Bereaved Grandmother Turns the Corner on Grief

My granddaughter was unexpectedly born still in 2003. My daughter-in-law had a healthy, uneventful, full-term pregnancy. There were no indications of any problems during her labor. The medical staff was as stunned as we were when Madeline was delivered without a heartbeat. My background is in behavioral medicine, and I have worked professionally with bereavement issues for several decades, but none of my education or experience prepared me to cope with the death of my granddaughter. I also felt powerless when it came to providing solace to my son and daughter-in-law.

As I felt my way like a blind person through my grief, I rejected many of the “traditional” concepts I had been taught. The words resolution and closure are meaningless to me. I struggled internally to the point of sheer exhaustion and collapse to make sense of the events. I read everything I could find on stillbirth, grandparents, and bereavement. I attended several months of bereavement counseling. I wrote in my journal constantly. I withdrew from most social interactions and proceeded on my grief journey in search of the new normal I read so much about. I embraced grief yet held life off at a distance.

Recently, I searched my memory and re-read many of my journal entries in an attempt to identify a specific moment or event when I felt as though I had turned the corner. It was more of a gradual realization for me. My earliest thoughts and journal entries saw my grief journey as a path distinctly separate from the rest of my life. Viewing it as a separate path was too limiting and furthered the sense of isolation I felt.

Approximately one year after my granddaughter’s stillbirth, I stopped fighting myself; I realized that my grief journey and my life journey are integrated. Grief is part of life, the journey is intertwined. Once I acknowledged this concept, I began to actively re-engage in living. I believe that embracing the joy of family and friends is to honor my granddaughter, in that I am saying that her brief life was beautiful and worthy.

I used to race through life with a to-do list and a lengthy, detailed itinerary. I’ve slowed down now, which allows time to pay mindful attention to my surroundings. I notice and appreciate the wonders of the natural world to a deeper degree, because I am seeing the beauty not only for me, but for Maddy as well. Bereaved grandmother is part of my identity in my new normal; an important part, perhaps an integral part, but no longer the totality of who I am.

Nina Bennett 2011

Nina Bennett

More Articles Written by Nina

Nina Bennett has 4 grandchildren, one of whom was unexpectedly born still following a healthy full-term pregnancy. She has worked in reproductive health since 1976, and was a childbirth educator for nearly 10 years. A healthcare professional and frequently requested guest lecturer, Nina presents talks and workshops locally and nationally. She is the Principal Investigator of an IRB-approved research study looking at how grandparents incorporate perinatal loss into their families. Nina is a social activist who gives voice to the often silent grief of grandparents through her writing and speaking. Her articles and poetry have appeared in the anthology Mourning Sickness, The Broadkill Review, Slow Trains Literary Journal, Grief Digest, the News Journal, A.G.A.S.T., Different Kind of Parenting, M.I.S.S.ing Angels, and Living Well Journal, as well as many other publications. Nina is the author of Forgotten Tears A Grandmother’s Journey Through Grief. Proceeds from her book are donated to MISS Foundation, and other agencies supporting families bereaved by the death of a baby. She contributed a chapter to They Were Still Born, a collection of first-person accounts of stillbirth.

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  • Linda says:

    My Grandson, Jameson, will have been gone 1 year next month. I still grieve and feel that I always will. Not one day goes by that I feel as though my life will be the same and how helpless I am to change it.

  • Mark says:

    My Nephew was still born 2 weeks ago and I attended the funeral a couple of days ago. Im still in pieces now about it, even though I never got the chance to meet him im not sure what to do with myself at the moment to help me. I feel lost and a completely different person to what I used to be.

  • Wendy says:

    My grandson, Jacob, passed away suddenly in September. He only 10 months old. We grieve for him everyday and struggle to help our daughter and her family with his loss. It sometimes feels as if we lost our daughter too, because she will never be the same person again.

  • Nina Bennett says:

    Linda, Mark, Wendy-please know that I am truly so sorry for your losses. I am touched and honored that you took the time to leave a comment. I am not the same person I was before my granddaughter’s death, but I can tell you that 7 years later I like the person I am now. What helped me the most, other than writing, was joining an online support group. I could jump online in the middle of the night, those terrible, dark hours, and find somebody to share my thoughts with.

  • Mary Ellen Post says:

    My daughter gave birth to her fourth son, 4 weeks ago. She was 38 weeks and also had an uneventful pregnancy. She was going for her final checkup, 2 days before being induced. They could not find a heartbeat. While I sat miles away waiting for her expected joyful phone call that it was time to come, I instead received a devestating phone call from my hysterical daughter. The baby had died, with no explanation. I dropped everything and drove the 5 hour drive in time to see my grandson delivered stillborn. Holding him is in my memory forever.

    Devestated does not begin to describe the last month. I have found solace in journaling and writing baby letters to our dear Benjamin. This journey, I know, is a lifetime one and I will never be the same. I not only lost my beautiful grandson, Benjamin, and all the hopes and dreams for his future, but I grieve the loss of the joyful, happy, optimistic daughter I have always had. Our lives will always be definded by before Benjamin and after Benjamin. My hope is that down the road I can heal and help others who walk this heartbreaking path.

    I grieve for all who have gone before me and for those who will come after.

  • Sue says:

    Hello
    Nina – I have just been reading your book about Maddy, and I have now lent it to my son in law’s mother.
    My daughter has just lost her twin boys – four weeks ago – at 24 weeks gestation.
    The end came after three weeks of hell where we really thought we were going to win the battle and that they would survive if we could just get them to the magical 24 weeks.
    We are all devastated to lose our precious boys. Like Mary Ellen above, although I am in despair about the death of my two grandsons, the hardest thing to bear is the loss of my daughter. She was always such a ray of sunshine – always smiling – and now she is broken-hearted, and for the first time in her life I can’t do anything to fix it.
    The pain of witnessing this is unbearable.
    I also grieve the loss of a God who did not hear our prayers and I can only conclude has abandoned us in our darkest hour.
    The loneliness is terrible.

  • Nina Bennett says:

    Mary Ellen and Sue, please know how very sorry I am. With each story, my heart breaks yet again. I hold your precious grandchildren in my heart, and each time I present a workshop at a conference, I dedicte it to the memory of our grandchildren.

    As we are forever changed, so are our children, and it is indeed a rocky road we travel as we try to comfort them.

  • Sheila Gray says:

    Our daughter in law was 6 days overdue and woke up bleeding. Doctors decided to do a c section as safest for Mom and baby but before they could, she haemorrhaged. our granddaughter was born without a heartbeat. they revived her and she was on life support in intensive care. the joyous call we were waiting for became the horrendous “you can come now – it is not hopeful” We flew there and were able to spend time with our beautiful granddaughter. 36 hours later, she was taken off life support and died in the arms of our son and daughter in law a few hours later. there was too much brain damage for her to survive. our son had asked us to go home before that happened – they understandably needed time alone with their daughter. We have not seen them since – they feel they can’t be around our grief when they have so much of their own. we have to respect their boundaries and wishes even though my instincts scream that family should be together and support each other.
    our granddaughter would have been 3 weeks old today. they had 3 miscarriages in the previous 2 years and really deserved a happy ending this time. IT IS SO UNFAIR.
    i was a Hospice grief counsellor for 10 years but all the knowledge and experience doesn’t help. i can really relate to feeling abandoned by God. i feel like “what God” We prayed so hard during the flight, begged to be taken instead. it is so hard. I am glad i have found your web site to write out some of the pain. i know you understand as noone else can.

  • Sheila Gray says:

    is this the right website to ask for updates from each of you and find out how you are all doing? if not is there one? our stories have such similar threads of pain. hoping for a response, Sheila

  • Nina Bennett says:

    Sheila, I also had a firm theoretical grounding in bereavement, and it didn’t help at all. My son and daugher-in-law withdrew after Maddy’s stillbirth. I felt isolated in my grief, I didn’t know where to turn.

    It absolutely, unequivocally, is not fair that we should bury a child or grandchild. It defies the natural order of life.

  • Sheila Gray says:

    thank you for validating my crazy feelings. there is mention of your book – what is it called and where can i get it?

  • Nina Bennett says:

    Please forgive me for taking so long to respond. Maddy’s birthday was Nov 12, and the winter holidays are always difficult.

    My book is titled Forgotten Tears A grandmother’s Journey Through Grief. It is available through the publisher:

    http://www.booklocker.com/books/2081.html

    or online bookstores such as Amazon

  • tammy says:

    I just lost my granddaughter two weeks ago…….I do not know where to turn. My son’s grief is
    so over-whelmimg. I want to fix it but I cannot. Thank you for being so public .Not everyone understands.

  • Nina Bennett says:

    Tammy, I am so very sorry about your granddaughter. There are no words that will make this better. You are indeed correct in realizing that this is something you can’t fix. And you are so right that not everybody understands! It breaks our heart to see our beloved child in so much pain. Thank you for taking the time in the midst of your grief to write kind words in response to my thoughts.

  • Joe Redding says:

    Our grandson was stillborn 5 months ago. It was wrenching and our son and daughter-in-law had to endure labor and delivery knowing their child was dead. The mother, who seemed to be making progress, has now entered a major anger phase that involves verbal abuse of target relatives that are identified as being the cause/ fault of many things. Each target, of course, has many sympathizers but anyone who defends the target or disagrees with the grieving mother is also in danger of becoming a target. This has such repercussions within the family. They have been married for many years and this has never before been a problem. We miss our happy daughter-in-law so much and are at a loss as what to do to bring her back. We fear that bridges are being burned.

  • Kit says:

    We lost our baby boy yesterday (21 weeks).I am 1400 miles away. I couldn’t even be there for my daughter.I’m a caretaker for my elderly mother. My husband was there in a Wyoming at home with her. She is not married so no husband to lean on.I can’t get home for another week. I’m lost

  • Megan says:

    My beautiful, brave daughter gave birth to an angel they named Murphy 8 weeks ago. She was found to have died during labour very unexpectedly. When I got the phone call from my daughter I was so excited expecting it to be the news of my granddaughter’s birth. The devastation of that phone call will be with me forever. I miss who my daughter used to be and I wish I could comfort her but she has shut down and I hardly see her. I’m grateful that she and her husband find comfort in each other but as a mum it’s so tough not being able to help ease the pain. At the same time, my pain is nearly unbearable.

    • Nina says:

      Your post sounds so similar to my family story. The pain seems unbearable, and off course it is magnified because we also hurt for our adult child. To all of you who took the time to read this article and post, please know that I am so sorry you are here. We will never forget, we will always love the grandchild not with us.