Loss of a Grandparent

Losing a grandparent often takes away an individual who has played a unique role in the life of a child. The intensity of the grief will depend upon how large a role the grandparent played in life, how often the grandparent was able to be present, and the age of the grandchild when the loss occurs. The death of a grandparent may be the first experience that a child has with death.

While grieving any death is never easy, the loss of a grandparent can present some special challenges in learning to cope because of the special relationship the two share. Grandparents may shower the grandchildren with unconditional love and affection. Grandparents are often the first adults beyond the immediate family to play a significant role in the early development of a child.

The response to the grandparent’s death may range from feelings of deep sadness to anger and rage at what has happened to anxiety and fear for the future to a strong feeling of loneliness. There are several ways that you can learn to cope with the loss of a grandparent.

Helping a Child Cope with the Loss of a Grandparent

For a child, the death of a grandparent is often the first encounter with the loss of someone of significant importance. Depending on their age and life experiences, the idea of death may come with intense degrees of surprise or shock. For some children, the realization that a grandparent can die leads them to understand that others may also die. This can result in anxiety or clinginess. Other children may take the passing almost in stride.

While the parent will play the major role in helping a child understand the death of a grandparent, one of the other grandparents can bolster assurance and security. Preschool and elementary aged children will need the most help. Always remember that the discussions and language should be age appropriate. Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  1. Answer the child’s questions in a straight-forward manner. Keep the responses brief and in language that is age appropriate.
  2. Do not try to provide all of the answers. Keep your response focused on the immediate question. Telling too much to a child is just as bad as not speaking about the death at all. Be patient and consistent with the answers if the child asks the same questions day after day.
  3. Do not confuse the child by using euphemisms for death like sleep or passing away. Do not try to comfort them with ideas that “God took Grandma away.”
  4. Stress to the child that death is not a punishment. Help the child understand that death is a part of the cycle of life. Use some examples of real life that the child would understand. Make sure that the child does not feel at fault for the death.
  5. Be careful about blaming the death on the fact that the grandparent was “old.” Old is a relative term. The child may begin to fear losing everyone that seems “old.”
  6. Understand that in many children, real grief may come months or years after the actual death. Be sensitive to the child and be prepared to help when the grief actually hits. Do not try to tell the child that they shouldn’t be grieving a death that took place so long ago.
  7. Help the child do things that will help them remember the grandparent. Keeping pictures and special items from the grandparent in a special place, making a photo book, or going to visit the surviving grandparent can be very soothing and comforting.

Coping as an Adult with the Loss of a Grandparent

For an adult, the death of a grandparent is often the experience of a powerful loss. Many grandchildren have a very close relationship with one or more of the grandparents. The loss triggers sadness for missing the special relationship, but also raises concerns about who will fill that particular void.

If you have recently lost a grandparent, you may be wondering if things will ever return to normal. It may seem like every holiday or birthday sends you reeling into a flood of emotions. Here are a handful of things to remember to help you through those difficult days.

  1. Spend some time alone remembering. Grandparents play a special role in the life of children and adults. Remember the times that you shared. Think about the unconditional love that you received. Ponder how you might develop the capacity to love in a similar manner. You may find comfort in occasionally visiting the grave where your grandparent is buried and do your reflecting there.
  2. If your other grandparent is still living, spend some time every month visiting. Not only will you have a chance to remember the deceased grandparent, you will be making an impact on the remaining grandparent through the grieving process. You may wish to take care of some of the mundane items that the deceased grandparent would have done for the other – washing or maintaining the car, working with the finances, cleaning around the house. A great way to honor the deceased is by doing things they can no longer do for the person they loved.
  3. You may want to have a keepsake or a memento to have at your home or to keep with you. A favorite pocket watch, a special book, a picture that hung in the living room will be something that can bring immediate memories and reflections to mind.

Healing from the loss of a grandparent will happen gradually. Understanding the stages of grief and some of the mechanisms that can be used to cope with the loss will assist the process of returning to the routines of life. With time and support, you walk the path of recovery from grief.