A Grandmother’s Grief

Nine years ago, our precious grandson, Glenn, was killed by a reckless driver who was speeding to get home and talking on his cell phone.  I sat at the hospital that night, listening to the sounds of the intensive Care Unit and smelling its unique smells, and I knew life would never be the same.  My daughter would lose her first child, the darling little boy who had charmed us from the day he was born.  I cannot imagine her grief and she cannot imagine mine.  She lost her firstborn and I lost my first grandson.  We were both fragile, but fragile in different ways.

I couldn’t fix this.  I was the mom who could fix everything, but not this.  I was powerless and felt as though I was in the midst of a tornado.  For months after, life just happened as I grieved.

Here we are, now, in December of 2014.  The worst imaginable has happened to a friend’s grandson, and that is why I’m writing.  This is for Toni, and for any other grandmother who is saying goodbye to the most wonderful gift your adult child could ever give.  Toni’s first grandson was shaken by the babysitter and was brain dead in the hospital.  If you’ve not experienced this, and hopefully you haven’t, there are different rules for withdrawing life support from a child.  Apnea tests must be performed, at specified intervals.  If you are planning for the child to be an organ donor, then there are other steps that must taken and processes that must be followed.

Toni’s telephone call to me brought back memories and pain, but it also has provided me an opportunity to share some words that just might be comforting, at least in some way.

First of all, treasure your memories.  You are not going to forget this child.  Little things will come back to you, sometimes at strange times, and embrace your reactions.  That’s all you can do.  You’re going to cry.  You’re going to talk about your grandchild and it is going to make people uncomfortable.  You’re going to want to run away to a place where you aren’t the dead baby’s grandmother.  But you still are.  Accept the fact that your memories are your own.  Your child will very likely not remember things the same way you do, and will likely not respond the way you do to his or her memories.  Own this.  Make a scrapbook, a photo album, or something to help you remember things, your way.  You are entitled to your memories, but also be cognizant of when things get out of control and you need to seek professional help.  Church was no help.  “He’s with Jesus” only made me angry.  Jesus didn’t need Glenn.  I did.

Let go of your need to control your adult child.  He or she has just lost a very precious child.  The funeral arrangements must be left to them.  This is their child and their responsibility.  The best thing you can do is stand back and let them do things their way.  Be available, but not intrusive.  Give your adult child room to grieve.  You can’t do this for them, and they will likely do things over the next year (or even two) that leave you confounded and frustrated.  This is a normal part of the grieving process. This is possibly the worst part.  You are grieving for your grandchild, but you are also going to grieve for your child.  Your child will never be the same.  Neither of you will never be the same.  Both of you will look at life differently.  Be patient with your adult child but do not expect them to be patient with you.  They have just lost their baby, and their grief is different from yours.

My daughter and I are 9 years from the event that changed our lives.  We’ve had some tough times and I did seek professional help. The doctor felt the best way for me to heal was with medication, and I won’t second guess the doctor although I do think it delayed my recovery by simply numbing my senses for awhile.  I couldn’t sleep and I was angry at everyone.  I would close my eyes and I would see Glenn, so fragile in the hospital bed, then the shell of Glenn in the casket.  I would smell the smells of the funeral home and relive the hours in intensive care.

Eventually I was able to sleep, unmedicated.  I am now able to remember Glenn and visit the cemetery without crying uncontrollably.   We tell our funny stories of Glenn, and we see glimpses of him in his siblings.  My daughter is happily married and has four additional children, none of whom remember him but all know about him.  Things are tenuous at times, but isn’t that common in all families?  She is now telling her story and has started a chapter of Bereaved Parents of America, here in Macon.  I’m so proud of her.

In the future, people will ask you about how many grandchildren you have.  How will you answer?  Do you include the baby who is no longer with you?  This is something you can only answer, and it may depend on the situation.  Sometimes I will say 10 and sometimes I will say 9.  It all depends on where I think the conversation will go.  Accept this discomfort.  Your grand baby will always be that perfect grandchild, in your heart.  Whether you share that memory with others is your own decision.

I hope this helps.  Just love your child, cherish your memories, and take care of yourself and your loved ones around you.  Own your emotions and reactions and allow your child to own their’s.  Never presume to be in more pain or to be suffering more.  Your child is an adult, and needs to be treated and respected as such.  Love them, and allow them to grieve.

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