Coping with the Death of a Grandparent

Advice on learning to cope with grief after losing a grandmother or grandfather

Last updated: 2 February 2017

A good relationship with a grandparent is unlike any other. Losing such a special person is always difficult, but especially so if it is your first experience of death. For many people, losing a grandparent is the first time they really experience grief and this can be a confusing and overwhelming time.

The pain of losing a grandparent

The death of a grandparent is often the first experience people have of losing someone close to them. You can expect to feel a number of complicated emotions that will seem overwhelming at times. Although everyone’s experience of grief is slightly different and unique to them, there are certain thoughts and feelings that are common among bereaved grandchildren:

  • You may feel emotionally numb or unable to cry. This does not mean you are not affected by the loss, just that you are taking time to accept it is real.
  • You may find yourself thinking about life and death more, especially if this is your first time experiencing death. You may become anxious for the safety of those around you.
  • You may feel like the ‘forgotten griever’, like your friends and family don’t realize how much you are hurting. They may give more support to your parents or your other grandparent and not realize you need help too.
  • It’s common to feel guilty about not spending more time with your grandparent before they passed away. You could ask questions about their lives and learn more about them, or remind yourself of the good memories you did share with them.

Remember that just because they were older and had lived a long life does not mean your grief is less valid or unimportant. Know that everyone needs support when dealing with grief, whether it be from a friend, family member or a counselor.

If you find that you are unable to cope with daily life, feel constantly depressed and hopeless, or if you have been considering hurting yourself, speak to your doctor immediately or seek help from a bereavement support organization.

Supporting your family

You will probably feel the need to support your family during this time, which is perfectly natural. You may want to help out with practical tasks such as doing housework or looking after young children, or you can be a shoulder to cry on should your family need it. Try to create a supportive and comfortable environment for your loved one to express how they are feeling. A lot of being there for someone is listening.

If you feel that someone close to you is struggling to cope, you may want to talk to them about contacting a bereavement support professional.

However, while supporting your family is important, make sure that you also take the time to grieve yourself. Taking on extra responsibilities can be stressful, which may add to the many emotions you will be feeling after losing your grandparent. Expressing your emotions in a healthy way, such as writing a journal or talking to a trusted friend, may help you look after your own needs while being there for your family members.

Moving towards healing

When you have been recently bereaved, it can feel impossible to think about moving forwards and learning to cope with grief. While you will never forget your grandparent or what their loss means to you, it will become easier to deal with the emotions you are feeling over time.

Unfortunately there is no ‘cure’ for grief, but certain things may help you better cope with the intense emotions you are feeling:

  • Eat and sleep well. Grief can have a big impact on your physical health, which will make you feel worse. Staying healthy will help you feel stronger and more able to cope with grief.
  • Avoid drinking excessively or taking drugs. While alcohol or other substances may numb the pain temporarily, you will feel worse in the long run.
  • Find a healthy way to express your thoughts and feelings. Try writing a journal or talking to a friend.
  • Attend the funeral. Although in some cases you may decide against going to the funeral, many people find funerals an important part of grieving. You will be able to say goodbye and honor your grandparent’s memory with their family and friends.
  • Find out more about your grandparent. When your family has had time to deal with the initial shock of grief, you may want to ask questions about your grandparent. They might be able to show you old photographs and tell you stories. This can help you feel close to them even though they are gone.
  • Find a keepsake to remember them by. Talk to your family about the possibility of you keeping something of your grandparent’s as a keepsake. It could be a piece of jewelry, a photograph, a cuddly toy - anything that reminds you of them and memories you shared. This will give you a way to keep a small part of them in your life for years to come.

If you are struggling to cope with the impact of losing your grandparent, you can read more practical ways of dealing with grief, or contact a bereavement support organization for help and advice.