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Grandparent grief over the loss of a grandchild

Grandparents from both sides arrived at our home the day after Charles died by suicide. I was underwater emotionally and I needed to offload some of that grief onto my loved ones who were ready to hold me up at a time when I didn’t know how to exist, move forward, or even think. It was such a relief to fall into their arms. I’m fortunate to have had both sets of grandparents at that point.

My dad’s mind was going and dementia had set in which in the long run would provide some cushion for his grief because he’d forget Charles died. In some ways, I was jealous. But it meant my mother was handling a lot. Just getting up to my house was difficult. She was still caring for him at home and she was 80, and my dad was 84. And he was a handful and needed a walker and a handicapped hotel room. Meanwhile, my in-laws drove some 8-10 hours from south Georgia so they had a long way to go with short notice. My best friend Martha came from Northern Virginia.

It was a time when my mother needed me

Decisions about my dad needed to be made several times per week. But for the first year after Charles’s death, it was all I could do to brush my teeth. And while I thought about how it affected his brother, and his grandparents on both sides, I couldn’t really stay in that headspace because I was in an alternate, slow-moving universe and didn’t know when I’d be able to come up for air.

My dad died in May 2020 and my mom died in August 2022. The process of going through my ancestral home is a healing one. It’s a time to revisit old memories and remember the love, laughter, tears, grief, and beauty of a life well lived. Not a perfect life but I feel grateful for having two parents who loved me.

This house has a history

First photo of the house in 1929

My grandparents built the house in 1929 and no other family has ever owned it. For the first time ever, the house will go on the market so other families can make memories. While a lot of my grandparent’s things had been sold in an estate sale, there were still a lot of pictures, photo albums, newspaper clippings, and more that have accumulated over decades. I had to go through all of that and decide what to keep, what to sell, what to toss, and what to shred.

As I was going through the file cabinet my mom kept upstairs, I ran into a file that had the cards my parents received after my son Charles’ death by suicide.

As I opened the file I didn’t feel like myself reading the contents

I was my mother holding those cards and reading them. It was the oddest shift in perspective to feel like someone else.

For the first time, I understood how lonely she was in her grief since my Dad simply didn’t have the mental capacity at that point to process the death. Besides the cards, there was the memorial service bulletin, the obituary, the article I wrote after his death, and the many others that followed.

Many of the cards from her friends had thoughtful handwritten notes and it softened the hurt that had been like a blunt force trauma just moments ago. And there in the back was the first draft of my first book, Diary of a Broken Mind.

My eyes were no longer filled with basement dust because the tsunami of tears and reflection that followed were mine and hers mixed. I had to just breathe, sit with it and not let fear of a foreign feeling rob me of the moment.

While difficult, it was also beautiful and has taken me some time to trust.

So while my mom is not on this earth anymore I had a moment with her in my heart that I couldn’t have possibly had if I’d been anywhere else but that house at that moment reading and feeling her grief and mine.

My mom with my first cousin Charles (not my son, Charles)

Published by

AnneMoss Rogers

AnneMoss Rogers is a mental health and suicide education expert, mental health speaker, suicide prevention trainer and consultant. She is author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW. She raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost her younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. She is a motivational speaker who empowers by educating and provides life saving strategies and emotionally healthy coping skills. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now that's the legacy she carries forward in her son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website.

13 thoughts on “Grandparent grief over the loss of a grandchild”

  1. Thank you all for sharing your experiences. They are all so “full” and make me realize outside of my own grieving. My mom lives alone, but is frequently visited by my sisters and their families. We rarely talk about my son Peter’s death in October 2021. My mother sat with me through years of my sons illness/addictions. It was so much. We are all healing, and I do wonder about my former father in law, who lost his wife 5 months prior to Peters passing. Again, thank you all for your perspectives and reminders to pray for ALL loved ones through our collective loss. Blessings to you all!

    1. Thank you I so much for sharing your experience and story. One thing about being so many years from the tragedy of losing my son is that I am emotionally able to look back now and have these experiences.

  2. I love how you express the closeness you feel with your mother in that moment. You have also expressed the same closeness with Charles through your grief. I have always been so moved by your expression of this connection and love through grief and even moreso now that I have lost my own son. It is so touching, and I long to feel this closeness with my Rowan through my grief.

    1. Thank you for that Virginia. I guess it was my mantra throughout the hardest parts of the process. I would remind myself that the grief was my mind with the one I lost. I have a series of sayings that I would use for self soothing. But until you made your comment I hadn’t realized that I also have taken this habit into my everyday life to self soothe from other stressors. Carrying Rowan in my heart today.

      1. I am a 75 year old grandmother of three of my grandsons.
        My daughter and I have always had a closeness. I was absolutely thrilled to become a grandmother and had a special closeness to each of them throughout the years. The boys are now 27, 26 and 23. As they went off to their adult lives our middle grandson became acquainted with drugs that he was unable to break away from. He went through bring homeless, living wherever he could, but my daughter watched and prayed for his recovery the same as I did.
        Any how, August 22 of this year he died in a wreck. My husband and answered the phone and our son in law was dead. Nothing else just that h was in a car accident and killed. No word from my daughter. I called and would be told that my daughter could not talk yet. A bit hurt, but understanding her grief we didn’t press anyone for details. We were shocked to not be asked to come to their home to grieve together. While there have been times when we have cried over the phone it is totally different with her now. Like she can’t be around me. I feel lost and unable to fully grieve until I can grieve with her alone.

        1. This is so painful Eve. She is so overwhelmed with emotion.

          So here is my guess. She is in denial and you remind her of the loss and she wants to avoid it. She may be so lost that she is wrung out. (I know this feeling.)

          Or she is suicidal and isolating herself. And it might be both. When someone loses a child they often do not want to live.

          If she is not answering you reach out and say that her lack of response has you feeling concerned that her safety is at risk. She may not answer but but she will read it.

          So we need to think at this point she is isolating in grief and that’s risky. And we need to make sure she is safe from suicide. I am not sure she won’t be mad and the relationship will worsen. But I am concerned for her life because it’s a possibility she is struggling with thoughts of suicide as many people grieving a loss of a child especially.

          However I need to know are you close by? Are you talking to the husband at all? Are you in contact with the other kids?

          Right now you need to think in terms of how she feels and not take her robotic or otherwise less warm approach personally. Very hard in these circumstances because you have lost too. If you have more info let me know.

  3. Anne, I really connected with your experience. My father was semi delirious in hospital when my son Emanuel took his life. He died 5 days after Manny. I had visited him daily before Manny’s death, but in the agonising blur of pain, I did not feel sad for my dad. I will mourn that in the future. We decided to keep it a secret from him, so he would die without knowing.
    My mother was there for me, she lost her grandson, her husband and nearly my brother, all in a couple of weeks.
    I am worried for her, but find my grief so overwhelming that I struggle to see far. She tells me that supporting me is helpful, it gives her something to focus on. She doesn’t want to be in her home without Dad so has moved in with me. I can just hope this is true.

    1. Holy cow Danielle. So much at once. But I know that feeling of not having it in your gas tank. I was delirious for a long time. If I had not written daily on this blog I wouldn’t remember any of it. I am so sorry. And thank you for sharing your story. It helps me and I think it will help others. And you did the right thing about not telling your dad.

  4. Anne Moss, I completely understand your emotions and feelings of reliving the past. Happy memories are part of God’s gift of healing our
    brokenness and preparing us for His purpose in ministering to others.
    You are a instrument of love and compassion, a light in the dark days of grief, a voice for those unable to speak, and a touchable friend to all of our family of suicide survivors. We all continue to cling to those precious memories of our loved ones and our wonderful times past. I continue to look forward to your post with all the raw emotions that are a life-line to so many hurting and silent individuals. Please keep on keeping on.
    Your Friend & Supporter,
    Andy Tilton, Director,
    Adam’s Story – A Mental Wellness Ministry & Lifestyle, Community Outreach & Distribution of Resources

  5. I am right behind you with all of this. My dad just turned 90 and has dementia. My mom is 88 and is in constant pain and on a walker. They still live in our childhood home and can no longer take care of it nor themselves properly, but they will not leave.
    We will have to clean out our home someday soon and I may come upon a box with the same contents. My mom also lost her son, my little brother, 18 months before she lost her grandson, my son.
    I am not looking forward to this new onslaught of grief.

    1. Wow. It’s like we are moving in parallel universes. I have to say it wasn’t a bad feeling. It was actually quite nice. I felt connected to my mom. She wasn’t one to discuss her pain. And if she did it was always a short conversation. In her household those topics were unwelcome. She got to a place where she’s express some of it. In a few sentences. And close to the end of her life she opened up more and I realized it was the end months before around may.

  6. I am very sorry for the loss of your mom and all the churning that goes on in your heart while cleaning out the things from your home.

    My mom died of cancer when I was 30, just six weeks after my twins were born. She only saw them once. I lived two and a half hours away. We had no help with these babies because obviously my family was dealing with my mom’s passing. I was not there when she died.

    After the funeral, I realized that all her things would be gone the next time I came to visit. I was in her bedroom frantically whipping through the closet , pulling out drawers, just trying to get one last sight and scent of her. One drawer was stuck and I kept pulling on it finally getting it open. Laying on top of her clothes was a picture of her from nine years before holding my niece’s doll and smiling right at the camera.

    I immediately calmed down, took the picture and said, “I got it, Mom.” 36 years later it still sits on my family room table.

    I know love is stronger than death. I pray for you in these days.

    Jan

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