When a couple goes through a miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death, it’s understandable that they will experience grief. Everyone’s grief is different, of course, with some people grieving deeply for long periods, while others seem to undergo only a short period of sadness before assimilating the experience into their personal histories and going on with normal life.
But the mother and father are not the only people who may be affected by a pregnancy loss. Grandparents can also go through a period of grieving.
For grandparents, grief is two-fold: not only they feel the loss of a grandchild, but also the deep sadness of seeing their own children in pain. The feelings of helplessness can be so difficult. We always want to "fix" our children’s problems, and it’s hard knowing there’s nothing we can do.
With grief, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that we can’t "fix" it. Everyone grieves in their own ways, and there are no time limits or rules about what is normal. As a grandparent, you are in a unique position to be a safe zone for your daughter or son to express her feelings of sadness. After all, you’re closer to the situation than most people, and you’ve experienced a loss of your own.
There are plenty of ways you can be helpful to your child, even if you can’t take away her grief. Having something concrete to do may help you ease your own feelings of grief.
- Give Yourself Permission to Grieve. In the past, pregnancy loss was even more taboo than it is today, so it may feel strange, or inappropriate to have such feelings of sadness over a miscarriage or stillbirth. It’s OK to have these feelings, and OK to share them with your son or daughter and your friends.
- Be a Listener. It’s hard for any human to listen without wanting to solve the speaker’s problem. It’s even harder as a parent. In the case of grief, however, it’s the very act of listening that matters. Listen quietly, and offer a hand to hold or a hug. That may be exactly what your son or daughter needs.
- Don’t Say Hurtful Things, Even If You Have Good Intensions. People mean well when they say things like "You’re young, you can have more children," but that can really hurt a grieving parent. Try not to pressure your daughter about her plans for more children.
- Offer Help at Home. "If you need anything, let me know." That’s the usual offer from friends and family. When it comes to helping your son or daughter, it’s much more effective to offer specific help. "I’d like to bring you dinner tomorrow," or "Would it be OK if I picked up the kids for the afternoon?" will usually be much easier to process for grieving parents.
- Remember Special Days. It can be hard for grieving parents to face special dates, like the due date, the first anniversary of the miscarriage, holidays, and more. Just a simple acknowledgment of your grandchild will help your son or daughter feel less alone.
- Learn the Warning Signs. While not every grieving parent will become clinically depressed, it is possible for women who have had a pregnancy loss to experience post-partum depression. Learn the warning signs of depression, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re worried about your son or daughter. If your son or daughter expressions suicidal feelings, or a desire to harm other people, get him or her to an emergency room, or call 9-1-1.
- Care for Yourself. It’s easy to forget to attend to your own needs when you’re trying to help someone else. But being in good physical health can really help you cope emotionally as well. Eat regularly, drink plenty of fluids, get a good night’s sleep, and some regular exercise. Encourage your son or daughter to do the same, and maybe even offer to be a walking buddy for some gentle exercise. If you’re struggling with your own feelings of grief, consider a support group or a counselor for yourself.