a grieving grandparent


...by Margaret H. Gerner

I am powerlessness. I am helplessness. I am frustration. I sit with her and I cry with her. She cries for her daughter and I cry for mine. I can't help her. I can't reach inside her and take her broken heart. I must watch her suffer day after day.

I listen to her tell me over and over how she misses Emily, how she wants her back. I can't bring Emily back for her. I can't buy her an even better Emily than she had, like I could buy her an even better toy when she was a child. I can't kiss the hurt and make it go away. I can't even kiss even a small part of it away. There's no band aid large enough to cover her bleeding heart.

There was a time I could listen to her talk about a fickle boyfriend and tell her it would be okay, and know in my heart that in two weeks she wouldn't even think of him. Can I tell her it'll be okay in two years when I know it will never be okay, that she will carry this pain of "what might have been" in her deepest heart for the rest of her life?

I see this young woman, my child, who was once carefree and fun-loving and bubbling with life, slumped in a chair with her eyes full of agony. Where is my power now? Where is my mother's bag of tricks that will make it all better.

Why can't I join her in the aloneness of her grief? As tight as my arms wrap around her, I can't reach that aloneness.

What can I give her to make her better? A cold, wet cloth will ease the swelling of her crying eyes, but it won't stop the reason for her tears. What treat will bring joy back to her? What prize will bring that happy child smile back? Where are the magic words to give her comfort? What chapter in Dr. Spock tells me how to do this? He has told me everything else I've needed to know.

Where are the answers?

I should have them.

I'm the mother.

I know that someday she'll find happiness again, that her life will have meaning again. I can hold out hope for her someday, but what about now? this minute? this hour? this day?

I can give her my love and my prayers and my care and my concern. I could give her my life. But even that won't help.

I wrote this piece out of deep feelings of powerlessness. It seemed that no matter what I did, I could not take away my daughter's pain at the death of her 3 year old daughter, Emily. Were that not enough, I was devastated by my own grief at the loss of my precious granddaughter.

I could relate to my daughter's pain. I, too, had lost a child. In 1971 my six year old son, Arthur, was killed by an automobile. At that time there were no support groups. I didn't know how to grieve or that what I was feeling was normal. I thought I was losing my mind. The psychiatrist I saw after Arthur's death reinforced my belief by giving me drugs for my "depression".

I tried to do what people told me to do; count my blessings and be "strong." That meant not talking about Arthur, not crying, and not expressing any other emotions I felt. The result was five years of distorted, prolonged grief which eventually had to be resolved with the help of a professional who had training in bereavement.

When my daughter lost her child -- that very day in the hospital, with Emily growing cold under my hands -- I swore this would not happen to Dorothy. I didn't know how, but I knew I was going to do everything possible to help her. I knew what she had ahead of her.

I was shattered by Emily's death, but my grief lessened sooner than Dorothy's. Since Emily was not my child, I recovered many months ahead of my daughter. What didn't lessen was seeing Dorothy's pain. That continues, at times, even today.

As a parent of a grieving child, you have a unique opportunity to cement a deep and lasting relationship with your child.

*You have the opportunity to walk with your child through the most difficult life experience they will endure.

*You have the opportunity to help your child in a very special way and the bond that forms will never be broken.

It will not be easy, and the process is long and hard. You will feel powerless, frustrated and helpless many times.

But you CAN help!

Reprinted from Centering Corporation pamphlet For Bereaved Grandparents. Use the links below to explore the different aspects and issues that bereaved grandparents face.

Your Grief-A Fork with Two Tines

Helping Your Grieving Child

Home | Parent's Grief | Infant Loss | Siblings | Grandparents