to successfully navigate this journey. This can be difficult for bereaved grandparents who may have little energy to give as they face the full magnitude of their loss. Most grief professionals recommend that bereaved individuals work on their grief at their own pace trying to achieve small goals, especially early in their grief. We live in a technological age where there are many resources for support and grief education available. Education and support are key components in learning about and processing grief. By taking small steps on a regular basis to seek support, sharing living memories and gaining insight and education into the grieving process, bereaved grandparents can begin to find hope.
Grief is the price we pay for love; love doesn’t die when a grandchild dies. Because love remains, the work put forth to process grief will eventually lead to a life no longer solely focused on the death but rather a life filled with good memories and shared joy about the grandchild. Many bereaved grandparents have found hope and support through The Gifts From Jada Foundation.