How to cope with the loss of a grandparent
Advice on coping with grief after losing a grandparent
Regardless of your age and life experience, the loss of a grandparent is just as devastating and painful as that of any other family member. It’s likely to come as a shock and raise questions about life and death. You may even feel guilty that you didn’t spend enough time with them.
This grief guide helps you to understand the effect of losing a grandparent and it shows you how to cope with such a loss.
Losing a grandparent
The death of a grandparent is upsetting, painful and difficult to believe. The fact that most of us experience at least one loss of this kind in our lifetime doesn’t make the grieving process any easier. It’s not enough to protect you from the initial shock or the numbness and it certainly doesn’t absorb the emotional turbulence as you ride through the different stages of grief.
The loss of appetite and disturbed sleeping patterns are just a couple of symptoms you can expect to experience as you come to terms with your loss. If you are an adult with a busy life and a family of your own, you may also feel guilty for not spending enough time with your grandparent. That’s a normal feeling and you mustn’t allow it to become a problem.
Age is another factor which influences your grief and ability to cope with the loss of a grandparent.
Loss of a grandparent as a child
The lack of certain life experiences at a young age, such as death, can sometimes prevent children from expressing their feelings and showing emotion. In those cases the child is more likely to articulate the effect of their loss through a series of behavioural changes.
You may begin to feel that they avoid you and prefer to go out with their friends or they may spend more time at school. That distance is their way of protection against being hurt again. Other children become clingy to make sure that you are not going to die and leave them.
The helplessness we often feel after the loss of a loved one can manifest itself as aggression in some children. Sudden fear of the dark or trouble sleeping and struggle at school, particularly if they are out of character, can also mean that your child is affected by the loss of their grandparent.
Please read our guide on explaining death to children for more information.
Loss of a grandparent in later life
Facing the loss of a grandparent as an adult doesn’t make it any easier. It’s still shocking and you need to take some time to comprehend its full effect. If you were particularly close and leant on them for emotional, social or other support, then the loss is likely to be acutely painful. It can even cause the loss of relational identity, loss of a support network and other secondary losses.
Also be aware of the fact that sometimes people make assumptions based on their own experiences and fail to recognise the significance of your loss. Others will see that you are suffering and they will want to comfort you; but sometimes the wrong approach may be taken or the wrong words may be used. Under the circumstances, that can be just as hurtful as them failing to recognise your grief.
Quite often, life piles too many responsibilities too soon and it forces you to grow up quicker than you want. It can take you away from the family and cut your contact with them. In that case, the loss of your grandparent can make you feel guilty for not spending enough time with them. Remember that this reaction is normal and you mustn’t let it affect you in a negative way.
Moving forward after the loss of a grandparent
Coming to terms with any significant loss is challenging and it takes time. It’s upsetting and there is no guarantee that you’ll ever get over it. The grief symptoms are temporary and they get better with time, allowing you to resume life.
The stress of losing a grandparent is quite taxing on your body and mind. It consumes a lot of your energy and it doesn’t limit its effect to only feelings and emotions. It casts a wide shadow and affects your sleep and appetite, as well as your ability to perform simple tasks.
Here are some suggestions for coping with the loss of a grandparent:
- Eat, sleep and exercise
Make sure you eat a balanced diet which is rich in the vital nutrients required for the normal functioning of your body. Introduce some form of regular exercise or physical activity to your routine to benefit from the positive effect of endorphins. Ensure a good night’s sleep by avoiding the use of gadgets and mobile devices in bed. Do breathing exercises and meditate to calm down and reduce your stress levels.
- Avoid turning to alcohol or drugs
Self-medication, drugs and alcohol are not the answer to grief. They will likely lead to bigger problems. If you need some pain-relief or you are unable to cope, please visit your doctor who is qualified to assess your health and prescribe medication if needed.
- Keep their memory alive
The loss of a grandparent is not a reason to forget about them. It leaves a void in your life which can’t be filled with anything else or made to disappear by pretending that they never existed.
Keep their memory alive by making an album featuring photos or a video montage of them. Start a family tree project and find out more about yourself through the research about the life of your grandparent. Organise family gatherings to celebrate them and their anniversaries.
- Talk about them
Remember that the healing process starts when you recognise the grief for your grandparent and begin to express the feelings and emotions associated with it. Find an appropriate outlet for them. Talk to your other grandparents, parents and siblings or start a journal to record your thoughts.
You can avoid grief but grief is not likely to avoid you. Once it makes itself home, it stays there. It’s up to you to confront it and set some ground rules to keep it at bay and prevent it from interfering with your life.
We offer grief help and support through GriefChat. It is a free online service which connects you to a specially trained bereavement counsellor.
The service is available Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm and you can benefit from it by clicking on the GriefChat box at the bottom of this page.
Contributed by Mark Welkin
Mark Welkin is the author of three grief books and a journalist who has worked for various media outlets in Europe and Asia. He lost his long-term partner in 2014 and a few months later, Mark turned to a grief counsellor for help. The results inspired him to share his experience and help other bereaved people to resume life after the loss of their loved ones.