Especially for Grandfathers
If you are a bereaved grandfather, it may be especially hard to grieve the loss of your grandchild for two reasons. Firstly, your grief may be minimized by people who don’t consider the grandfather/grandchild relationship to be very important. You will be expected to concern yourself with your children and your wife. People often do not recognize that you are hurting too.
Secondly, like most men, you have probably been taught that “big boys don’t cry”, that your feelings should be kept inside, that you should not ask for help. This makes it extremely difficult for grandfathers to share their grief.
“ Once I saw a grown man cry,
“Now there goes a man with feeling!” said I.
He was strong, able, quite well-built,
With muscles, grey hair and charm to the hilt.
I moved toward him slowly and said:
The look he gave me was tear-filled and long.
“I cry for my child. My son’s son has died”
My grandchild has died ”
So I sat beside him and two grown men cried.”1 (Margaret H. Gerner)
There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve. Grief is unique to each person. One man may grieve openly, expressing themselves with emotion and words. Another may grieve quietly and inwardly. Different grieving processes may lead to your partner, family or friends misinterpreting your actions and feelings.
A Grandfather’s Grief
“I come from a family of three boys, where Dad was very emotional and cuddly. So I am too. Right from the beginning, when I heard about the problems with Holly and that she might not survive, I was flabbergasted. I could not comprehend that such a thing could happen. It was mind blowing.
I asked myself many questions: If she did survive, what sort of life would she have, with only a third of her brain? How would her parents deal with it?
When Holly died it was the end of a journey but not the end of Holly’s journey because of the impact she had on so many people, family and friends. The way she had affected them was unbelievable. I still think that today – two and a half years later.
The hardest thing in the journey was being told my granddaughter was going into palliative care and that the end was coming. I knew her body was at peace but I had no idea what her brain was doing.
It was the only time I couldn’t help my son. For 30 years I could help him, give him a pat on the back and he would be OK. Now nothing I could do would make him better. His heart was so broken.”2
From Grandfather to Grandfather:
Sometimes men have difficulty knowing how to handle their grief. “We are supposed to be strong and look after others-not ourselves.”
Be patient with yourself. Give yourself permission, time and space to grieve
Don’t suppress your grief. Being stoic doesn’t help.
You don’t have to walk this path on your own, it helps to share how you feel, to share the memories that you hold and to share the pain that each day grieving can bring
Select those that you feel comfortable to talk to, who may listen and be there for you. This may be a friend, family member, a counsellor or support group member.
It may be difficult seeing your partner crying or grieving differently to you- communication and understanding from both sides is important
Allow yourself to cry and encourage your child to cry when they need to. Crying offers relief and allowing ourselves to cry offers a good example for our own sons and daughters to cry
Take time off from your grief at times-visit a friend
Doing something active-project
“ I found physical activity and feeling useful has helped me..I volunteered to garden and weed at the organisation that has supported my daughter and her family…”
“Each time I go back to the shack near where she died, there is a garden…a tree. I go there tidy the gardens and leave flowers in her memory.”
Talk about your grandchild and mention their name.
If you find it difficult to speak of your feelings or reach out to your grieving child try to communicate in other ways such as writing to them.
Going Back to Work
“Going back to work was not too difficult as it gave me something else to think about. The company I was working with at the time of Holly’s death was owned by three caring and compassionate brothers who had seen me travelling Holly’s journey. When I returned to work they showed compassion to me and by their example other staff showed empathy to my situation. This was of great consolation to me.”
“As Holly is my eldest grandchild she is still very much in my thoughts as I see my other grandchildren achieve milestones in their lives. Going to kinder, staring school, playing with other children it makes we wonder how Holly would have handled those situations. It gives me a moment of sadness that she didn’t but I also know that she is at peace and that gives me great joy. I am very heartened by the way my other grandchildren refer to Holly when speaking about her birthday, Christmas and anniversary”.
“The thing that we as grandfathers must not lose sight of is that we did have our beautiful grandchild no matter the length of time, we have those memories for the rest of our lives. We are also allowed dream of how we would have spoiled them, grandfathers are allowed to do that.”2
Last reviewed: 28/1/23
- Gerner, Margaret H. (2004). For Bereaved Grandparents. Omaha: Centering Corporation.
- Quotes from participants of a series of Bereaved grandparent workshops held in 2015 at Red Nose Grief and Loss, Malvern, Victoria, and Red Nose Grief and Loss offices, Australia.