Further Reading for Health Professionals - Grandparents’ Grief

1. Tourjeman, K., Doron, I., & Cohen, M. (2015). Losing a Grandchild: The Mourning Experience of Grandparents in Israel. Death Studies, 39(8), 1-9.

Department of Gerontology, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel

The rise in life expectancy has placed grandparents at higher risk to experience losing a grandchild. The authors examined the ways grandparents experience the loss of a grandchild. Twelve grandparents were interviewed based on an interview guide and phenomenologically analyzed. Three main themes were found: the loss as a personal turning point; the significance of the ongoing relationships with the deceased; and the impact on one’s beliefs and attitudes. The loss of a grandchild is characterized by a complex tension between two inter-related forces of distancing and becoming closer to the grandchild and his or her parent.

2. Youngblut, J M et al (2015). Health and functioning in Grandparents after a Young Grandchild’s Death. Journal of Community Health, 40(5): 965-6 [full text]

Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA

This cross-sectional study examined the physical and mental health, grief and role functioning of 136 grandparents in the first year after death of their young grandchild (newborn through 6 years). Grandparents were 36–77 years old; 73 % female; 24 % Hispanic, 38 % Black/African American, and 38 % White. Mean age of the 115 deceased grandchildren was 12.8 months (SD = 20.71) with 37 % <1 month old; 65 % were male, 77 % died in the hospital. Grandparents were recruited through state death records and interviewed by telephone. Grandparents experienced: clinical depression (31 %), PTSD (35 %); illnesses (28 %), hospitalizations, new chronic health conditions (mental disorders, hypertension, angina, cancer), and medication changes. Grandparents who provided care for the deceased grandchild had more intense symptoms of grief, depression and PTSD and more trouble focusing at their jobs. Severity of depressive and/or PTSD symptoms were more likely to be at clinically important levels for grandparents who had provided childcare for the deceased grandchild than for non-caregiving grandparents. Black grandparents had more severe symptoms of PTSD and thought more about their deceased grandchild on the job than White grandparents. The interaction effect of race/ethnicity and provision of child care was significant for PTSD and Blame and Anger. Hispanic grandparents who provided some child care for their deceased grandchild had less severe PTSD symptoms than caregiving Black and White grandparents. Caregiving Hispanic grandparents also experienced less Blame and Anger than White caregiving grandparents.

3. Murphy, S., & Jones, K. S. (2014). By the Way Knowledge: Grandparents, Stillbirth and Neonatal Death. Human Fertility, 17(3), 210-213. doi:10.3109/14647273.2014.930190

Department of Health and Social Care, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK

Over the past 50 years, academic interest in the experiences of parents who lose a baby to stillbirth or neonatal death has grown. Stillbirth is defined in the UK as the death of a baby after 24 weeks’ gestation and neonatal death is death within the first 4 weeks of life. Less is known about the experience of grandparents after such an event. As grandparents might expect to play an important role in their putative grandchild’s life, including the provision of childcare to support parental employment, it seems likely that the baby’s death will impact upon them. We argue that existing academic knowledge of grandparents’ experiences of reproductive loss is ‘by the way’ knowledge, garnered incidentally from other research projects, for example, losing a grandchild per se or where researchers have interviewed grandparents as part of wider family research. The experience of grandparents who lose a grandchild at or around the time of birth should not go unnoticed. Research into their experiences can inform about the place in the family, if any, that is afforded to the unborn child before birth and whether, like fathers and the siblings of babies who have died, grandparents are also ‘forgotten mourners’.

4. Hughes, T. (2014). My Daughter’s Daughter: The Tragedy of Late Stage Miscarriage. The Practising Midwife, 17(4), 9–11.

This article sets out my observations of my daughter’s difficult pregnancy and late-stage miscarriage. I share this information to raise awareness that the specialist support for women going through this is not always in place and doesn’t fully prepare women for this experience. Even though this can be uncomfortable for maternity professionals, the care that women receive, especially during labour and birth, has a massive impact on them and their families. There are many opportunities for midwives to make a positive difference at this difficult time. My granddaughter, Jess, died at five months gestation and was later confirmed to have Turner Syndrome. Turner Syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality that only affects girls and is related to the partial or complete deletion of the X chromosome. Not all affected girls are miscarried and an estimated one in 2000 girls born in the UK has Turner Syndrome. Schwiebert, Pat (2012). A Grandparent’s Sorrow. Portland, OR: Grief Watch. Centering Corporation link

5. Gilrane-McGarry, U., & O’Grady, T. (2012). Forgotten Grievers: An Exploration of the Grief Experiences of Bereaved Grandparents (part 2). International Journal of Palliative Nursing, 18(4), 179-187

Department of Nursing & Health Studies, St Angela’s College, Sligo, Ireland

The death of a child is a traumatic family life event. Although parental bereavement has received substantial attention, little research has focused on the grief experiences of bereaved grandparents. The aims of this Irish national study were to identify and describe the bereavement experiences of grandparents following the death of their grandchild and to explore their needs and supports throughout. A previous paper provided background to the study, covered the methods used in depth, and presented one of the three key findings: ‘cumulative pain’. The present paper discusses the remaining two findings: factors that facilitate and factors that inhibit the resolution of the cumulative pain. Several factors were perceived by the bereaved grandparents as being either helpful or unhelpful in easing the pain of their grief. Among these were acknowledgment of the deceased grandchild and the grandparents themselves, the relationship with the bereaved son or daughter, family dynamics, and support mechanisms.

a. Gilrane-McGarry, U., & O’Grady, T. (2011). Forgotten Grievers: An Exploration of the Grief Experiences of Bereaved Grandparents. International Journal of Palliative Nursing, 17(4), 170-176

Department of Nursing & Health Studies, St Angela’s College, Sligo, Ireland

Aim: Current knowledge about bereavement has been derived mostly from the experiences of spouses, parents, and children. There is a paucity of studies on the grief of grandparents. The aims of this Irish national study were to identify and describe the bereavement experiences of grandparents following the death of a grandchild and to explore their needs and supports throughout this experience. A qualitative exploratory descriptive design was employed. Method: A multi-pronged sampling strategy was adopted. Seventeen people participated in in-depth interviews. The data was subjected to thematic field analysis through NVivo. Results: The small body of literature generally claims that grandparents experience ‘double pain’, meaning that they concurrently experience feelings of loss for their grandchild and pain associated with their own child’s grief. However, this study found that grandparents experience ‘cumulative pain’. That is, in addition to double pain, they also experience pain from other sources. Conclusion: There is a need for the complexity and intensity of the grief felt by bereaved grandparents to be recognized, acknowledged, and supported by health professionals and society in general.

6. O’Leary, J., Warland, J., & Parker, L. (2011). Bereaved Parents’ Perception of the Grandparents’ Reactions to Perinatal Loss and the Pregnancy that Follows. Journal of Family Nursing, 17(3), 330-356. doi: 10.1177/1074840711414908 [full text]

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA (JO) & University of South Australia, Adelaide SA, Australia (JW)

This article presents bereaved parents’ perceptions of their parents’ (the grandparents) reactions at the time of loss and in the pregnancy that follows. Data originated from two phenomenological studies conducted to understand bereaved parents’ experiences during their loss and subsequent pregnancy. However, this article reports a secondary thematic analysis focused on bereaved parents perceptions of the grandparents’ support (or lack of) at the time of loss and during the pregnancy following loss. Our findings illustrate some families found the means to share their grief at the time of loss in a constructive manner, while in others the intergenerational relationship was strained. Most important to parents was intergenerational acknowledgment of the ongoing relationship to the deceased child as an important, though absent family member, especially during the pregnancy that followed. Those supporting bereaved families can play an important role in helping intergenerational communication around perinatal loss and the subsequent pregnancy.

7. White, D. L., Walker, A. J., & Richards, L. N. (2008). Intergenerational Family Support following Infant Death. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 67(3), 187-208. doi: 10.2190/AG.67.3.a

Portland State University

The death of a child is a traumatic, nonnormative family life event. Although parental bereavement has received substantial attention, little research has focused on extended family members affected by a child’s death, and still less on how multiple family members perceive and respond to one another following the loss. Guided by a life course perspective, this article examines social support between grandparents and their adult children in the aftermath of infant death. Through structured, open-ended interviews, 21 grandparents and 19 parents from 10 families described how they provided support to and received support from their intergenerational partners. Data were analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Six categories of support were identified: being present, acknowledgment, performing immediate tasks, information, unskilled support, and no support. Most support was provided by grandparents to adult children rather than from adult children to grandparents. All families reported significant support from at least one grandparent and nearly all families described ambivalent relationships that complicated support. Gender, family lineage, and family history were major influences. Multiple family perspectives about a significant life event contribute to our understanding about the intersection between individual and family life.

8. Beder, J. (2004). Bereavement after the Death of a Young Grandchild - A Triple Loss. In Voices of Bereavement: A Casebook for Grief Counselors. New York: Brunner-Routledge.

9. Dent, A. & Stewart, A. (2004). Family Bereavement: The Experience of grandparents. In Sudden Death in Childhood: Support for the Bereaved Family. Edinburgh: Butterworth-Heinemann. Find in an Australian library

10. Stewart, Al. J. (2000). When an Infant Grandchild Dies: Family Matters. Doctoral Thesis. Victoria University of Wellington. [View online link]

Last reviewed: 19/5/24