Grandparent grief (GPG)

By Reverend Blue Jeans

Grandparents and grief. Certainly a topic none of us would choose to explore.

Grief is a common experience—unique to each of us. GPG is unique in so many ways.

The problems facing grandparents can often feel insurmountable and can be complicated by so many things beyond one’s control. Divorce, custody battles, adoptions, foster homes—all can alienate grandparents from their “rightful” place. Grief is hard enough without the added burden of broken families. Where once grandparents were an integral part of the family, now they may be mere spectators.

GPG is also unique in that while grieving the loss of a grandchild, one must now grief the fact that they are powerless to help their children who have just endured the loss of their child. GPG forces us to acknowledge we can no more protect our children than we could our grandchildren. Helplessness is such an empty feeling.

GPG can also become difficult due to differences in religious beliefs. Where once a family may have practiced one religion, now we see a variety of beliefs and practices within the family circle. While grief often has the power to cause us to doubt our beliefs, trying to understand someone from an unknown perspective can be even more confusing. Younger generations may have no problem in questioning or being angry with God, while older generations were taught to follow without question. The death of a child may not be the time to attempt converting others to one’s own beliefs, but instead is an opportunity to allow everyone involved to discover what it is they truly believe.

When we lose a child, we can say “my child is dead.” When a grandchild dies. “our grandchild is dead.” Who is in charge? How do we make decisions? Where do we fit in?

The parents of the child who died may also feel abandoned. With the death of a child, we have no place else to go. We must live with our grief. When a grandchild dies, the grandparents may have the chance to focus on other grandchildren and in effect, seem as if they have “moved on” while the parents are left with an empty house. Alone!

GPG can also be a very complicated form of grief and a difficult family situation from which to heal. None of us grieves the same loss in the same way. We must always be willing to accept the differences in our actions and reactions when facing death. Grandparents may have been through the “funeral experience” more, but the reality is none of us are ever prepared to say goodbye to a loved one, regardless of our previous losses.

The worst loss—is your loss. It does no good for us to compare or compete when facing the death of a child or grandchild. Families are tested no harder than when a child dies. There is no magic formula that can make everything all right. No miraculous plan that can make a family whole. Grief is the hardest work any of us will ever do. Grief work within the family can be very difficult. To do the hard work of relationship repair within a family, while facing the death of a child, is no small task. With tolerance and acceptance of differing beliefs, and understanding of the pain of others, there can be hope for this devastating journey. You can choose your friends, but not your families. You can also choose to make family members, your friends. If you can’t do it for yourself and your family—do it for the child you loved so much.