Grandparents await the joys of watching grandchildren grow, so the loss of these hopes and dreams for both the child and family is incredibly painful.
The grief experienced by grandparents is heightened by seeing the grief of their own child. For the parent, to be unable to ease their child’s pain can be heart breaking. They struggle to find ways to help without interfering, and often do not feel entitled to express their own grief; instead focusing on trying to support remaining grandchildren.
Liz, a bereaved Grandparent Befriender of The Lullaby Trust writes:
“Another cause of sadness on that dreadful day was that neither our son, who had been the most affectionate son anyone could imagine, nor our daughter-in-law whom we loved deeply, wanted to be hugged. It was awful. There was really nothing we could do to comfort them.”
A very deep sense of loss may be felt by those who live far away from the grandchild, and may not have been able to see and hold him or her before their death. Other relatives may also feel this way.
Aunts, uncles and other family members
The anger everyone in the family feels about the death is often directed at those closest, and is easily misunderstood. Tensions between the generations over differing childcare practices, and even spoken-aloud thoughts about the unfairness of a healthy baby dying when a much older, even unwell, relative continues to survive, may cause great hurt in the heat of the moment.
A very deep sense of loss will be felt by those who live far away from the grandchild, and may not have been able to see and hold him or her before the death. These considerations apply too to other relatives, and if it was a niece or nephew who died, feelings of loss may be complicated by fears for their own children or future ones. Suddenly everything seems uncertain.
One aunt told The Lullaby Trust:
“It could just as easily have happened to one of my own children, I cannot imagine what it would have been like.”
In addition to this fear, you may be pregnant or have a small child of your own, and wonder how the baby’s parents will feel about seeing your child. Will it be too painful for them to see another baby, will they resent them or be jealous? It is often best to ask the parents how they feel.
One relative wrote to The Lullaby Trust saying:
“I fear saying the wrong things or stirring up painful memories that have possibly begun to ease with the passing of time. There seems so little I can do or say and I feel completely helpless.”
How you can help a bereaved parent
While family members may not always feel confident about how to help, bereaved parents often mention their valuable support.
Help with the other children or with daily activities and practicalities is nearly always welcomed, and many parents say they were grateful to have family members who were there to listen.
You might find it helpful to read our section on how you can support a loved one, where bereaved parents have shared examples of something that someone said or did that helped them in the weeks, months and years after their baby died.
How we can help support you
Our Freephone Helpline is there for anyone in a family affected by the sudden and unexpected death of a baby or young child. You can call our helpline on 0808 802 6868, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finding support from a Befriender
Advisers on The Lullaby Trust’s Helpline can put you in touch with a grandparent, aunt/uncle or sibling who has experienced the death of a baby in similar circumstances.
Befrienders have all been given specialist training on how to offer listening support. You could choose to speak on the telephone, or communicate via email. Find out more about our Befriender service here, or call us on 0808 802 6868.