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”.]
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)
- Aloha Remembered Blog: Have your grandchild’s name written in the sand and a photo posted on their blog.
- Stepping Stones: a path to healing after the loss of a child is a good general blog for finding helpful information.
- Stepping Stones article: Common Signs of Grief
- Grieving Grandparents Bereavement Support Article
- Grandparent Grief pamphlet from the SIDS network
- The Grief of Grandparents article by Compassionate Friends
- Helping a Grandparent Who Is Grieving Article by Alan D. Wolfelt, PH.D
- Healing Hearts: Support for Grieving Grandparents Email Penpals
- Remembering Our Angels: Gifts and ribbons for purchase.
Do you have any thoughts or ideas about helping grandparents and parents heal after the loss of a child? We welcome your comments.