Losing a child sucks the life out of you. Your heart’s crushed beyond repair. You have no strength for life, and you don’t care if life goes on without you or not. Most of the time it seems as thought it would be easier—and more merciful—if it did go on without you. Crawling into the grave with your child seems like a better, more bearable option.
But what about the grandparents pain? The mother or father of the son whose child has died? The grandmother and grandfather who also harbored hopes and dreams for their grandchild, looked forward to spoiling, encouraging, teaching and loving their once-removed progeny? What about them and their pain?
It’s a delicate act, grieving your grandchild, grieving for your child that’s lost their offspring. Should the grief attention be divided equally? What about the anger you—as a grandparent—feel about the loss?
Do you really understand what your child is going through when they’ve lost theirs?
My friend and fellow memoir writer, Mary Lou Forier, shares a beautiful account of her experience with being a grieving grandparent in her recently-published family memoir TALLAK! immigrant.
In the book, she recounts the matriarch, Ellen, Forier’s great-grandmother, loss of several grandchildren. Then Forier reminisces about her own pain.
“My own granddaughter Kaera died of leukemia when she was two years old. I stood by as my son and his wife struggled with weeks in the hospital, then home for a week, then back to the hospital for the next treatment. Kaera’s leukemia did not go into remission, treatment decisions mounted: increase dosage? consider bone marrow transplant? experiment? And finally, the hardest decision of all…stop. Just stop. My pain seemed multiplied, watching the heartbreak of my son and his wife, and feeling the heartbreak of losing my grandchild, but a grandmother’s pain is complex; my son lived, his child died. The grief belonged to him; to claim it for myself felt like trivializing his. In 1879, the death of a child was much more common than in 2012. We supposed, today, that because it was more commonplace, it was easier for the survivors to accept, and their grief was less than we feel today. I disagree. We grieved the same, Ellen and me.”
When I first read this passage during our memoir writers critique group session, I was overwhelmed by Mary Lou’s wisdom and grace in the face of her own pain. The selflessness of her attitude and actions. As a mother who has lost a child, I applaud her.
When you lose a child, shouldering and surviving through your own pain is difficult enough without feeling as though you’re obliged to share it with your own parents, even though you know their hearts are broken too.
Mary Lou got it. She’d never known the suffocating, crushing pain of losing a child herself, so she didn’t pretend she did.
If she had tried to make her pain equal to theirs, I think she would have robbed them of their parental grieving rights, to allow them to fully submerge in the ablution of grief, so they could be restored—body, mind and spirit.
To all of you grieving grandparents, I hear your heart. You are not forgotten. Your pain is real, and deep, and valid.
But know that it is different.
And cling to the truth that God hears your broken heart and grieves with you.