Grandparents’ Grief: A Double Blow
Grief: no rights and wrongs
Grief is a normal response to loss. There is nothing unusual about the feelings or thoughts you may have and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. The important thing is to both give and receive support.
Listening and caring are the two most important things that anyone can do for a person who is grieving. You need to be able to listen and care for others who are affected by the death of your grandchild but you must also be listened to, and cared for. You too, must grieve.
Grandparents experience a ‘double grief’ when a child dies. Not only does the death of your grandchild mean that you unexpectedly lose a treasured grandchild but also that you witness the pain and suffering of your own child. This pain is something you cannot take away. This can be difficult to accept because as a parent you expect (and desperately want) to be able to take away your child’s pain. The one thing that would help your child feel better – to have their child back – is impossible. It is natural for you to feel useless, ineffective and hopeless.
With so much attention on the grieving parents you may find yourself forgotten at times. Nonetheless, grandparents’ grief is as intense and painful as the grief of others. It is important to look after yourself and to acknowledge the intensity and the range of the reactions you experience.
You may feel regret that you lived too far away to participate in your grandchild’s life. You may feel guilt that your grandchild died before you. Perhaps you are angry with God or sorry that the relationship with your son or daughter is not as close as it could be.
It is normal to think of these things and to experience a wide range of feelings. Sometimes you may experience all of these things ‘all at once’ and sometimes you may spend whole days dwelling on just one.
Accept also that there may be times when you feel numb and try not to feel guilty if there are moments when you feel ‘nothing at all.’ The death of a grandchild is not just a mental and emotional shock, it is a body blow.
Disbelief, shock, guilt, blame and anger are common feelings following loss. It is helpful to remember that the process of adjusting is slow and that you may mourn for a much longer time than you anticipate – or want. Three years is not an unusual length of time.
“Whatever way you grieve, know that it is the right way for you, that you are normal, and that it is healthy to grieve.”
“Privately, I have varied emotions over the death of our grandson. Sometimes I feel depressed. These feelings can last for days. At other times I am happy for knowing the ‘little bloke’ and the joy he brought to all of us. I remember saying shortly after his death, ‘At least we had one Christmas with him’.”
“After such devastation I couldn’t imagine how I could not only survive, but live and breathe without feeling pain and guilt. Guilt plays such a large part in our grief. How can you rationalise a baby dying before its grandparent?”
A child suffers – yours
It can be a real struggle to ‘be there’ for an adult child who is suffering from such a monumental loss when you are feeling bereft yourself. However, being available might be the best and only thing you can do at this time.
You see your child suffering and you grieve too. This is natural although knowing this won’t make it easier or any less difficult.
“I also remember the day Rhys died and I walked into his bedroom and my son was draped over the cot crying for his little son. I walked up behind him intending to place my hands on his shoulders and comfort him. [But] I wasn’t able to say or do anything. I have never felt so inadequate as a parent.”
“The feelings I had when Amie died are hard to explain. I was mourning for my granddaughter and I was so helpless because I couldn’t fix the hurt that [the parents] were suffering. After all, a mother is supposed to be able to take away the pain and fix things.”
“I felt such a shock and terrible anger – and still do. I can’t stop crying. Everything hurts terribly. I have so much more to say but I don’t know how. I love [my daughter] Crystal but I feel pain for her for what she has had to go through. And my grandchildren – nobody knows the love I have for them.”
“After the fog lifted from me, there was the grief and deep hurt to see my own son suffering, the empty longing my daughter-in-law must have been feeling, and the frustration of not being able to take away their hurt, but only to be there when they needed me.”
“Our anger has subsided. It still resurfaces every now and then and it is tinged with sadness and regret. Yes, we lost our grandson and we grieved for him but we also had another grieving . . . our child was hurting and for the first time we couldn’t heal the hurt. This realisation added to our sorrow.”
– Robert and Roberta
“We will always remember that on arrival we were confronted by the empty car capsule and then the empty nursery. [Our children] were grief-stricken. No parent likes to see their children distressed and, as Sam’s grandparents, we felt we were completely unable to help other than to just be with them.”
– Dorothy and Jim
“You watch your child go through the worst nightmare of their life and you wonder where she gets her strength and courage from. We all had to go through the arraignment, trial and sentencing. He was found guilty of murder, sentenced to life and he will now appeal this sentence. He appears to have so many rights while you feel you have none.”
This article was prepared using extracts from Grandparent to Grandparent.1 The full text is available online or contact Red Nose Grief and Loss Services on 1300 308 307 for a printed version.
Last reviewed: 30/11/23
1. Bereaved Grandparents & SIDS and Kids. (2000). Grandparent to Grandparent: A Booklet for Grandparents whose Grandchild has Died Suddenly and Unexpectedly (L. Claridge & S. Hart, Illus.). Malvern, Vic.: SIDS and Kids.