“I am powerlessness. I am helplessness. I am frustration,” are Margaret H. Gerner’s opening lines in her book, For Bereaved Grandparents.
Those three sentence grabbed me; a fitting reflection of grief.
When we see the death of a young child in the newspaper, our first thoughts are of their parents and siblings and what a difficult time they must be experiencing. Yet, there is another set of family members equally confronted with grief…the grandparents.
As a grandparent, you are not only grieving the loss of your grandchild but you are grieving with your child. Gerner describes her experience as a bereaved grandmother as, “I sit with her and I cry with her. She cries for her daughter and I cry for mine. I can’t help her. I can’t reach inside her and take her broken heart. I must watch her suffer day after day.”
If you are a grieving grandparent or if you know a grieving grandparent, here are a few things that you need to know.
1. Grandparents need to grieve for the loss of their grandchild.
2. Grandparents have the ability to be helpful to the grieving parents of their grandchild.
Gerner states the second as a way “to feel helpful to your bereaved child.”
The grandparent will experience the broad spectrum of feelings and behaviors related to grief. Gerner adds that with grandparents their grief needs may have special consideration related to sleep and appetite changes as well as increased symptoms related to long standing chronic ailments. The grandparent needs to listen to their body and take special care of their physical needs.
In particular to grandparents, Gerner states that grandparents may have the need for constant talk or have the inability to concentrate.
The grandparent may need to express thoughts and feelings and story to anyone who will hear them. “Talking is essential,” Gerner writes. Talking helps the healing process.
What can the grandparents do to help?
Gerner lists 6 ways that you as a grandparent can help your grieving child:
1. Encourage talking.
2. Allow your child to cry.
3. Talk about your grandchild.
4. Listen to your bereaved child.
5. Provide physical support. (Helping with household chores and caring for other grandchildren in the home.)
6. Physically hold your child.
Listening is the most important thing a grandparent can do.
Although part of a grandparent’s grief is to share their story it is also their job to listen to the bereaved child.
Use active listening skills such as sitting close, leaning into the conversation, and having good eye contact.
Avoid being distracted by household noises, your schedule or your own anxieties.
Being a good listener means that you listen more than you talk.
Give permission to the bereaved child to talk about anything that they need to without judgement.
Gerner writes, “Active listening is the most valuable gift you can give.”