Grandparents and Grief

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Grandparents Grief and Support after Pregnancy Loss and Neonatal Death

The death of a baby during pregnancy or soon after birth is a devastating and complex experience for families and a loss that often affects all members of a family.

In recent Australian research, many grandmothers and grandfathers described the loss of their grandchild in pregnancy or the neonatal period as overwhelming, and to be a powerful grief like no other they have experienced before. These feelings were compounded by grief for their child experiencing such a loss; in fact, for many grandparents, their child’s welfare is their most immediate concern.

Grandparents: Providing support to their families

Grandparents wanted to ease their child’s pain, and often felt helpless to do so. Both grandmothers and grandfathers felt this way. Grandfathers expressed added distress that this was something they couldn’t fix for their child:

“Yeah, I felt, my role as a dad, and a grandad, but as a dad my role is to love my kids.  This was a situation I had no control over. I couldn’t fix this, I could not make this better for (daughter and son in law) and that really broke my heart as well.”

Similarly, grandmothers expressed that as a parent, they wanted to care for their child, and help make things ‘right’:

“Its very uncontrollable. You’re a mother and you’re supposed to take care of your children and make it right you know. But you cant. ..You know, that feeling never goes away, whether they are grown up, or little kids, that’s feelings with you for ever.”

Grandparents often provide practical and emotional support for their son or daughter and their partner following the loss of their baby; for some, this helps them cope with their own grief.

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that help the most. Many grandparents expressed that the most important thing to do was to help was just to be there, to love and to listen. Other grandparents spoke of supporting their family through practical things such as food, assisting with funeral arrangements, or running errands. 

Grandparents: In need of support for their grief

However, it’s important to remember that grandparents are grieving too. Don’t neglect your grief. Allow yourself time and space to grieve, in whatever way is best for you. Everyone is unique in how they express their grief, and there is no ‘right way’ or ‘right’ length of time to grieve.

“I’ve decided to give myself the day before, the day we found out the news that she wouldn’t be born alive. I’ve given that to myself as my stay at home, eat pizza and do nothing day, don’t get out of bed if that’s what I want to do you know …so I’m just going to be taking the day off every year, that’s just going to be my day to remember her and be a bit miserable. And then next day it’s her birthday and then I can be on top of it for the kids, you know, they need me, I’ll be ready.”

Creating memories and having something tangible to remember family members who have died is often helpful. If you have the opportunity and feel comfortable to do so, many grandparents indicated that being holding and having photos with their grandchild was very important. Other grandparents have found that symbolic mementoes, such as a teddy bear, ornaments or a special plant or garden area have helped in their grief.

Over time, one of the most important roles grandparents have is ensuring the baby remains included and valued in the family. Many families mark anniversaries such as birthdays, and make sure that the baby is talked about and included in family celebrations and events. Grandparents may also find benefit in attending public memorial and/or fundraising events to support their family and honour their grandchild. This is also often a way to support and be supported by other grandparents who have experienced similar loss.

“I was more interested, you know, if there was an awareness group or a fund raising, um, and I guess I was angry as well thinking why didn’t I know about this. And that’s why now you know I do what I can and have stalls at fetes and I will talk to people, and the number of people who have come up to me and shared their stories that they haven’t been able to share with anyone else.” 

At present, research-informed resources are being developed specifically for grandparents experiencing the loss of a grandchild in pregnancy or the neonatal period. It is hoped these resources will be available in the near future. Listed below are support organisations who provide information and phone support.

Most grandparents described seeking support separately from their child so they can share freely and not feel like they are burdening their child. Grandparent specific peer support (speaking with someone who has experienced a similar type of loss), can be an important means of support. For those with a faith, beliefs and worship communities may be helpful at this time. You can also speak to your General Practitioner (GP), and your GP can arrange a referral to a counsellor or psychologist if you wish. If you have also experienced the loss of your own child in the past, the loss of your grandchild may raise memories for you. Its ok to speak with someone about this too.

If you are struggling with grief or need support, help is available:

Content authored by: Jane Lockton, Dr Melissa Oxlad and Dr Clemence Due from the School of Psychology, University of Adelaide.

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Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances.To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].