Losing a baby seems to defy the natural life cycle. Older adults often feel they should die before younger generations. As a grandparent they may feel helpless and powerless because they couldn’t protect you as their adult child or their grandchild from this experience. Seeing the impact of the baby’s death on you, the parents, can be particularly hard for them.
As a grandparent how you support your adult child will depend on a number of factors. These include your relationship with your child, the circumstances of the loss, your health, and personal and financial resources. This loss may also bring up losses you’ve in the past.
Grandparents may feel this loss on more than 1 level. This isn’t always recognized. They’ve lost a grandchild to a stillbirth along with all the hopes and dreams they had for this new family member. Grandparents also grieve for you and your partner as you face this loss.
Grief is different for everyone. Each of us is affected by our gender, culture, and our learned styles of grieving. This includes our beliefs about how grief should be expressed and for how long. The important thing to remember is that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.
What You Can Do
- It’s important to take care of yourself and keep up your strength by:
- eating well
- drinking plenty of water
- exercising every day
- getting enough rest and sleep
- Let yourself cry when you need to as this helps your children to feel supported in their grief.
- Write your feelings in a journal or read about grief.
- Do something physical in honour of your grandchild such as building a memory box, making a swing, or planting a garden.
- If you drink alcohol, limit how much you drink. Alcohol may numb the pain temporarily but it can also affect your ability to cope.
- Get help through a support group, counselling, or by talking to your friends. Find support other than from your child. They may be too overwhelmed with their own grief to support you. Contact grief programs in your area for more information.
How to Help your Adult Child
As a grandparent it’s important to support your child but respect and feel your grief in your own way. Grieving parents may not understand the depth of your grief. Look for support from other grandparents or professional counsellors as needed. Remember the grief of grandparents can be as intense and as painful as the grief of the bereaved parents. There is no time limit or right or wrong way to feel your grief over the loss of your grandchild.
- Respect the decisions they make at this time.
- Offer practical support such as help with meals, running errands, cleaning, driving, answering the phone, and providing child care if they have other children.
- Offer to help with funeral planning. Note that this might be something the parents want to do themselves.
- Offer to arrange for photos of the baby or take them yourself. Let the parents decide if and when they want to see them.
- Call the baby by name – most parents say hearing their baby’s name is “music to their ears.”
- Remember the baby and parents on special occasions. This can include birthdays, due date, anniversary of the baby’s death, Christmas or religious holidays, as appropriate, as well as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
- Include the grandchild when talking about the number of grandchildren you have.
- Make sure this grandchild has a place in your home. This can be done by displaying their photograph, hand or foot print, or something else representing the baby.
- Respect the parents’ wishes about what to do with the nursery. There’s no rule about when or if the nursery should be rearranged.