This heartfelt manual is an indispensable and easily referenced resource for grieving grandparents, offering them a way forward after the death of a grandchild. Whether they were close to their grandchild and keenly feeling his or her absence, or even if they were not close to the child and are mourning the loss of a relationship they’ll never have, this book offers grandparents compassionate comfort and practical ideas for their journey through grief, addressing as well the unique pain of watching their children mourn the loss of their child. The ideas offered in the book clarify the basic principles of grief and mourning and offer immediate suggestions for things grandparents can do to embrace their grief, honor and remember their grandchild, and begin to heal.
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Healing a Grandparents Grieving Heart
100 Practical Ideas After Your Grandchildren Dies
By Alan D. Wolfelt
Center for Loss and Life TransitionCopyright © 2014 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO MOURN
"What a bargain grandchildren are! I give them my loose change, and they give me a million dollars' worth of pleasure."
— Gene Perret
You have experienced the loss of a grandchild. Your grief is very real. This death will affect you physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually, and spiritually.
Sometimes grandparents set aside or discount their own grief because they are so focused on worrying about and supporting their grieving child (the grandchild's parent). Yes, your child very much needs and deserves your love and support right now. But you also need love and support.
If you had a relationship with the grandchild who died, you will grieve. If your relationship was close, your grief will likely be profound and everlasting. If your relationship was not close, you may grieve the relationship you wish you could have had and regret the fact that it is now too late.
No matter how old we are, no matter how many friends and family members die over the course of our lives, we grieve. Each time, our grief is as unique as the person who died and our relationship with him. Just because we are older does not mean we are "used" to death and take it in stride without being affected by it.
Place a framed photo of your grandchild on your nightstand or somewhere you will see it first thing when you wake up and last thing before you go to sleep. Tell him how much you miss him.
UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GRIEF AND MOURNING
"What happens when people open their hearts? They get better."
— Haruki Murakami
Grief is the constellation of internal thoughts and feelings we have when someone we love dies. Grief is the weight in the chest, the churning in the gut, the unspeakable thoughts and feelings.
Mourning is the outward expression of our grief. Mourning is crying, journaling, creating artwork, talking to others about the death, telling the story, speaking the unspeakable.
Here's a way to remember which is which: The "i" in grief stands for what I feel inside. The "u" in mourn reminds me to share my grief with you.
Everyone grieves when someone loved dies, but if we are to heal, we must also mourn.
Many of the ideas in this book are intended to help you mourn the death of your grandchild, to express your grief outside of yourself. Over time, and with the support of others, to mourn is to heal.
Ask yourself this: Have I truly been mourning the death of my grandchild, or have I restricted myself to grieving?
REMEMBER THAT LOVE NEVER ENDS
"Death ends a life, not a relationship."
— Mitch Albom
You are probably old and wise enough by now to have learned that love never ends.
Do you love your grandchild any less today than you did before his death? Of course not! Your love for your child and your grandchild (and theirs for you) will go on. I believe that they will go on forever. What do you believe?
Your relationship with your grandchild will go on, too, but it will shift from a relationship of presence to a relationship of memory. If you believe in an afterlife, you may know that your relationship of presence, which has been paused for the time being, will continue after death.
If this was your only grandchild or your child's only child, you may struggle with labels. It's normal and necessary to think and feel this issue through for yourself, but rest assured, you are still a grandparent, and your child is still a parent.
Some people continue to foster a relationship of presence with a loved one who has died by talking to the person's photo, writing him letters, connecting with his spirit in places of special significance, etc. If this seems helpful and healing to you, give it a try today.
ALLOW FOR NUMBNESS
"There is a feeling of disbelief that comes over you, that takes over, and you kind of go through the motions. You do what you're supposed to do, but in fact you're not there at all."
— Frederick Barthelme
Feelings of shock, numbness, and disbelief are nature's way of temporarily protecting us from the full reality of the death of someone we love. Like anesthesia, these feelings help us survive the pain of our early grief. Be thankful for numbness.
We often think, "I will wake up and this will not have happened." Early mourning can feel like being in a dream. Your emotions will need time to catch up with what your mind has been told.
For grieving grandparents, feelings of helplessness may go hand-inhand with numbness. At the same time you are in disbelief, you may also wish you could make it all go away — yet know that you can't.
Even after you have moved beyond these initial feelings, don't be surprised if they re-emerge. Birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries often trigger these normal and necessary feelings. At times, feelings of shock and numbness may resurface for no apparent reason.
If you're feeling numb, cancel any commitments that require concentration and decision-making. Allow yourself time to regroup. Find a "safe haven" that you might be able to retreat to for a few days.
BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOURSELF
"Life Lesson 3: You can't rush grief. It has its own timetable. All you can do is make sure there are lots of soft places around — beds, pillows, arms, laps."
— Patti Davis
The journey through grief is a long and difficult one, especially for parents and grandparents who have suffered the death of a child. This death is wrong — it is unnatural; it is out of order; it is unfair; it is unfathomable.
Be compassionate with yourself as you encounter painful thoughts and feelings. Allow yourself to think and do whatever you need to think and do to survive.
Don't judge yourself or try to set a particular course for healing. There is no single, right way to grieve, and there is no timetable.
Let your journey be what it is. And let yourself — your new, grieving self — be who you are.
if others judge you or try to direct your grief in ways that seem hurtful or inappropriate, ignore them. You are the only expert of your grief. Usually such people are well-intentioned, but they lack insight. See if you can muster some compassion for them, too.
What are you beating yourself up about these days? If you have the energy (and you won't always), address the problem head-on. If you can do something about it, do it. If you can't, try to be self-forgiving.
BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOUR CHILDREN, YOUR SPOUSE, AND ALL THE FAMILY MEMBERS GRIEVING THIS DEATH
"Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering."
— Roland Barthes
Others are also deeply grieving this untimely death. Be as compassionate and nonjudgmental as you can be about their grief and behavior in the coming weeks and months. Give each other permission to mourn differently.
Grieving family members are often not able to support one another well, especially in the early days of grief. They are simply too overcome with their own thoughts and feelings to be truly helpful to someone else. This is normal and not a failure of relationships within the family.
Mothers (and grandmothers) sometimes feel that they are more affected by the death of a child. In fact, some research has shown that a mother's grief can be more disabling and longer lasting. Yet the intensity of feeling often depends most on each person's closeness to the child who died, not on gender. Fathers (and grandfathers) often feel the same depths of grief when a child dies, though these feelings are sometimes not expressed.
Largely due to societal norms and expectations, men and women tend to mourn differently. Men often appear to be more stoic, and they may want to return to work faster. Women are typically more outwardly emotional and slower to return to daily routines. Yet in some families, these roles seem to be reversed. All these responses are normal and are not a gauge of each person's love for the child who died.
Today, plan a time to talk to your partner or another family member about any unreconciled feelings you have toward him or her regarding the death, even if the death happened some time ago. Your goal is not to accuse or judge but rather to listen and to love.
BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOUR SURVIVING GRANDCHILDREN
"A grandparent is a parent who has a second chance."
— Author unknown
Grieving siblings are often "forgotten mourners." This means that their parents and family as well as friends and society tend to either overlook their ongoing grief or attempt to soothe it away.
What grieving siblings and cousins really need is for adults to be open and honest with them about the death. And they need to know that their grief is important, too, and that their unique thoughts and feelings are acknowledged.
Share your grief with your surviving grandchildren and make time to understand theirs. The parents of the child who died may understandably be too overwhelmed by their own grief to focus on their remaining children. As a grandparent, now is the time to step in and help your surviving grandkids feel safe, heard, and loved.
Sometimes siblings of a child who died are put in the position of trying to parent their grieving mother and father. Yet children need to be children. They are not developmentally mature enough to act as caregivers, and they also need caregivers to focus on their grief. If you see this kind of role-reversal happening in your family, I encourage you to share in the parenting responsibilities and caregiving in order to relieve and support the children.
Take your surviving grandchildren out to lunch or to the park and spend some time talking about their feelings since the death. Find out if they are at risk of becoming "forgotten mourners." If they are, spearhead a plan to get them the support they need.
BE AWARE THAT YOUR GRIEF AFFECTS YOUR BODY, HEART, SOCIAL SELF, MIND, AND SPIRIT
"Grief is hard on friendships, but it doesn't have to be. Sometimes, all it takes is a little honesty between friends. If we gently and lovingly explain what we need from the relationship during our time of grief, and what we are willing to do in return, we can turn even a lukewarm friendship into something special."
— Margaret Brownley
Grief is physically demanding. The body responds to the stress of the encounter and the immune system can weaken. You may be more susceptible to illness and physical discomforts. Grieving grandparents often describe their grief as a pain in the chest or a physical ache. You will probably also feel sluggish or highly fatigued. Some people call this the "lethargy of grief."
The emotional toll of grief is complex and painful. Mourners often feel many different feelings, and those feelings can shift and blur over time.
Bereavement naturally results in social discomfort. Friends and family often withdraw from mourners, leaving them isolated and unsupported. Mourners often feel out of place in a setting they once felt a part of.
It's very common for mourners to be unable to concentrate and think clearly. If, like me, you normally experience your share of "senior moments," don't be surprised to find yourself even more cognitively affected in grief.
Mourners often ask, "Why go on living?" "Will my life have meaning now?" "Where is God in this?" Spiritual questions such as these are natural and necessary but also draining.
All five facets of your self are under attack. You may feel weak and powerless, especially in the early weeks and months. Only over time and through active mourning will you gain the strength to re-emerge as a new, whole you.
If you've felt physically affected by your grief, see a doctor this week. Sometimes it's comforting to receive a clean bill of health.
EXPECT TO HAVE A MULTITUDE OF FEELINGS
"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."
— C.S. Lewis
Grieving grandparents don't just feel sad. They often feel numb, angry, guilty, afraid, regretful, confused, even relieved (in cases of chronic or terminal illness, for example). Sometimes these feelings follow each other within a short period of time, or they may occur simultaneously. I often say that grief is not experienced as a single note but as a chord.
As strange as some of these emotions may seem to you, they are normal and healthy. At times, you may feel like you're "going crazy." Rest assured that you aren't going crazy: you're grieving.
Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling without judging yourself.
Talk about your feelings with someone who cares and can supportively listen.
Which grief feeling has surprised you most? Make a point of talking about this feeling with someone today.
UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING
Need #1: Acknowledge the reality of the death
"When you are born, you cry, and the world rejoices. When you die, you rejoice, and the world cries."
— Buddhist saying
Your grandchild has died. This is one of the most difficult realities in the world to accept. Yet gently, slowly, and patiently, you must embrace this reality, bit by bit, day by day.
Whether your grandchild's death was sudden or anticipated, fully acknowledging the reality of the loss may take weeks, months, even years.
You will first acknowledge the reality of the death with your head. Only over time will you come to acknowledge it with your heart.
At times you may push away the reality of the death. This is normal and necessary for your survival. You will come to integrate the reality in doses as you are ready.
Tell someone who doesn't know what happened about your grandchild today. Talking about both the life and the death will help you work on this important need.
UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING
Need #2: Embrace the pain of the loss
"In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life, there is a deafening alleluia rising from the souls of those who weep, and of those who weep with those who weep. If you watch, you will see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one."
— Ann Weems
This need requires mourners to embrace the pain of their loss — something we naturally don't want to do. It is easier to avoid, repress, or push away the pain of grief than it is to confront it.
It is in embracing your grief, however, that you will learn to reconcile yourself to it.
In the early days after the death of your grandchild, your pain may seem ever-present. Your every thought and feeling, every moment of every day, may seem painful. During this time, you will probably need to seek refuge from your pain. Go for a walk, read a book, watch TV, talk to supportive friends and family about the normal things of everyday life.
While you do need to embrace the pain of your loss, you must do it in doses, over time. You simply cannot take in the enormity of your loss all at once. It's healthy to seek distractions and allow yourself bits of pleasure each day.
If you feel up to it, allow yourself a time for embracing pain today. Dedicate 15 minutes to thinking about and feeling the loss. Reach out to someone who doesn't try to take your pain away and spend some time with him.
UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING
Need #3: Remember the child who died
"Some are bound to die young. By dying young a person stays young in people's memory. If he burns brightly before he dies, his brightness shines for all time."
— Author unknown
When someone we love dies, they live on in us through memory. Those of us who have lived a number of decades in this world know this well.
To heal, grandparents and all family members need to actively remember the child who died and commemorate the life that was lived.
Never let anyone take your memories away in a misguided attempt to save you from pain. It's good for you to continue to display photos of your grandchild. It's good to talk about memories, both happy and sad. It's good to cherish toys and other items that belonged to your grandchild.
If you are grieving after a miscarriage or stillbirth, this need will focus on remembering your hoped-for expectations and dreams of the future.
In the early weeks and months of your grief, you may fear that you will forget your grandchild — the details of her face, the tone of his voice, the special lilt in her walk. Rest assured that while time may blur some of your memories, as you slowly shift your relationship from one of presence to one of memory, you will indeed remember.
Remembering the past makes hoping for the future possible.
You might find it helpful to begin to write down memories of your grandchild. This is both a healing exercise and a way to hold on to special memories forever. Today, write down at least one memory.
UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING
Need #4: Develop a new self-identity
"We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others — our parents, for instance — and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live."
— Charles Taylor
Excerpted from Healing a Grandparents Grieving Heart by Alan D. Wolfelt. Copyright © 2014 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Center for Loss and Life Transition.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Give yourself permission to mourn 7
2 Understand the difference between grief and mourning 8
3 Remember that love never ends 9
4 Allow for numbness 10
5 Be compassionate with yourself 11
6 Be compassionate with your children, your spouse, and all the family members grieving this death 12
7 Be compassionate with your surviving grandchildren 13
8 Be aware that your grief affects your body, heart, social self, mind, and spirit 14
9 Expect to have a multitude of feelings 15
10 Understand the six needs of mourning Need #1: Acknowledge the reality of the death 16
11 Understand the six needs of mourning Need #2: Embrace the pain of the loss 17
12 Understand the six needs of mourning Need #3: Remember the child who died 18
13 Understand the six needs of mourning Need #4: Develop a new self-identity 19
14 Understand the six needs of mourning Need #5: Search for meaning 20
15 Understand the six needs of mourning Need #6: Receive ongoing support from others 21
16 Know that grief does not proceed in orderly, predictable "stages" 22
17 Take an inventory 23
18 Take good care of yourself 24
19 Let go of destructive myths about grief and mourning 25
20 Help your child… 26
21 …and get help for yourself 27
22 Create a sacred space in your home 28
23 Use your grandchild's name 29
24 Tell the story, over and over again if you feel the need 30
25 Be a good listener 31
26 Don't say this 32
27 Say this instead 33
28 Learn about the Compassionate Friends 34
29 If you feel helpless, talk about it 35
30 If you feel guilty, talk about it 36
31 If you feel angry, talk about it 37
32 Understand the role of "linking objects" 38
33 Pay attention to your body language 39
34 Talk to other grieving grandparents 40
35 If you are alone… 41
36 Find a grief "buddy" 42
37 Offer practical help 43
38 Offer your presence 44
39 Adopt someone 45
40 Be aware of other griefs you may be carrying 46
41 Wear a symbol of mourning 47
42 Express your faith 48
43 Think young 49
44 Give something away 50
45 Organize a memory book 51
46 Make a shadow box or memory quilt 52
47 Be open with your child 53
48 Be aware of the pressure cooker phenomenon 54
49 Draw on your wisdom 55
50 Go easy on people who say stupid things 56
51 Look into support groups 57
52 See a counselor 58
53 Get to know your grandchild 59
54 Befriend the other grandparents 60
55 Give to the cause 61
56 Keep a journal 62
57 Arrange for a family photo 63
58 Prepare to answer "The Question" 64
59 Visit the cemetery 65
60 Start a new tradition 66
61 Break a bad habit 67
62 Meet your grandchild in "thin places" 68
63 Plan a ceremony 69
64 Move beyond any bad feelings about the funeral 70
65 Celebrate Grandparent's Day 71
66 Make your grandchild's favorite meal 72
67 Tell your grandchildren your life stories 73
68 Break the rules 74
69 Say what you need to say 75
70 Be mindful of anniversaries 76
71 Visit the great outdoors 77
72 Watch for warning signs 78
73 Update your will 79
74 Move 80
75 Listen to the music 81
76 Laugh 82
77 Cry 83
78 Pray 84
79 Avoid saying "should" 85
80 Steady the keel 86
81 Write a thank-you note 87
82 Write a letter to your grandchild 88
83 Write letters to be read on a future date 89
84 Remember others who had a special relationship with your grandchild 90
85 Don't be alarmed by "griefbursts" 91
86 Mend fences 92
87 Get a new perspective 93
88 Start, renew, or give away a collection 94
89 Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty 95
90 Redefine what being a grandparent means to you 96
91 Take things one day at a time 97
92 Take a chance 98
93 Imagine the grandchild who died in heaven 99
94 Establish a memorial fund or scholarship in the name of your grandchild 100
95 Reassess your priorities 101
96 Leave a legacy 102
97 Live for your grandchild 103
98 Understand the concept of "reconciliation" 104
99 Live each day like its your last 105
100 Embrace the ways in which you are growing through grief 106
A Final Word 107
The Mourner s Code 108