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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

March 2015


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month

To view all of Jeanne's articles visit the Interest Index.

The Forgotten Mourners

Why a grandparent’s grief can be especially devastating – and lonely

When a grandparent loses a grandchild, their grief is often minimized. Even by family members. “Bereaved grandparents are sometimes referred to as forgotten mourners,” says a counselor who assists bereaved families. “People think it is not ‘your’ child that died,” so the pain must be less intense. And because grandparents have more life experience, they are often assumed to have better skills for coping with tragedy.

Frequently, though, the grandparents’ pain matches the powerful bond they have with their grandchildren, who embody a family’s legacy and even a kind of immortality. Just like parents who have lost a child, grieving grandparents often feel helpless, angry and frustrated, as well as heartbroken.


Every day a child dies. We will often see the heartbroken mother and father on the news, but rarely the grandparent. And even in the most appalling of tragedies, like the massacre in the US of 20 primary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, we mourned with the grieving parents whose grief-stricken faces were shown on our nightly news. But did we see the heartbroken grandparents?

Now, on the anniversary of that tragedy, AARP The Magzaine, a US publication, has interviewed the grandparents. One grandmother says, “It’s hard to cope with your own pain when your child is so shattered. My daughter is my flesh and blood, but there is nothing I can say that can help her feel better. The first year is the worst – the birthdays, the holidays. Dylan’s birthday was last March; he would have been 7. Now he’ll be forever 6.”

A Newtown grandfather says, “My wife and I are still grieving for our grandson. And we are grieving for Francine and David, our daughter and son-in-law, and for our older grandson, Nate, who had to live through this horrendous experience. Their pain is much more severe and intense than even ours is. They’re all in therapy to help them work through it, but it’s very hard.”


Feeling helpless to comfort your own child is a common theme in all the interviews, as it is in the many varying circumstances of a grandchild’s death. Whether or not the death is as sudden as at Newtown or a when the death is expected as with a child with an incurable cancer, there is the same helpless feeling.

You are the parent. As a parent, you have an inherent instinct to protect your children from harm and pain. And throughout their lives, you do just that. You kiss away the pain of a scraped knee, wipe away the tears of a broken heart and arm them with love as they venture into the world.

But when your child is suddenly facing the pain brought on by the death of his or her child, it is a pain that you, as a parent, cannot fix. You cannot kiss this one away or make it better.


Here’s what AARP, an American membership association for the over 50s with 35 million members, recommends:

Stay emotionally connected to the deceased

Prayer, contemplation and dreams can provide solace; the lost person’s presence is still felt. “Love doesn’t die, and therefore the relationship doesn’t die,” says Darcie D. Sims, director of the American Grief Academy in Seattle.

Let go of pain when possible

Some people feel guilty when their intense grief begins to ebb, fearing they’re forgetting their loved one. But there’s no need to cling to sorrow. Grievers should remember that the loved one lived, not only that he or she died.

Create a legacy

Family members can plant a tree, start a scholarship in the loved one’s name or launch a new family ritual.

Expect a bumpy ride

Grief is unpredictable; it can revive old, forgotten pains, such as a miscarriage or the death of a parent. This is normal. The bereaved should honor these feelings as part of the process.

Take a breather

Grieving grandparents should give themselves permission to rest. They might visit a friend or a place that nourishes – a place that they don’t have to be strong for the family. “Find what coping mechanisms help you most,” Moore recommends. “It takes time and patience – there are no quick fixes.”

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