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After your stillbirth

Grandparent's grief

Losing a baby seems to defy the natural life cycle. Older adults often feel they should die before younger generations. As a grandparent, you may feel helpless and powerless because you couldn't protect your adult child or your grandchild from this experience. Seeing the impact of the baby's death on your children can be particularly hard.

As a grandparent, how you support your adult child will depend on a number of factors. These include your relationship with your child, the circumstances of the loss, your health, and your personal and financial resources. This loss may also bring up losses you've had in the past.

Grandparents may feel this loss on more than 1 level. This isn't always recognized. You've lost a grandchild to a stillbirth along with all the hopes and dreams you had for this new family member. You also grieve for your children as they face this loss.

As a grandparent, it's important to support your child but to also respect and feel your grief in your own way. Grieving parents may not understand the depth of your grief. Remember the grief of grandparents can be as intense and as painful as the grief of the parents.

Grief is different for everyone. Each of us is affected by our personality, gender, culture, and our learned styles of grieving. This includes our beliefs about how grief should be expressed and for how long. The important thing to remember is that there's no right or wrong way to grieve. There is also no time limit to feel your grief over the loss of your grandchild. 

What you can do

As a grandparent grieving the loss of a grandchild:

  • Take care of yourself and keep up your strength by:
    • eating well
    • drinking plenty of water
    • exercising every day
    • getting enough rest and sleep
  • Let yourself cry when you need to as this helps your children to feel supported in their grief.
  • Write your feelings in a journal or read about grief.
  • Do something physical in honour of your grandchild such as building a memory box, making a swing, or planting a garden.
  • If you drink alcohol, limit how much you drink. Alcohol may numb the pain temporarily but it can also affect your ability to cope.
  • Get help through a support group, counselling, or by talking to your friends or other grandparents. Find support from people other than your child. Your child may be too overwhelmed with their own grief to support you. Contact grief programs in your area for more information.

How to help your adult child ​

  • Respect the decisions they make at this time.
  • Offer practical support such as help with meals, running errands, cleaning, driving, answering the phone, and providing child care if they have other children.
  • Offer to help with funeral planning. Note that this might be something the parents want to do themselves.
  • Offer to arrange for photos of the baby or take them yourself. Let the parents decide if and when they want to see them.
  • Call your grandchild by name if one has been given. Most parents say hearing their baby’s name is “music to their ears.”
  • Remember your grandchild and children on special occasions. This can include birthdays, due date, anniversary of the baby’s death, Christmas or religious holidays, as appropriate, as well as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
  • Include your grandchild when talking about the number of grandchildren you have.
  • Make sure this grandchild has a place in your home. This can be done by displaying their photograph, hand or foot print, or something else representing the baby.
  • Respect the parents’ wishes about what to do with the nursery. There’s no rule about when or if the nursery should be rearranged.​

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