Grandparents may feel a range of emotions following the loss of a baby and it may be difficult to know what to do to help your children, and what not to do, while you are also trying to cope with your own grief. Here, LOLA hopes to give you guidance on how you can relate to your bereaved children, and ways you can provide practical support, while you are managing your own grief.
Talking to your Children
It is likely your children will be in a state of deep shock and grief following the loss of their baby. From you, their parents, they will hope for your unqualified support. Sometimes, this may mean putting your own needs and your own grief to one side, which may be difficult.
It is helpful not to have any expectations of your children, and even more so to make that clear; they will feel supported by hearing that you are there for them, however they need you. Whatever emotions you are feeling, it will be best if you don’t put any pressure on your children to provide support for you; rather, it’s likely to be better if you seek the support you need from other family members and your good friends.
In relating to your children after a stillbirth, it is usually a good idea to take your cues from them. If they want to be alone, let them take that time without judgment. If they don’t want to share information, don’t press them and don’t be offended by any need they have to be private.
On the other hand, if your children want to share their experience with you, listen. Don’t avoid them. Take time to share their experience. And when you are talking about your grandchild with your children, don’t be afraid to use his or her name, if you know it; doing so is likely to honour their child and acknowledge the deep loss they feel.
When you are talking to your children, there are some things it is probably best to avoid saying. Often, even well intended reassurance is likely to be unhelpful, and it is best to avoid anything that might indicate the loss of the baby can be replaced by having another child, or that the loss was ‘meant to be’, including for children with a severe illness. Any indication that the loss of the baby is for the best, or that the parents will ‘get over’ their loss, even in time, can be unhelpful.
The best you can do as a parent is be willing to support and to listen. Don’t ask anything of your children, and try not to make any assumptions at all about how they may be feeling.
Practical help and support for your Children
Particularly in the early days after losing their baby, your children will probably find it very difficult to do everyday things like shopping, cooking, looking after other children or animals, or cleaning the house. Unless your children have indicated they need privacy, making yourself available to help with these day to day things is likely to be really welcome.
Milestones, like due dates, birthdays, Christmas Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and even times when a stillborn baby might have started nursery, or school, are all likely to be really difficult times for your children. In addition, the birth of other children in the family may also act as a reminder for them of their deep and enduring loss. It will be helpful if you can remain aware of the timing of various milestones that might be difficult for your children, let them know you are thinking of them and remembering their baby, and offer whatever support they might need.
Any decisions your children might make about having another baby will also be difficult. Your children may not wish to discuss this with you and it is likely to be best not to talk to them about this, unless they raise it with you. If your children do get pregnant again, they are likely to find that pregnancy very stressful. They will not view either the new pregnancy or the new baby as erasing their pain or grief. In fact, the birth of a new baby may bring with it more grief, acting as a very tangible reminder of the baby who has died.
Dealing with your own Grief
Dealing with your own grief following the loss of a grandchild can be very tough, particularly when you will experience moments where your children need you to put your grief to one side, and provide support for them. It is important to make sure you have your own sources of support and that you have space to manage the challenge of your own grief, away from your children, so that you can remain strong for yourself, and for them.
Here we have provided other grandparents’ stories, in the hope they will support you to feel less alone and more informed about the experiences of other grandparents in similar situations.
In addition, these leaflets give a lot more detailed guidance for grandparents, friends and families on how to support bereaved parents following the loss of their baby:
You can also look at babylosscomfort.com for really helpful guidance on the grief that your children are experiencing, and may find their webpage 'What do I say?' along with this resource on the Sands website useful to help find the right words, when someone has lost a baby.