October 15, 2009

Grieving the Loss of a Grandchild

[We are pleased to feature Emily Wilberg as a guest writer. Emily’s son, Gabriel, was stillborn at 21 weeks gestation in May 2002. Her husband, Nick, is an illustrator and designer, and the two of them have designed several items for grieving parents and grandparents, including scrapbooking quotes suitable for scrapbooking a baby who has died. She has 4 living children in addition to her angel Gabriel. Emily is the author of the blog, Stepping Stones: a path to healing after the loss of a child. Emily says, "I never thought my life would take this turn. Maybe I had this particular baby (Gabriel) and married this particular man (Nick, an illustrator) in order to do some small good in this world.]“

[October has been designated as "Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month", with October 15 as "Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day".]

Stepping Stones blog — a path to healing after the loss of a child

When my son Gabriel was stillborn at 21 weeks we were blindsided. I had no idea that in this age of modern medicine and in a country as prosperous as the United States that babies still died. I thought it was something that only happened in third world counties, or maybe back in the pioneer days. And yet, it does happen. When a baby dies it is hard on the entire family — but I can imagine it is uniquely hard for a grandparent. Not only are you, yourself grieving the loss of your grandbaby, but your own child is hurting as well. What do you do? What CAN you do?

Often people do nothing. It used to be that when a baby died (either before or shortly after birth), the mother was not allowed to hold or see her child. She was told to forget and to try again as soon as possible. Things have changed. It has been discovered that it is better for the healing process if the mom is able to see her baby if possible; for the parents to hold and dress and photograph and name their child. If the baby was lost earlier in the pregnancy the parents may not be able to do even this. But the moment a mom finds out she is expecting she starts making plans for, and loving, her child. A loss at any stage is devastating. To be told to forget and move on can be hurtful; no matter how well intentioned the advice is.

There are support groups to help a family facing this trial. But even though this outside help is important, I often hear that families do not feel supported by those closest to them: their own family members. Part of this is due to differences in how our generations have been told to grieve. Part of it is probably due to the fact that family members are grieving themselves. And part of it, maybe, is that it is just too sad. Too sad to think about and too sad to talk about and certainly too sad to make a particular point to remember. And yet, that is often exactly what grieving parents need, people to remember.

You need to do what is best for you while grieving your grandchild. Nobody grieves the same and there is no straight path for healing from this loss. But it is also important to reach out to your child.

How can you help your child who has lost a baby?

Listen. Let us talk. Let us cry. Ask to hear our baby’s story and ask what we named our child. Refer to them by name. Our child’s name is precious to us; we treasure an engraved ornament or even something as simple as writing our baby’s name in a card to let us know you are thinking about us both.

Holidays can be particularly hard. Understand if the parents may not be up to big family celebrations at this time. If you do have a family dinner, a possible tradition to start is to have a toast to remember all missing family members not at the table with you. You can also make a donation to a worthy cause or do a service project in your grandchild’s name.

Technology can help families pull together in times of trial — there are many ways. Send emails often. Take advantage of inexpensive long distance to call frequently — with mobile phones, or iChat, or Internet phones such as Skype and Vonage. Use reminder services for special occasions like the ones available at flowers.com and electronic greeting cards.

The Internet brings our world closer together and makes multiple resources available that may not be available in your immediate community. There are many online resources and support groups for families grieving the loss of a child. There are even specific sites for grieving grandparents. I have listed a few helpful sites below.

Aloha Sand Photos is a recent project I have started with my sister is to take a photo of a child’s name written in the sand and post a photo of it on our blog. I am in Maryland and she is in Hawaii, and the names come from all over the world. One grateful parent recently sent me an email stating, “I love technology. I can simply do this… and photos can come across the world from Hawaii. I am grateful. It has brought me into a very sorrowful yet hopeful club of parents with children who grew wings far too early.”

God sends children to enlarge our hearts, and make us unselfish and full of kindly sympathies and affections. ~Mary Howitt

Thank you to Grandpa Shayne for letting me write this guest post on his blog. I am sorry this topic is needed at all, and yet, I am thankful to be allowed to share my experience it in the hopes it will bring comfort to someone else. I hope today is gentle for you.

Peace -Emily (Gabriel’s mom)

Online Resources

Do you have any thoughts or ideas about helping grandparents and parents heal after the loss of a child? We welcome your comments.

Please share this post with someone you love.

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Comments on Grieving the Loss of a Grandchild

October 15, 2009

LaurieBee @ 4:44 pm

This is PERFECT timing! Our ward just buried a 7-week-old baby yesterday. Thank you.

Grandpa Shayne @ 5:18 pm

Emily – Thank you for writing about such an important subject. Many grandparents will certainly be blessed by the information you provided, as well as the links.

Stephanie @ 11:45 pm

I was devastated 2 years ago when my beloved cousin and his wife lost a baby girl at childbirth. She did not take a breath, but she took our breaths away. So beautiful and an amazingly sad chapter. They mark her birthday each year and now she has a baby brother who has joined the family.

I commend you on a difficult subject, but for which so many people need help and healing.

October 16, 2009

Emily Wilberg @ 7:51 am

Thank you so much for posting my article. I know it is a difficult topic, and a sad one. ((hugs)) to anyone who has experienced the loss of a child.

Wayne Loder @ 6:17 pm

In reading Emily’s thoughts on how grandparents can help their children to survive the tragedy of the death of a baby, I felt that she really gave great recommendations. As a twice bereaved parent, a former chapter leader with The Compassionate Friends, and now as a person who works for The Compassionate Friends National Organization, I recognize that there are many layers of grief for grandparents when a grandchild has died. It’s important that grandparents receive support, as well as parents and siblings. We’ve tried to keep that in mind as we work with chapter leadership of our more than 625 U.S. chapters. Bereaved grandparents are always welcome to our chapter meetings throughout the country. We can all learn from each other. Anyone seeking a chapter of The Compassionate Friends can call our National Office at 877-969-0010 or visit our chapter locator at http://www.compassionatefriends.org/Local_Chapters/Chapter_Locator.aspx

October 17, 2009

DrSES @ 9:28 am

My heart aches for your pain of loss. I invite you to join my blog at: http://www.drses.blogspot.com
Perhaps thoughts posted there may soothe you along the journey. Walk In Beauty, author of Healing Heartaches Stories of Loss and Life

The Compassionate Friends World Wide Candle Lighing Decemember 2009

October 18, 2009

Kristi @ 3:51 pm

All good advice– I have been through this personally, and was definitely unprepared for all of the emotions I went through (logical or not). My parents were very helpful- even though far away. Definitely don’t ignore it- talk about it! I will admit that sometimes the phone calls got a little overwhelming. However, my parents were creative: my dad sent a little email with an itunes music download. This was a particularly inspiring song for him, and he felt that it would also help me feel uplifted. My parents and siblings also sent me a compilation of letters expressing their love and admiration for me. I learned that when it’s hard to find the right words to say, there are still a lot of other helpful options to express that love and concern.

Em @ 4:53 pm

Thank you for your experience and advice. I am amazed at how many people lose a baby or a child. It’s always helpful to know how to reach out and love those who are hurting. Thank you!

Beth LaMie @ 10:44 pm

Emily,
I’m so sorry for your loss. Your suggestions on how we can comfort the parents or grandparents are very helpful and greatly appreciated. God bless you and your family so you may find some peace.

Becky @ 11:18 pm

Emily,

I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my son Ian at 26 weeks gestation, so I understand all too well your pain. Thank you for giving voice to something we need so much to be heard. I just wish people would listen. God bless.

Becky

October 19, 2009

Heather Giang @ 5:19 pm

Great information, I like how you recommend doing what is best for you too. So often we skip that part.

October 22, 2009

Mel Menzies @ 1:49 pm

Hi Shayne,

You asked me to post the links I put up on Twitter so here’s the whole message:

My book, A Painful Post Mortem, has been endorsed by Bereaved Parents Network. This means they will be promoting it at all their events. The novel, which is based on my own experience, is available from Amazon, any good bookshop, or from my own website.

I also blog regularly (though not frequently) on bereavement. Just click the tag for bereavement. My heart goes out to all who have suffered loss and all proceeds from my book go to charities supporting children – some of whom have lost their parents. There are links on my site.

Grandpa Shayne @ 5:28 pm

LaurieBee, Stephanie, Kristi, and Becky – Thank you for sharing your experience with us. May you enjoy peace and pleasant memories.

Em, Beth, and Heather – Thank you for your words of comfort and encouragement.

Wayne, DrSES, and Mel – Thank you for your comments and compassion, and thanks for the links to those helpful websites.

October 29, 2009

Dorothy Rimson @ 5:03 am

A big thanks for sharing such an important issue and making all of us think seriously about it

November 10, 2009

Pratishtha @ 5:12 am

Thanks for this post, it is an important issue and since I have never come across anything like this in my life it was an eyeopener. We need to be strong yet tender at the same time in such situations. Very sensitively written, it not only prepares you for such an eventuality but also makes you act more responsibly when you see anything like this happen to anyone. It has definitely created an impression in my mind. Thanks again.

Emily @ 8:53 am

Thank you all for your kind words. ((hugs))

November 30, 2009

Susan Adcox @ 10:51 am

A few years ago my daughter had a miscarriage. I thought I had taken it in stride: she and her husband already had one child, and I had no doubt they would have more children. One day at work I went to the Coke machine and was suddenly sobbing with grief. I think it is important to realize that grief is natural, even for a child or grandchild lost early in a pregnancy.

January 14, 2010

convalescent home @ 12:38 pm

Thank you for writing about such a good subject. Many grandparents will be blessed by the information you provided.

October 14, 2010

Grandpa Shayne @ 12:50 am

I would like to let you all know about the “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Wave of Light” event on Friday, October 15th, 2010. If everyone lights candles in their time zone, there is a continuous wave of light around the world in memory of babies who have died.

Details here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=155583191139764
And here: http://www.october15th.com

October 23, 2010

Prada shoes @ 8:30 pm

I especially appreciate the information you have provided, and the links shared on this topic. Your assistance has been invaluable to me during this process.

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