Impact of the Death of a Grandparent (and Ways to Cope)

Published October 30, 2020
Young and old hand holding

The relationship with a grandparent is unlike any other. Grappling with the pain associated with losing someone close is difficult, but especially since the death of a grandparent is often the first experience with death. Although everyone processes grief in unique ways, there are certain feelings and thoughts that are common among those who have lost a grandparent.

Death of a Grandparent Is a Special Kind of Sorrow

You can expect to go through emotions that will seem overwhelming following the death of a grandparent. The first experience with personal grief can be confusing and frightening. Even though everyone travels through the grieving process in their own way, there are common stages that many observe.

Common Feelings

The death of a grandparent produces the loss of a significant and valuable relationship in life. Just because the person was older does not mean the grieving process will not be real, nor is it less important. Sometimes, progressing through the process of grief takes the support and assistance from others, whether it be someone in the family, a close friend, or a professional counselor. Here are common threads of bereavement among grandchildren:

  • You may experience times of feeling no emotions, almost as if you are removed from the circumstance. You may be unable to cry or to express the feelings that are inside. This does not mean you are not affected by the death and the loss, but that it is taking you time to accept the death and process it.
  • You may feel as if everyone else is "moving on," and your feelings and grief are forgotten or considered not important. Chances are, others do not understand how much you are hurting. Your family may be turning their attention to others who need the majority of the support. Some in your family may not notice your pain because they are hurting themselves. Express your feelings to trusted individuals.
  • You may feel very isolated. This is common because most of your immediate friends did not know your grandparent, and all of your family members knew the individual in different ways. Heightened emotions, different grieving styles, and misunderstandings can make it difficult to feel supported.
  • You may be feeling guilty. It could be because you didn't spend time with the grandparent before they passed. You may have things you wished you had expressed to them before the death. These are very natural feelings. Talk to other family members, reminding yourselves of the good memories that you did share with the grandparent.
  • You may find yourself thinking about death more. You may be anxious about the possible death of your other loved ones and may wonder more philosophically about life. Again, these are common feelings that should be shared with people you trust.
Sad girl at a funeral

The Glue of the Grandparent

There are many dynamics that exist within family units. Often, the grandparent appears to be the glue that holds the family together. You may be fearful that some relationships within the family will suffer. Perhaps the grandparent acted more like a parent to you. Be assured that others within the family will carry portions of the burden of the loss. You may have things that you can do as well.

A Connection to Your Heritage

When a grandparent passes away, some people feel a real sense of the loss of the past. This is especially true if this grandparent were the final person from a particular generation. Talk to others who knew your grandparent well, both inside and beyond the family. Build a real connection with who your grandparent was and an appreciation for the life they lived.

Looking to the Family for Support

It is very natural to need the support of your family during the difficult time of the loss of a grandparent. You may seek comfort through times to talk and share, or times to release emotions and shed tears. Look for opportunities to build a supportive environment for expression of feelings. Others in your family are probably having similar thoughts. There is extreme comfort in knowing someone cares enough to listen.

Grandmother and granddaughter cuddling on couch

Coping and Healing After a Grandparent's Death

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. The process of experiencing sadness and times of sorrow is very personal and very normal. Here are some pieces of advice for helping you process these difficult times.

Don't Worry About Time

The world revolves around time. The inclination is to get things done and move on. Don't allow grieving to fall into such a category. Allow yourself time to mourn the loss. Focus on the life of your grandparent, and especially upon the times that your lives intertwined.

Voice Your Feelings

Talk to those with whom you are close. Your parents may have insight into how they dealt with the death of a grandparent that will help you process the death and cope. Do not be afraid to reveal the emotions that are churning inside.

Find Wayward s to Channel Your Feelings

Look for concrete ways to channel your feelings. Ask for something personal of your grandparent's that you can have to keep. Perhaps there is an item that triggers a cherished memory. Chances are great that other family members will be glad to give you a treasured item. Share photos and scrapbooks of your times together. Try to find pictures of your grandparent at your age. Put together a family tree that shows not only the position of your loved one, but of other ancestors as well.

Write in a Journal

Use a journal to capture your emotions and your progress. Writing helps you identify your feelings and develop coping resources. Printable checklists are available on this site to assist your journaling efforts.

A young woman writing on her journal close to a window

Connect Spiritually

If religion has been a part of your life, turn to Scriptures and prayerful meditations to bring about peace and to keep the memory of your grandparent close to your heart. Spiritual beliefs can bring strength and guidance in times of grief. If you are not religious, connect through times of silence, remembering the life and importance of your loved one.

Turn to Tradition

Carry on the traditions and legacy of your grandparent. Pick a trait or characteristic that was a significant part of the life of your grandparent and dedicate yourself to continuing that trait in your life. Perhaps your grandmother was known for her chocolate chip cookies, or your grandfather liked attending baseball games. Pursue a part of them in your own life.

Not "Just a Grandparent"

Because a grandparent is not the closest relative, some may dismiss your feelings of sadness and loss at this time. Allow yourself the time and privilege to experience sorrow and mourning. Grief can last far longer than most people expect. Be gentle and gracious with yourself and your feelings. Hold tight to the memories and the rich life your grandparent enjoyed.

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Impact of the Death of a Grandparent (and Ways to Cope)