Grieving the Death of a Grandparent

My last memories of my grandmother are from my wedding in November of 2005. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking very much about her at the time because (1) I was getting married and (2) I was still coming to terms with the terminal cancer diagnosis my mother had received a month before. I like to believe that had known it was the last time I’d see my grandmother, I would have made more of an effort to remember everything about her or to say something even remotely meaningful…but who knows.  What I do know is that I miss my grandmother and 10 years later I still grieve for her in very real ways.

You will likely experience the death of at least one grandparent in your lifetime and when you do it may cause intense pain and heartache. Although your grief will ultimately be unique to you and to the relationship you had with your grandparent, in the following article we will discuss a few of challenges common to grieving the death of a grandparent.


1. This may be your first experience with death.

On average, there are about 47+ years between grandparent and grandchild.  With such an age difference, many people experience the death of at least one of their grandparents in childhood or early adulthood and for many, this will be their first experience with loss. Experiencing the death of a loved one for the first time can be confusing and scary and can lead to questions about death, death related rituals, and grief. Although grief is always individual, age can influence a person’s understanding and response to loss.  If you’re worried about a bereaved child or young adult check out the following posts:

If you are a young adult who’s recently experienced a death of any kind, check out the post: How do I find support as a grieving 20-something?

2. Your parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins might be grieving as well.

The death of any family member can have an impact on the family as a whole.  A grandparent’s death is often felt very deeply by many members of your family. Depending on the circumstances, you may feel as though you have to prioritize the needs of others in your family before attending to your own grief and wellbeing.

There is a proverb that says “Grief divided is made lighter”.  Personally, I think the word “divided” is a little misleading because I don’t think the proverb is meant to imply that anyone’s grief is any less. Rather I think it means that when we all grieve together – when we share our sadnesses, our fears, and our joyful memories –  we are ultimately able to give and receive more support and comfort than if we were to grieve alone.

It would be ideal if all families could grieve together, however, we know that they often do not. Heightened emotion, grieving styles, misunderstandings, even fighting can make it hard for people to (1) support one another and (2) attend to their own needs. Also, your parent’s generation may set the tone for how they want your grandparent’s death acknowledged and grieved, which may be different from how you would like to cope. If any of this is true for you, you may have to work extra hard to balance your needs with the needs of others.

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3.  Your grandparent might have been more like a parent.

Families differ in their closeness, hierarchy, proximity, relationships, and overall dynamics. With such differences, grandparent/grandchild relationships obviously run the spectrum from you-are-like-a-parent-to-me type relationships to see-you-next-Christmas type relationships.

Many grandchildren have very close relationships with their grandparents and rely on them for a number of their social, emotional, or physical needs.  When a close grandparent dies, the grandchild often feels like they’ve lost someone akin to a parent which is intensely painful and can cause many difficult secondary losses.

4.  You may wish you had known your grandparent better.

Conversely, just because someone didn’t have a parent-like relationship with their grandparent, doesn’t mean their loss isn’t significant.  Perhaps they love their grandparent dearly but never felt they had the opportunity to spend as much time with them as they would have liked.  Some grandchildren lose their grandparent well before they are old enough to have a deep and mature relationship with them.  When a grandparent dies, some people may be left with regret about unanswered questions and things left unsaid, as well as wishes about how they think the relationship “could have” or “should have” been.

5.  Your grandparent might have been the glue that held the family together.

Often times, family members consider the eldest family member to be the patriarch or matriarch of the family.  This person may seem like the family’s foundation and when they die the entire family becomes fractured and untethered.  There are breakdowns in communication, no one knows who should host Thanksgiving, and people start wondering if maybe they should skip the annual family reunion because it just won’t be the same.

6. People may minimize your loss.

After the death of a loved one, people often long for others to recognize and acknowledge their pain.  The person who has died is important, loved and really mattered.  So when someone minimizes your loss it feels as though they are undermining the person’s significance and taking away your right to feel pain.

People minimize losses for a handful of reasons.  Some may assume your loss isn’t significant based on their belief that it is the expected, natural order for grandparents to die first.  Some may make judgments based on their subjective experience that grandparents are distant, non-nuclear relatives. While some may realize how much pain you are in, but offer the wrong words of comfort.  For example, maybe you’ve heard this one…

long life

This is something people love to say about grandparents, I guess because it’s often true. It’s not that helpful in grief, though, because being reminded of a person’s age does nothing to ease the pain caused by their absence in your life.  There is never a point where you sit back and say – “I think we’ve spent enough time together.  Yes, I have plenty of memories in my grandpa memory bank, so I’m okay with losing you now.”

Just remember, your grief is a reflection of your unique relationship with your grandparent and your individual ability to cope with this loss.  You, and only you know how much pain you are in and how this loss ought to be grieved.

This list isn’t even close to being all-inclusive, what do you have to add? Leave a comment and tell us about your experience grieving the death of a grandparent.

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October 6, 2017

20 responses on "Grieving the Death of a Grandparent"

  1. My grandad died yesterday and my heart is broken. I don’t think there is anything I can do to move past this. He will forever be in my heart. Whenever I Think of him I automatically cry. This is the first time I’ve lost someone.

  2. Although it’s been a couple weeks since my G-ma passed, I’ve just started to Google how to cope and how to grieve. This is the 5th Grand Parent I’ve lost and it’s been some time since I’ve grieved last, but it all feels new. The others passed when I was very young, so I was upset but, I don’t think I understood what was really happening or the root to why I was lashing out. But this is different, I’m aware of everything now, I have many triggers although I’m am no longer in a constant “numb”.but, I can not recall what I’ve done the day before and I find myself crying quite often. I feel so selfish for feeling the way I do, and not acting myself.. esspecially at work. Based on the steps above I’m still in step 1, is that normal? I loved her very much! But we did not spend as much time together as I would have liked but I can’t seem to come to terms with her being gone. She passed fairly suddenly at the age of 86, and before she passed I had breakfast with her and the whole family. It was a delightful day. How long will I be this way before I can be at peace with her being gone???

  3. My grandpa passed away this morning and I found this cite while googling ways to deal w/ it. I’m not even sure whether writing this will help deal w/ all that sorrow. The whole family is in tears and after reading all these methods on dealing loss, I still feel helpless. I know there is no specific period as to overcome this, but I still would like to know normally or on average, how long does it take to make life move on, even if a little. BTW I’m turning 18 this yr and it’s my first time dealing with the loss of a love one. It would really kind if anyone can share there feelings or thoughts with me. May grandpa rest in peace.

  4. My grandma died this morning. My mom thinks she wanted to die because my mom would always ask her if she wants to do something and she would say “I’ve seen all the things I want to see in my life” my grandma would refuse to go to the doctor. We live in a different state so it’s hard for us. My aunt lives with my grandma and they were gonna move here since my grandma got fired from her job a few months ago. My aunt says that she been nauseous and having trouble breathing in the last few days and refused to go to the doctor and this morning yelled at my aunt for trying to call the doctor so my aunt didn’t. One hour later my gramma told my aunt to call an ambulance and they worked on her in her bed then it was too late by the time they brought her to the hospital. Please bless. I don’t know what to do. She was my closet relative.

  5. My grandpa just passed away yesterday. It’s not like it was necessarily a surprise as he’d been through various recurring cancers over the years and he was 94 years old, but it’s still hitting me harder than I expected. I guess I wasn’t close to him in the traditional sense of being close to a person, but I always felt this certain sense of inexplicable connection to him that made me feel close to him. I guess I always also thought that we were a lot alike, and perhaps he passed down more to me than is apparent. He was also the only grandfather I’ve known, as my other grandfather died just a few months before I was born. I’m 27, but this isn’t my first experience with loss. I guess what’s most difficult is that this is the second time I’ve grieved and felt like I wasn’t allowed to grieve. A few years ago, I lost my five-month-old puppy, who, to me, was like my baby. Then, it seemed like no one thought I should grieve as much or as long as I did because in their eyes, she was just a pet. Now, I feel that no one seems to think I’m allowed to grieve my grandfather because it probably doesn’t appear that I even had a close relationship with him. My grandmother wouldn’t let me come to the hospital to say goodbye, and she wouldn’t let me come over to their house afterwards to grieve together as a family, she only wanted her children and brothers around. I guess I’m okay with grieving on my own, but I don’t know how I’ll handle the wake and funeral, knowing that my grief doesn’t seem to count for as much as my grandmother’s/aunts’/uncle’s/mother’s/cousins’ grief. I just want to grieve my grandfather in peace, without judgment or obligation. I guess I just needed to tell someone this.

  6. May 3rd, 2013, two weeks before my tenth birthday, my grandmother passed away. She had been very ill with all sorts of cancer for the months prior to, but the doctor didn’t diagnose it until the end of March. She was hospitalized for most of April. We were told she would live for another few months, maybe even for the summer. But it got a lot worse and spread all over, and she became even more ill. It was so hard for me as a 9 year old to watch my grandmother slowly and painfully die in that hospital bed. I thought she was going to get better, and everything would be okay again. She was transferred to a Carpenter Hospice, with a month max to live. But within maybe two weeks of being there, she passed away. My aunt was staying with her that night, and I can still remember the frantic phone call to my parents, announcing that my Grandmother was dead. She was like a second mother to me, and I feel like I took her for granted. It’s been almost four years since she passed away, and it still breaks my heart. It feels like I lost a parent. When people ask me about my family, I able to talk about my grandmother and other deceased relatives like I have accepted their deaths. But I can’t shake it off. I think about her and other relatives and I just sob. I think about all the things I could have done to be better, and how I never got to say a proper goodbye.

  7. I lost my grandfather 12 years ago I was 19 I’ve struggled hard for a long time
    the first 3 years I avoided conversations about him because a rush of grief would sweep me off my feet
    I then could talk about him but still heart crushed feeling as I do
    for the past 2 months Ive not been coping my head just won’t rest and all I think of is him
    maybe because its the Christmas holidays
    I probably won’t ever get over the fact he’s gone
    he was my everything and always will be

  8. hello, i’m in seventh grade… this is my first expirience with death. my grandmother passed away last night in the hospital, i havent seen her in weeks, and i never got to say goodbye. I’ve tried to keep it in near my family, but im so sad, i feel like life is so different even though i didnt see her much. And im not religous, but before she passed, when she was in the hospital, i prayed, i prayed so much… but when my dad came back i knew she was gone. I have no more blood-grandparents that i know of anymore, as she had two husbands, and my others have either died or i dont know. with christmas coming around i feel so much worse because of how she would spoil us kids on christmas, we would spend most time with her, but now christmas wont be the same… Im just sad right now and needed to get this out.

  9. hello, i’m in seventh grade… this is my first expirience with death. my grandmother passed away last night in the hospital, i havent seen her in weeks, and i never got to say goodbye. I’ve tried to keep it in near my family, but im so sad, i feel like life is so different even though i didnt see her much. with christmas coming around i feel so much worse because of how she would spoil us kids on christmas, we would spend most time with her, but now christmas wont be the same… Im just sad right now and needed to get this out.

  10. My grandma passed away on my birthday but she was revived and pronounced brain dead…She was my best friend my rock my mom someone i could always count on to be there when it seems like the world is going no wheres. She died 7 months ago on the 30th. And i still blame myself for her death. The day before she died we got into a fight a small one but i left never said sorry never called to say goodnight or i love you and when i was told she was gone it was like my whole world shut down at once. I sat with her as her body died crying and saying sorry, but did she know i was? Did she know i loved her more than anything in my heart? It feels like i have a hole in my heart and i don’t know what to do….

    • Oh sweet Joey, I’m so sorry for your loss. My dad (my son’s Pappaw) just passed on the 2nd Of December. I’m grieving too. This is not…could not ever be your fault. You don’t have that kind of power hon. None of us do. You must not “blame yourself”.
      The last thing that goes when we die is our hearing. Your grandma heard you. And she hears you now. I know that with ever fiber of my being. Continue to talk to her. Even if it’s just quietly in your head. She CAN hear you. And if you practice, and be still and listen..you can hear her too. I’m not crazy and I know what I’m saying sounds nuts, but I’ve done it and it’s real. She absolutely…ABSOLUTELY..knows how much you love her. She is in a state of perfection now. She can see your heart and she knows how good and kind and loving you are. She heard you honey. She did.
      Blessings.
      Kat

  11. I lost my grandmother October 30th..she was my best friend…second mother and so dear to me..6 months prior she had a minor stroke she bounced back from 100 percent..and she was almost 94! She was healthy her whole life and passed getting ready for the day sitting on her bed…no one ne knows the cause..we think her heart stopped…I never got to say goodbye…I never thought I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye….I’m 35 and this is the closest person to me that has passed away…my grandfather passed when I was as in grade school and he was sick for many years so mentally we prepared ourselves…I feel like there is a void in my heart ❤️ i cannot fill…an emptiness…I just spoke to her a few days prior…I’m so saddened to have to not have her here…I’m so sorry we all have to feel this pain

  12. My grandpa passed away a few days ago. Between that day and the funeral, I occasionally find myself suddenly bursting out into tears and breaking down just remembering all the things he did when I grew up. As a child, he was kind of like my second dad when my parents were out working. Later on in the years, when I grew up and my parents were able to take care of me, I saw him less but still occasionally here and there. When that happens, you don’t think so much of him. Now that he’s gone, I hold onto those memories so dearly because it’s the only thing I have left of him. The best way I felt with dealing with his death so far is sharing these memories with my family and letting the others share theirs. I’ve also felt that people who say that he has lead a good,long life helps too because then I get some closure in the fact that he has achieved so much while alive.

  13. My grandad died a month ago today and it was his funeral last week and I’m absolutely devastated, as well as my family. I was with him all the way through as my dad and I came down to visit him in the Friday, and Saturday night, he said was taken by ambulance to A and E, we were with him every day in the hospital and only three hours after we said goodbye to him, he passed away. I feel so upset as he was by far my favourite grandad and indeed grandparent and I’m going to miss him so so much:( weirdly though, I have nice memories of him in hospital like when the nurse asked who I was and he said I was his “littley” and tried to get up to give me a hug when he found out I was next to him the day before he died. I’m 15 and him passing away has been such a huge shock for me and something I know I won’t get over for a long time and as its my GCSE year it’s even harder, but I’m going to try to do the best I can and make him proud. At his funeral I read out a poem that described what he was like and our relationship. I love you so so much grandad and I miss you so much. Xx

  14. I lost my grandmother today and it’s hitting me very hard… I’m only 14 and I was her closest granddaughter and she was my closest grandparent I miss her so bad

  15. My grandmother recently died in june and I’m just a teen. Every once in a while I’m caught sitting up and thinking about how I lost her and eventually end up sobbing and running to my parents or sitting outside under the stars to calm me down- even if it’s nearly 2 am on a school night. It hurts my heart that I didn’t have that much time with her. I feel as if I should have been able to spend more time with her- even if I was the one who DID spend the most time with her out of both of my siblings. I was close to her and vise versa. Anyways- my point is that tonight was one of those nights where I couldn’t control my sadness and grief so I decided that I needed to find some comfort in words of other people and from sources like the internet. Thank you for this article- it’s helped a bit.

  16. My nana just passed away and I am devastated. She was 96 years old and at almost 31, I still don’t feel like I had enough time with her. She was an amazing lady who lived through so much. I will miss her for the rest of my life.

  17. Thank you. This helped me so much. It’s been 6 days since my Grandpa passed & here i am googling ways to cope because at this point I don’t know what else to do. Grieving heavily and heartbroken to say the least. I especially liked how you basically said even if they lived a long life, it still does not make their absence any easier or give a peace of mind. They’re still gone. And we’re never ready to lose a love one no matter their age. Thank you for sharing.

    • I am the exact same. My grandad passed away yesterday and my heart is broken. Thank you for sharing. I hope you are coping better <3

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