Support For You and Your Family
Support for yourselves
Grandparents are often at a point in their lives where they may have experienced a number of losses. Perhaps you already have experience supporting family and friends through grief and loss. You need to ensure your children (the parents) have support, but it is also essential that you have support.
Do not underestimate the impact that this death will have on you. Your grief is real and painful. You need support in your own right.
Grief is an individual thing. Partners may grieve in different ways. Try to talk with your partner about your feelings and thoughts so that you better understand each other’s needs. If you find it is too difficult to talk about how either of you are feeling directly, then try and discuss how to be a comfort to each other. It may be that you or your partner needs solitude or that one of you is comforted by looking at photos of your grandchild while the other finds it unbearable. It will help to know these things about each other.
We often find that grief can stir up other painful memories. Talk about your feelings with others. Friends and family members are the usual ones to turn to for a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.
Support is also available from people who have experienced the death of a child (see support information at the back of this book).
Some people find that talking to a counsellor, general practitioner or religious adviser is helpful. Your own religious, cultural and spiritual beliefs may be of great comfort and help in dealing with your grief.
Others find reading useful. Writing a diary may help to get your thoughts and feelings off your chest. Writing poems, doing something practical and creative like gardening, building or sewing may help you to express feelings that are too difficult to put into words.
Disturbed sleep and eating patterns are not uncommon with grief. It helps to get some exercise, eat nutritious food and generally take care of yourself.
“My wife has different feelings and thoughts from me. I respect that and in no way have I tried to sway her from her opinions. Together we monitor each other, maybe not knowingly, but I’m sure we do”
“On hearing [of our grandson’s death], we were devastated and went into shock; so much so that we received immediate (and ongoing) counselling from our minister and his wife. The next day, we drove from our home in Bendigo to be with Sam’s parents at Moe.”
– Dorothy and Jim
“I found it very hard to admit that I needed help in the form of a counsellor. Even the day Ruth arrived, I told her that I wasn’t sure that I was doing the right thing in talking to her. And yet casually just sitting and chatting to her in an informal way helped me tremendously to realise that I wasn’t going mad, that all my emotions were quite normal, and that I would survive.”
“I was at a few different crossroads about what my daughter was doing after the death of my grandchild. It helped to know that others had had this experience. It was pretty harrowing. My daughter still has problems but she is learning to live with the pain and so am I.”
“Living in a small country town has many advantages, one of them being the support you get from the community when a tragedy like this happens. You are inundated with so much food, offers of help, visits, phone calls and flowers every day for at least three weeks after the death. Then people still drop in from time to time weeks after. There is so much compassion with country people, they all pull together in every type of situation.”
Supporting grieving parents
Family is where most people find care and support. It is natural that we turn to those closest to us – those who will take the time and the care needed to provide concrete, gentle and much-needed support.
No decision has to be made quickly. Ask if the parents would like help in practical ways. Create opportunities to listen and to show you care. Everyday things like shopping, preparing food and looking at photos provide these opportunities.
Following such a shocking loss, bereaved parents may feel overwhelmed by their feelings and think that everything is out of their control. So taking time, slowing down and giving your calm, unhurried support to the parents can be very helpful. It’s a good idea if the parents themselves have as much control as they can manage in the circumstances.
As the parents try to come to terms with the reality of their child’s death, they may want to take their own time to adapt to life without their child.
Things like sorting out the child’s bedroom or nursery, or clearing up the unused bottles of baby’s formula in the refrigerator, can only be done when the parents are ready.
A grieving mother once described finding some greasy little fingerprints of her child at the bottom of a wardrobe mirror – and never cleaned them off. It is a good idea to check with the parents if you want to touch your grandchild’s belongings.
Avoid suggesting that the care the child received was less than adequate.
Here is what some bereaved parents said of the support they received from their parents.
“My dad never said anything at all, but I knew from the look in his eyes that he shared my grief. The fact that they were grieving too for Alyce, really helped me…Also, they (especially mum) were the only ones who knew me well enough to give me confidence to believe in myself and that I really did the best I could at the time.”
“Luckily my mother and mother-in-law were around to take over his [the surviving twin’s] feeding, bathing, etc, allowing me the space I needed just to exist. Everything was such an effort. If breathing had not been automatic I think I would have stopped that too.”
“My father said to me ‘You never ever forget’. From a man who’s always said he would love to hug and tell us he loves us, but he can’t. In that short sentence he said so much.
“Be there to listen, talk about it, let them talk, encourage them to do so. Be honest – you don’t know why it happens, it’s not ‘God’s will’. Don’t say ‘Oh you can try again’ or ‘Yes I know how you feel’ because the truth is you don’t and never will know how they feel.”
“There was nothing I could do to make it right. All I could do was to let her know that she was still loved and that she was still worthwhile, but it took a little while for her to accept this. It was pretty harrowing at times, but I persevered. There were times when I felt that nothing that I said or did would work: even that it was making it worse.”
“The best thing we did was to talk – all the way through. We went on some trips to the cemetery together, we looked at the photos. Sometimes we went shopping together. I had to pick my way at times when she was feeling fragile. Some days these outings were just not the best thing to do, so I just tried to ‘go with the flow’.”
Your other children
A child’s death affects many people. Your other children will have their own grief. They may see things differently and express themselves in different ways.
“My other son, Rhys’s uncle, also suffered from the loss, not that he will talk about it, but I know he is hurting. As a parent and a grandparent your feelings are stretched across the immediate family.”
“We watched our other daughter, Vanessa, pick up the phone and notify friends and relatives of little Josh’s death. She asked, ‘Mum, how can I make it better for my brother, look at poor Dad. What can I do?’ She, as a daughter, sister and auntie at the age of 18, also felt devastated and useless.”
“I found that we all grieved in different ways at different times. To comfort, to listen, be understanding, and to have a shoulder ready to cry on, helped us all. We don’t feel ashamed, foolish or weak by showing and sharing our emotions. I feel that this is a healing process.”
Friends and neighbours
Most friends and neighbours want to be helpful but sometimes they’re not. They don’t mean to be hurtful but very often they don’t know how to respond. They may not know what to say or do for you as bereaved grandparents.
Try to ease the way by telling them what would be helpful for you. You might also say that you don’t know what to say either.
“I remember getting angry when people asked how [my daughter] was coping. Of course she was hurting; but didn’t they know David was hurting, that Luke was hurting, that I was hurting too.”
“When I realised what was happening, I told them that I still wanted to hear about another person’s grandchild, I did not want them NOT to be happy and excited over some milestone that their grandchild had achieved. That was a very hard period learning to cope with MY jealousy in their excitement. I now look at their grandchildren who were born about the same time as Nathan, and try to imagine Nathan doing the same things. Will this feeling ever end?”
“We talk of David in the normal course of conversation. After all, he was part of our lives. We find it strange when others steer clear of the subject or even look awkward should they mention the name ‘David’ when speaking about someone else. How can one explain to them that they talk about yesterday or last month and the things they did, so to mention David who is also in the past is no different. He is part of our family’s past and nothing or no one can take that away from us.”
“How many grandchildren we have, you may ask. We have nine – seven boys and two girls. Daniel and Christopher are always included in this number. We have had three more grandchildren since Daniel and Christopher left us and I think that those three are just a little more ‘special’ because of their brothers.”
– Robert and Roberta
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: 9/6/23
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.