The Impact of a Grandparent’s Death on Grandchildren: Kids are "The Forgotten Grievers”
Updated: Jan 10
I’ve been struck in recent years by the significance that the death of a grandparent can play in a child’s life. These days, many grandparents have a starring role in a child’s life, handling the childcare for working parents and seeing their grandchildren on a very regular basis and in a very engaged way.
Gone are the days when the Grandma or Grandpa role was “sit in chair, read stories and offer hard candies” to grandchildren. Now, we find grandparents playing catch with their grandchildren, crawling around the floor playing games, and climbing up and down rocks in the park.
For a child, the death of a grandparent can present a big life change. After the death, the child’s life, routines, the surrounding atmosphere will look differently than it had prior to the loss. Schedules are varied, parents act differently (more emotionally, more stressed out), and there can also be a big void in the amount of attention paid to the child.
Keeping in mind that children are the “forgotten grievers”, consider these thoughts for a moment or two..
This is likely be a child’s first experience with death. It’s confusing and scary, and the child is living in new and uncharted territory.
Multiple family members are grieving at the same time, since death impacts the family as a whole. As a result, children can feel alone, and neglected. The children may be nervous about interrupting the dynamics that are going on around them, which they may not even understand.
A child’s grandparent may have been more like a parent to the child than the parent is. Many kids rely on their grands for many of their social, emotional and physical needs. When a close grandparent dies, the grandchildren often feel like they have has lost someone in an intensely painful way, as if it were their parent.
"Who will treat me like a prince or a princess, now that my grandparent has died?" a child may wonder. "Who will spoil me with love, attention, presents and self-esteem?" It is a precarious time, especially if a child has lost his/her best fan.
Life can appear like a big jigsaw puzzle, in which it’s hard to fit the pieces together. Or a rat race, in which there is coming and going, and nothing makes sense. So much is going on around the kids. Emotions of family members run high, grieving styles of family members differ, and there may even be more bickering and disagreements than usual around the house.
In the next blog in my Grandparents series (stay tuned), I’ll share more about the impact of a grandparent’s death, AND offer important tips on how to handle it as smoothly as possible. But for now, here is the takeaway: Don’t-- not even for a minute-- underestimate the affect of a grandparent’s death on the grandchild(ren). You may be tempted to believe that since the child’s parents are still alive, and the child gives the impression that life has returned to normal, the child has escaped with minimal side effects. But, wait, that just may not be the case at all.
It really is better to catch the kid’s grief in its earlier stages. I'd love to talk with you about a child in your life who is grieving the loss of a grandparent. Make an appointment to talk here.