When A Grandparent Dies, The Loss Can be Large -- Children are “The Forgotten Grievers”
By Jill S. Cohen, NYC family grief counselor
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 hand 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. When a grandparent dies, there is a hard stop to fun sleepovers, unconditional love, escape from ‘real life’ to a fun world where rules are not always enforced. There is a gap, to be sure, a void in the life of grandchildren.
Many children have lost grandparents due to the coronavirus. There are lots of grieving children now, who are in need of support, especially with such heightened anxiety all around us now.
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.
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.
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.
As a grief counselor for children and adults, I will tell you to NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPACT OF A GRANDPARENT’S DEATH ON A CHILD.
You may be tempted to believe that since the child’s parents are probably still alive, and the child gives the impression that life has returned to normal, you’ve escaped with minimal side effects. But, wait, that just may not be the case at all. And it’s better to catch the kid’s grief in its earlier stages.
I have a FREE information sheet to help provide insight for you and your child(ren) on grief and is available for you to download HERE.
I hope it helps you. And I’m always happy to help you and your children. Reach out, especially when they speak out.
Tough Times Call For Gentle Support.