Grandparents feel the impact of a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition intensely. Grandparents face a unique and profound grief that starts the moment they learn of their grandchild's diagnosis, and like the parents, they grieve for the baby and the life he or she will never have. However, grandparents also have the compounded grief that comes with watching their own child suffer an unimaginable loss.
It can be a devastating experience to watch their child and his or her significant other face a loss of this magnitude, make difficult choices, and try to fit a lifetime of parenting into the fleeting moments or hours they will have with their baby. They would give anything to change the circumstances for their grandchild and bear the burden of grief and loss for their own child. Not only are grandparents navigating their own grief, they also help carry the weight of their child's grief while supporting the needs of the family their child has created.
Grieving parents depend heavily on those around them and that often means that grandparents are the ones to help meet needs, handle daily responsibilities, and provide support to these parents. As result, the grief experienced by grandparents is often unintentionally overlooked. Grandparents need support, opportunities to express their own grief, and recognition that they are still grandparents who love and grieve their precious grandbaby.
Grandparents Day was created to recognize and honor grandparents, hold space for grandparents to show their love for their children's children, and to raise awareness of the value, insight, and support grandparents provide to their families every day.
Grandparents Day honors the grandparents themselves as well as the impact that the bond between grandparent and grandchild has on relationships and society as a whole. Grandparents play such a profoundly important role in their lives of their grandchildren, but also in the lives of their own children as those grown children seek support, guidance, and love throughout their own parenting years. Grandparents Day is about celebrating and publicly affirming the identity and importance of grandparents as well as providing space for the grandparents themselves to see and celebrate the love they offer and the legacy they are creating.
At its core, Grandparents Day is a celebration of the men and women who have sacrificed so much of themselves to build a family. There is nothing easy about supporting their child as they navigate pregnancy continuation following a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition, especially while also navigating the grief felt so acutely by the grandparents themselves. This process highlights and displays the supportive and sacrificial nature of being a grandparent. When they enter in and help carry the weight of their child's grief, they do it out of love. Love for the child they raised and nurtured, and love for the grandbaby who made them grandparents whether for the first, second, or fifth time.
When the time comes, these grandparents will stand in a hospital waiting room or wait by the phone, knowing that their child is holding his or her own child for the first and last time. They will watch, helplessly, as their baby says goodbye to his or her baby. They may have to sacrifice their own desire to hold that baby to ensure that their child gets every second possible to parent, love, and hold their baby. They will then, somehow, manage to support their broken, devastated child and his or her family through an unimaginable transition home without a baby.
There is no denying that they are grandparents. They may be grandparents with empty arms, but they are grandparents nonetheless. On Grandparents Day, grandparents grieving the loss of their grandchild deserve to be seen and heard because the day is not just for grandparents who get the privilege of watching their grandchildren grow up. Grandparents Day is for grieving grandparents, too, so reach out and let them know that you see them.
What grieving grandparents need is really no different than what grieving parents need. They need acknowledgement, support, validation, and permission to express their feelings and share their experiences. They need to be seen, heard, and understood. As you support grieving grandparents this Grandparents Day, seek to empower them in their identity as grandparents, ask them what they need and how they are doing, and remember that they are grieving, too, year after year.
Empowering someone else has profound impact, and one of the best gifts you can give to grieving grandparents on Grandparents Day is empowerment. Simply put, empowerment is the authority given to someone to do something. It is about giving grieving grandparents the permission, encouragement, and support to grow confident in their voice, control, and rights in the midst of grief. Never underestimate the power of permission and empowerment. Here is how you can empower grieving grandparents this Grandparents Day:
Encourage them to speak about their grandchild, experiences, and feelings. A grandparent's story has a place in this world, and they have every right to give words to their experience. There is tremendous power in sharing stories, both for the grieving grandparent and for all the other grieving grandparents looking for connection. To read more about the power of sharing stories, please read our post found here.
Empower them to ask for help and support as they need it. Let them know that you are willing to offer support and that you are informed about the unique aspects of grieving as grandparents. Let them know that it is okay if they need help in the form of professional support like counseling and support groups. Give them permission to not be strong every minute of every day. Remind them that there are people who want to enter in and that there are resources available to them.
Encourage them to practice self-care and set boundaries to protect their emotional well-being. Whether that is getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well, or prioritizing down time, self-care is critical. Self-care is not a sign of weakness. Let them know that it is okay to turn off social media, ignore phone calls and texts, and decline invitations on hard days like anniversaries and Grandparents Day. Remind them that, when they withdraw or feel overwhelmed, there are still people by their side when they are ready to lean on them.
Empower them to advocate for the parents following diagnosis, throughout pregnancy, during delivery, and in life after loss. Connect them with resources like Carrying To Term, so that we can ensure that they feel informed, supported, and equipped with resources to utilize and share like our birth plan, studies, and blog.
Encourage them to recognize that they are grandparents, no matter the circumstances. Validate their experience, and remind them that they are, in fact, grandparents.
Empower them by giving them permission to grieve. Give them the freedom to grieve how they need to for as long as they need to. Impose no expectations or timelines on their grief. Support them as they carve out a legacy in honor of their precious grandchild.
Asking grandparents what they need and how they are doing is a practical way to honor the role they have in their families throughout this process and they grief they experience. This may seem like a simple way to support grandparents, almost as though it is not enough on your part, but that is the beauty of it. It is so simple to do, and it has such a profound impact on grieving grandparents.
So, when you ask the grandparents how their grandchild's parents are doing, ask them about themselves, too. When you ask what the parents need, ask what they need, too. When you seek advice about what gift or keepsake item you can and should give to the parents, ask what would be meaningful to them, too. Ask what would make them feel supported, loved, and seen on Grandparents Day, hard days, birthdays, and anniversaries.
Remember that grandparents often adopt one of the most selfless support roles in a carrying to term journey. We all know the selfless love and physical suffering the mother willingly endures, and we recognize the pain, support, and sacrifices fathers bear throughout this experience. Yet, I wonder how often we stop and think about the sacrifices that grandparents make and what the intensity of the grief they are experiencing is like.
So, reach out, especially this Grandparents Day. Validate them as grandparents and the role they play in their family. Ask how they are doing and find out what needs they have that you can meet. Hold space for their grief and be a safe space for them to share it freely.
In many ways, remembering is the absolute best and most important way you can offer support. One of the biggest worries that parents and grandparents face after the loss of their baby and grandbaby is that people will forget.
In so many ways, the grief that follows losing a baby or grandbaby is invisible. Few people, if any, get to meet the baby. There are a finite number of memories and pictures. Time is cruel in this area. The acuteness of the needs fade, people move forward, and yet the parents and grandparents are still grieving. So, remember. Remember the name of the baby. Remember the birth and death day. Remember after time passes. Remember the grandparents, especially on major days like Grandparents Day.
So, when Grandparents Day comes, year after year, acknowledge the grieving grandparents in your life. Acknowledge the grandparents by being there for them emotionally. Offer yourself as a listening ear when they need to talk. Validate their feelings and support them in their grief. You can acknowledge them by sending a text, card, or flowers on the day. Pick out a special gift or keepsake for them in honor of their grandbaby. Offer to provide a meal, run an errand, or spend time with them, so they can have time to just be the grandparents to the grandchild they are mourning.
Remembering looks like continually entering in. It is validating and offering support each step of the journey. It means doing something that says that you remember, even months and years later.
Do not avoid grieving grandparents, especially on Grandparents Day, because you are worried that you might remind them or because you are unsure of what to do or say. Your silence and absence can be isolating. Your tender, well-intentioned efforts at leaning in are powerful. When you speak the name lovingly given to their grandchild, you are validating that their grandbaby mattered to you and had impact on your life. Tell them that you think of them and their grandbaby often. Let them know that you still feel the pain of their loss.
Remembering is a way to speak life into a baby's memory. You are helping to create a legacy when you remember and reach out to the grandparents. More than anything, grieving grandparents want their grandchild to never be forgotten. When you remember, you provide connection, support, and permission to grieving grandparents.
Grandparents Day can be difficult to navigate for grandparents facing the loss of their grandbaby to a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis. In the weeks leading up the day, these grieving grandparents may experience a range of emotions and feel a heightened sense of grief. Grandparents Day can serve as a painful reminder of what their family is facing and the lifetime of grief they will all carry. The holiday is more than just the first Sunday after Labor Day. It is an emotionally complicated holiday for many, especially for grandparents who know the pain of losing a grandchild.
So, this Grandparents Day, remember the grandfathers and grandmothers in your life who are grieving. Ask what they might need and how they are doing. Empower them to speak freely about their grandbaby and their experiences. Their grief is profound, and they need support, too.