Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Helping a Grieving Grandparent

It has been interesting to me to see how grief affects so many people in different ways.  I normally don't like to be too wordy or to preach at all.  But I came across this excerpt from the book, "Helping a Grandparent Who is Grieving," and I thought it was good to remember the different people that are affected by the death of a baby. I think these tips are helpful for anyone who has experienced grief.  I have learned how little we talk about death in our culture and it makes grieving that much harder. Holland has such wonderful grandparents who have experienced heartache along with Nick and Briz and I.  And we love and appreciate them more than we can say.

Realize that a grandparent's grief is unique.

When a grandchild dies, the grandparent often mourns the death on many levels.  The grandparents probably loved the child dearly and may have been very close to him or her.  The death has created a hold in the grandparent's life that cannot be filled by anyone else.  Grandparents who were not close to the child who died perhaps because they loved far away, may instead mourn the loss of a relationship they never had.

Grieving grandparents are also faced with witnessing their child - the parent of the child who died - mourn the death. A parent's love for a child is perhaps the strongest of all human bonds.  For the parents of the child who died, the pain of grief may seem intolerable.  For the grandparents, watching their own child suffer so and feeling powerless to take away the hurt can feel almost as intolerable.

 With Nona just after delivery.

With a proud Papa.

Acknowledge the grandparents search for meaning.

When someone loved dies, we all ponder the meaning of life and death.  When a child or young adult dies, this search for meaning can be especially painful.  Young people aren't supposed to die.  The death violates the natural order of life and seems terribly unfair.

For grandparents, who may have lived long, rich lives already, the struggle to understand the death may bring about feelings of guilt.  "Why didn't God take me, instead?" the grandparent may ask himself.  "Why couldn't it have been me?"

Such feelings are both normal and necessary.  You can help by encouraging the grandparent to talk about them.

 Snuggling up with Nona on a warm summer night.

  Holland loved cuddling with her Papa.

Respect faith and spirituality.

Many people develop strong commitments to faith and spirituality as they get older.  If you allow them, grieving grandparents will "teach you" about the role of faith and spirituality in their lives.  Encourage them to express their faith if doing so helps them heal in grief.

Sometimes, however, faith can naturally complicating healing.  The grandparent may feeling angry at God for "taking" the grandchild.  He then may feel guilty about his anger, because, he may reason, God is not to be questioned.  Or the grandparent may struggle with feelings of doubt about God's plan for the afterlife.

Talking with a pastor may help the grandparents, as long as the pastor allows the grandparents to honestly express her feelings of anger, guilt, and sadness.  No one should tell a grandparent that she shouldn't grieve because the child has gone to heaven; mourning and having faith are not mutually exclusive.  Listen with your heart.

You can begin to help by listening.  Your physical presence and desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools.  Don't worry so much about what you will say.  Just concentrate on the words that are being shared with you.

Sometimes grandparents, especially grandfathers, don't want to talk about the death.  They may have been raised to believe that talking about feelings is frivolous or selfish or unmanly.  It's OK; they don't have to talk.  Simply spending time with them demonstrates your love and concern.

 Grandma Julie giving Holland a bath.

Holland is not happy with Grandma for taking her out of the bath

Be compassionate.

Give the grandparent permission to express her feelings without fear of criticism.  Learn from the grandparents; don't instruct or set expectations about how she should respond.  Never say, "I know just how you feel."  You don't.  Think about your helper role as someone who "walks with" not "behind" or "in front of" the grieving grandparent.

Allow the grandparent to experience all the hurt, sorrow, and pain that he is feeling at the time.  Enter into his feelings, but never try to take them away.  And recognize that tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with the death.

Nona was brave to allow a naked Briz to sit on her while holding Holly.

After the OSU/BYU game with Holland.  My little girl got to go to a BYU football game.  I'm proud of that :)

Avoid cliches.

Words, particularly, cliches can be extremely painful for a grieving grandparent.  Cliches are trite comments often intended to provide simple solutions to difficult realities.  Grandparents are often told, "God needed another angel in heaven" or "Don't worry, John and Susie can have another child" or "You have to be strong for your child."  Comments like these are not constructive.  Instead, they hurt because they diminish the very real and very painful loss of a unique child.

When a grandchild dies, grandparents grieve twice.  They mourn the loss of the child and they feel the pain of their own child's suffering.  Sometimes we forget about the grandparents when a child dies.  You can help by not forgetting, by offering the grandparents your love, support and presence in the weeks and months to come.

 The night before Holland died, we went to a pumpkin patch in Utah.  Grandpa is pulling all of the bigger grandkids in the wagon.  He's such a good sport.  He's always behind the scenes helping out.

Also the night before Holland died.  Grandma Julie loves having all of her family and grandkids together.  And we love being with her.  I wish I had more pictures with Holland with Grandpa and Grandma, but I'm glad they got to spend some alone time with her.  And I'm glad they were able to be there with us on the day she died.


Meredith said...

I found this very moving, especially with the pictures of Holland's grandparents. I really liked the line "mourning and having faith are not mutually exclusive." Thanks for including this in your blog. I think it is always valuable to consider other people's perspectives and try to understand what other people are going through.

Sierra said...

"Mourning and having faith are not mutually exclusive." That line is perfect. This was awesome. Thank you for sharing.