If your grandchild has died

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As a parent yourself, there can be few things more painful than watching your own child experience the loss of his or her baby. Perhaps for the first time in your life there is nothing you can do to take away the hurt and “make it better”. In addition, you are mourning the death of your grandchild. You may feel guilty that you, who have had many years of life, are still alive while a tiny infant has died. You may also feel guilty and sad that you did not spend more time with your grandchild while you had the chance. If you live at a distance, you may not even have seen your grandchild. it doesn’t help to know that you thought you had lots of time.

You may feel very angry – with God, with the medical profession who failed to save your grandchild, with your own child if your understanding of Cot Death is incomplete and you wonder if there was anything the parents could have done or should have seen. Cot Death is NOT predictable and NOT preventable. You can help by reassuring the parents that they did everything they could, that there was nothing that they missed and that there was nothing anyone could have done to save their child’s life.

You may find it difficult to know how best to help the bereaved parents. Sometimes, in their grief, they may push away your efforts to assist. Try not to take this personally – it is part of their pain and distress. the most hurtful thing you can do is withdraw your support. The best thing you can do is just be there, to listen, to accept any feelings that are expressed.
Allow them to talk as much and as often as they wish about their child. It is sometimes hard not to interfere, to give advice. Give as much help as is welcomed but be sensitive to the parents’ need to be left to make their own decisions.

As time passes, it is important that the parents know that you have not forgotten their baby. Often relatives avoid mentioning the baby for fear of reminding the parents of their pain, or change the subject when they mention the baby. Ignoring the fact their baby lived causes more, not less, hurt. They may need to talk about the baby long after the death, especially at anniversaries.

Grief is intensely personal and everyone grieves in their own way, at their own pace. There is no “correct” way to mourn, and you should never say “you ought to be feeling better now” or anything else which implies a judgement of their feelings. You can’t take away the parents’ pain or bring your grandchild back but you can make the parents’ adjustment to the loss easier by accepting their feelings and supporting them as they go through the grief process.

It is important to recognise your own right to grieve. To be helpful to your child, you need also to be helpful to yourself, to deal with your grief by facing it and working through it. Make sure you give yourself time and space for this.

If you would like additional assistance or information, either for yourself or your family, please contact:

The Scottish Cot Death Trust