Support for grandparents after a neonatal death

Seeing your son or daughter coping with their baby’s death is very difficult and painful. We have advice about how to look after yourself and your loved ones.

Your grief for the parents

As grandparents you’ll not only be grieving the death of your grandchild but you will also feel pain for the parents, especially your own child. It can be distressing to see your own daughter or son coping with the devastating loss of their baby. Grandparents have told us that they feel powerless to know what to do, or how to help.

“My instinct was not as a grandparent but as a parent. All my thoughts were for the parents, who had lost their child. I wanted them to know I was there for them, to support and love them - but also give them space to grieve. I didn’t want to add to their pain and sadness by them seeing my own devastation.” Rani, who lost her granddaughter Zara

It is very hard for those who haven’t lost a child to understand the level of grief that it brings. One parent described the grief she felt as like a bomb going off in her body.

Read our page on ‘Coping with grief’ to help you understand what your child might be feeling right now and in the future. You might recognise a lot of your own feelings and it may be helpful to know that these emotions and reactions are a normal part of grieving.

Your own grief

Your own grief is also likely to hit you hard. You may have been very excited about the pregnancy and have already been planning a future with your new grandchild. It can take time and be difficult to adjust to this new reality.

“I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t take their pain away. All I could do was listen, console and comfort them.”Grandmother

Seeing your grandchild

You may have spent time with the baby in the hospital, but if the baby died very soon after the birth, you may not have. If the parents invite you to spend time with the baby now, it is a very important request. Recognising that the baby lived as a person is something parents have said is very important to them, and if you meet the baby it will add to their store of memories of their child. It also means that you can talk to the parents about the baby in future.

Maybe you can look for resemblances to family members so you can talk about this later, or take photographs or be in photographs with your grandchild.

“Both our mums came in to see Owen. They had no experience of this and it definitely affected them. But it meant a lot to us that they had a chance to meet him.”Keith, who lost his son Owen

The funeral and commemorating the loss

Depending on when your grandchild died, and the wishes of the parents, there may be a service or a funeral.

There are lots of ways families can commemorate their baby now and over the years. You may want to join in with these or you may have your own very private way of remembering and mourning your grandchild.

You might choose to talk about your grandchild openly with friends, or you might decide to keep this more private. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

Read more about planning a funeral.

Supporting your son or daughter

Emotional support

You can’t fix it, but you can listen. Everyone is different in how they cope with the loss of a loved one. Be sensitive to your own child’s way of coping. It is important to remember that although we manage our grief in different ways, it is no less heartfelt for someone who does not talk about it. Their suffering is just as deep as someone who is able to talk about it.

It might be that you can be a listening ear, someone to cry with (or on the phone to), or simply a reassuring presence. Try to be non-judgemental and to accept their decisions and feelings. We’ve put together some suggestions for supporting.

"When my daughter was ready to talk, I listened. I think that helped. I’d been through a personal experience like this and I know how important it is to listen. She told me how she felt. She grieved and she talked. I comforted her and listened. I shared my own personal experiences that I hadn’t talked about before. It was emotional but she said she felt stronger afterwards.”Grandmother

You might need to dig deep for extra reserves of patience in the future as your child goes through the grieving process. As you are family you are the easiest person to snap at and you might find that this happens more often than you would like. Try to be understanding if it does. They may also be unable to react as they normally would to your offers of help or calls, and you may feel excluded. Try and be patient, they may be so distressed that they have no mental space to consider your feelings.

Practical support

You might be able to offer some practical help after your grandchild’s death. Perhaps, if you live close by, you can help with jobs at home or with other grandchildren. If so, be aware that they will also value time alone to grieve. If you make a dish, you could leave it with them, or you might be able to mind other children at the park or in your house instead of theirs.

If you live far away and need to stay with them when you visit, try to give them time alone if you feel they need it. Perhaps go out at night to the cinema or to see others or retire to your room early.

Take your cue from the parents as to how they want to communicate the death to siblings. Some commonly used words might end up worrying children. Talking about the baby ‘sleeping’ for example could make a sibling worry about going to sleep themselves. Using words that have religious connotations, such as ‘angel’, is a decision parents themselves should make.

Read more about talking to children about the death of a sibling.

Look after yourself

It’s important that you look after yourself, particularly if you are offering a lot of support to your child. You might find it a good idea to have your own sources of support, such as a friend to talk to or another family member, so that you can grieve in your own right. This might then help if your son or daughter needs to lean on you.

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Last reviewed on October 4th, 2018. Next review date October 4th, 2021.

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