The death of a grandchild is a double burden: coping with our own grief as a grandparent and also feeling unable to protect our child from the pain and desolation of their bereavement. This may have a profound and complex effect on us.
The intensity of our grief may be influenced by how close we were to our grandchild and his or her parents. Sometimes, because of distance or circumstances, contact will have been limited but we still mourn deeply. There can also be the added stress of others not realising how much we are grieving, and our need to talk about our loss.
TCF’s leaflet When Our Grandchild Dies looks at physical reactions to the shock, relationships with partners, feelings of anger and guilt, the different grief that our child may feel and our relationship with them, helping our other grandchildren, dealing with family occasions, and finding hope.
We share similar emotions of sorrow and loss, irrespective of the age at which our children died. However, when our adult son or daughter dies leaving their own child or children, we’re faced with the additional issues of having to endure not only our own grief but also that of our grandchildren.
The “survival guilt” of wishing that we had died in our child’s place so that their family could have remained intact is a very common feeling after one of our children has died.
If we have enjoyed a close relationship with our adult child and their family, we will be able to comfort and support each other and help with the practical problems which are created by the death of a child who is also a parent. If we take on the daily care of our grandchildren, either temporarily or for the long term, we will need to show exceptional understanding which can be emotionally, mentally and even physically demanding for us when our own resources are strained by the death of our child.
TCF’s leaflet Helping our Grandchildren when our Child has Died explores these issues as well as possible complications if our child’s partner starts a new relationship and we become less important in the family’s lives. This is an added burden, especially as our dying child may have asked us to look after his or her children, and we find ourselves unable to fulfil these expectations. It also looks at avoiding conflict if we have a poor relationship with our child’s partner and find that access to our grandchildren is denied.
Each year thousands of parents suffer the loss of a son or a daughter. Please help us to support families in their time of greatest need.