10 Tips for Grieving a Grandchild or Great-Grandchild

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When a grandchild or great-grandchild dies, it’s not just their life you grieve but also all the hopes and dreams you had of seeing them grow and mature into young adults. The different types of grief you experience after the loss of a grandchild range from ordinary grief to a more profound kind of loss that typically occurs when you lose a child. 

While the devastation will last for weeks or months following their death, the pain of losing them may last a lifetime. Many different factors affect the level of grief that you’ll suffer after losing a grandchild. Some things that will affect your grief are whether you have other grandchildren, their birth order, or if you’ve also suffered the loss of your child, your grandchild’s parent. 

The following tips may help you with your grief:

1. Just Breathe

Receiving news of your grandchild’s death is maybe one of the worst things you can ever hear. No grandparent is ever fully prepared when they get the sad news that their grandchild has died. You’ll not only feel the excruciating pain of losing them, but you’ll also hurt for your child who is grieving their loss. 

Whether your grandchild lived near or far away, you can feel the pain of their loss on different levels. The loss of a grandchild represents a void in a grandparent’s life that no one else can ever fill. All the lost hopes and dreams you had for your grandchild vanish when they die. You’re left having to pick up the pieces trying to make sense of their untimely death while at the same time helping your own child through their loss. 

When a grandchild dies, you may not know where to direct your grief. For the first few days following their death, remember just to breathe. 

ยป MORE: How will you honor your loved one's memory? Start with this post-loss checklist.

 

2. Get Support

As much pain and sorrow that you may be experiencing over your grandchild’s death, your child is also mourning an even more significant loss to them - the death of their child. Many times a grandparent’s grief is often overlooked. You may find that people are focusing on your child’s loss and forget that you’re also grieving. 

As a grandparent, your grief is unique and complex from the standpoint of being in the middle of two great tragedies. You’ll find that you’re vacillating from grieving over your grandchild’s death and for your child who’s hurting and facing a deep sorrow of their own. You may be suffering through grief without the acknowledgment or support of others as they focus on the parents who are grieving. 

Consider seeking online therapy or counseling to help you get the support you need as you work through your grief. 

3. Acknowledge Your Grief

As you mourn the loss of your grandchild, it may tempt you to ignore the pain and go on with your life. When you ignore the emotional pain of your loss and bury your grief, you’re only prolonging its effect. 

The feelings and emotions that come with a devastating loss don’t simply go away on their own. You’ll find yourself dealing with your grief either now or years from now. The more you wait to acknowledge your suffering, the more complicated your recovery will be. Allow yourself to grieve your loss and to accept the pain that’s a part of your suffering. 

4. Allow Grieving

Acknowledging and allowing your grieving to take place are two different measures. Yes, it can be one thing to recognize your pain and suffering, yet it is another to allow those emotions to manifest and allow grieving to take its course altogether. 

The grief process is seldom easy, and you may not feel ready to confront the rollercoaster of emotions that come with having lost a grandchild. Accepting their loss can remind yourself of how much it hurts that they’ve died. So you may consider blocking your feelings to avoid having to feel anything.

Part of the natural grieving process allows for a feeling of numbness after such a significant loss. The stages of the grieving process will naturally unfold if you allow them to take place. 

5. Practice Self Care

When taking care of others, it may seem nearly impossible to find the time for some self care. You’ll want to be distracted with other things like taking care of your child’s family as they grieve over their loss. 

Busying yourself by taking on these responsibilities might make you feel as if you’re useful and supportive to others at their time of need, but doing it at the expense of your emotional wellbeing is counterintuitive. 

Carve out some time for a little self care to avoid an emotional breakdown when least expected. You can read our guide on self care and grief for more tips.

6. Read and Learn from Others

For some, reading books on grief and how others have survived this type of loss helps them cope with their own experiences. You may find comfort in reading books on grief to help you sort through your thoughts and emotions.

Learning from what others have gone through will guide you in what to expect through your grief journey. There have been many books written about people’s individual experiences on loss, what they did to get through, and how you may be able to get through yours.

Your local library or bookstore is a great place to start your search. Consider picking up a book as a gift to your child who’s also grieving their loss. 

7. Shed Some Tears

You may want to be the strong one that holds the rest of the family together by not allowing yourself a good cry. The loss of your grandchild may be one of those times where you feel that you’re the glue that needs to keep everything together. 

Releasing your tears is not only therapeutic for you, but it helps in the healing process of grief.  Tears are not only cleansing, but after a good cry, you may gain a different perspective surrounding the death of your grandchild. 

Christian Nevell Bovee, an American writer, best describes what happens when you hold back your tears. “Tearless grief bleeds inwardly.” 

8. Grieving is Not a Competition

The acute stress brought on by the death of your grandchild may leave you not knowing how to react to your loss. It’s normal and natural to want to be there and support your child as they deal with this tremendous loss. 

Some parents don’t know how to help their child who is grieving, so they end up taking on more responsibility than needed by overseeing their child’s family’s welfare. Without realizing it, a grandparent may become overbearing and create unnecessary competition with the other set of grandparents.

Some things to look out for are:

  • Stepping in to make the funeral arrangements
  • Paying for the funeral
  • Ordering the family flowers

Although you may only be trying to be helpful, take care that you aren’t subconsciously trying to make up for your losses by going overboard and overstepping boundaries.

The funeral planning and arrangements, if nothing else, should involve the input of other family members. 

9. On Finding Meaning

When someone you love dies, you may search for a deeper meaning to explain their loss. You may find yourself contemplating the meaning of life and death, and whether there’s anything more to this life here on earth. 

Spirituality, like grief, is unique to each individual. Finding hope and peace after the loss of your grandchild will help you get through the many rough days and nights ahead.

Turning to your spiritual beliefs for comfort and support during these most difficult times can help you move forward as you learn to cope with your loss.

10. Start a Campaign

The tragedy of having lost your grandchild will never leave you and will make you wonder why something so senseless had to happen. For grandparents who have lost their grandchildren to avoidable tragedies or accidents, it helps to lend a voice to try and prevent the same thing from happening to others.

Some famous figures who’ve lost their grandchildren took to their platform to raise awareness on preventing senseless tragedies:

  • Former Secretary of State James Baker III lost his 7-year-old granddaughter to a drowning caused by the suction power of their backyard pool. She was a twin. He later campaigned to bring awareness to these types of dangers.
  • Golfer Jack Nicklaus also lost a 17-month-old grandson to a preventable drowning in a family pool. He committed himself more fully to his sport to help him deal with the grief of having lost his grandchild and of seeing his son grieve over the death of his child. He also used his voice to let others know about the dangers of drowning. 

Consider lending your voice and experience toward the prevention of certain tragedies that have personally affected you and your family. 

Grieving the Death of a Grandchild

You can get through the grief of losing your grandchild, but you’ll never get over it. The void created by their death is one that can never be filled by anyone else. In time, you’ll learn to move forward with your life, and the pain will ease.

Try and surround yourself with friends and family to help you through your loss. There’s hope in tomorrow that you will get past the intense pain of your grief and suffering.

If you're looking for more on grief, read our guides on movies about grief and chronic grief.


Sources

  1. Youngblut, JoAnne, Dorothy Brooten, Kathleen Blais, Jean Hannan, and Theo Niyonsenga. “Grandparent's Health and Functioning After a Grandchild's Death,” Journal of Pediatric Nursing, October 2010, www.researchgate.net/publication/46147920_Grandparent's_Health_and_Functioning_After_a_Grandchild's_Death
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