Grandparents

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Grandparents who are experiencing the death of a baby during pregnancy or infancy often struggle with complex emotinos.  They report grieving for two different pains.  One is for the grandchild they miss and love.  The other is because they feel powerless to help their own child through extreme emotional pain.  

Watching an adult child suffer can be very traumatic and challenging.  Some grandparents know the pain of miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death from personal experiences, while for others it may be completely new.  

Grandparents are also grieving the baby.  The expectation of a new baby brings hope and plans for a future that centers around this new life.  You may have been making your own plans around what you wanted to do with this baby and thinking about if he/she will resemble your child.  If this is your first grandchild, you have been preparing for a new role in life.  If you have other grandchildren, you know the joy of having a baby around again to love and watch grow.  

The parents may be so consumed by their own grief that they may not recognize the grief of the grandparents.  At the same time, they may be turning to the grandparents for guidance and advice.  If you are not able to be with your children during this time, the distance may increase your anxiety or concerns.  If there is another set of grandparents involved, you may also find yourself navigating family dynamics while trying to process this loss in the way that is most comfortable for your own family.  

Some grandparents will say they wish they had died instead of the baby.  This idea often comes from a life order that we aren’t supposed to outlive our children and grandchildren and that older people should die first.

For those who have personal experience with this type of loss, many emotions from that time may resurface and further complicate the emotional turmoil today.  

When you are grieving, you may experience a variety of emotions including anger, sadness, fear, disbelief, frustration, and confusion.  Many families of babies who die before or shortly after birth feel that their friends or society do not understand their loss and expect them to return to normal quickly.  Each person grieves in their own way and at their own pace.  Give yourself time and permission to grieve in a way that feels right for you.  Your children will likely experience these emotions also, but it may look different than you expect or feel yourself.  

How to Help
Avoid the temptation to offer your children comments that can belittle their grief or inadvertently place blame on them.  Statements such as “God has a plan”, “Did you do everything the doctor said?”, “You’re young enough to have more”, or “It would have been worse if …” aren’t helpful in this moment and give parents the impression they shouldn’t be sad.  It is very common for the parents, especially the mothers, to blamd themselves and small comments from others can reinforce this guilt.  

Grandparents can be a source of great support for the parents, and this can help comfort the pain of the grandparents by doing something to help their own child.  Offer to help with daily tasks such as taking care of other children, making funeral arrangements, calling employers, making meals, or doing laundry.  Some parents enjoy doing these things themselves, but offering will let them know you are there for them.  Your children may also ask for your suggestions regarding many decisions they have to make regarding disposition of the body, religious rituals, or financial arrangements.  Wait for them to ask for help, but it is often appreciated.  

Honor your Love and Grief
Let your children know if you would like to see and hold your grandbaby.  They may not think to offer, but those will be precious moments to treasure for years to come.  You will always have memories of this baby.  Try to remember your children and this baby even as new grandchildren are born and time eases some of the pain.  

A grandparent’s grief is complex.  Take time to acknowledge your own emotions and process your grief.  You will be more helpful to your child if you are taking good care of yourself as well during this difficult time.  

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