Losing a grandparent

The death of a grandparent can affect multiple generations within a family, even though this type of bereavement can be seen as a normal part of our lives and getting older. We’re here to help with advice to support you and your family cope with grief after losing a grandparent.

Coping with the loss of a grandparent

The death of a grandparent can be emotionally fraught for you as well as your parents, aunts and uncles as they grieve for their own mother or father.

Like any bereavement in the family, you may find that you experience a range of different emotions, from sadness and shock to anger, regret and even confusion if they die when you are young.

It may be that your grandparent was a figurehead in your family and so this can mean that their death hits everyone hard. It can change the stability of the family dynamic across different generations.

You might feel like you don’t have the right to grieve or that your grief isn’t as important as your mum’s, dad’s or uncle’s, as they were their parent. But everyone will have their own way of coping with the death of a grandparent.

You need to allow yourself the space to grieve, however you are feeling, and recognise that there is no “right” or “correct” way to cope with a bereavement. It’s okay to feel the way you are feeling, so take as long as you need and do what feels right for you.

Talking with someone can help to untangle the feelings you have and share memories of your grandparent. You might not feel ready to talk about your grief straight away. Some people might take a long time to open up to others. But chatting with a family member or an old friend who knew them can help you to feel less alone and isolated. So, when you feel ready, try talking things through.

As your family deals with the death of a grandparent, you may find that speaking with your mum, dad, sibling, auntie, uncle or remaining grandparent helps you to cope with your grief. In turn, your family could find this beneficial after the bereavement, as you can all share how you’re feeling and support each other. Your mum, dad or their primary caregiver, in particular, may need help, so supporting them in this way could be a great comfort.

Some people may not really know their grandparents or rarely see them, so their death can come as a deep shock if you find out that they have died. It might be that you think they’re still alive, but find out about their death from someone in your family, which can be very shocking and sudden.

How does losing a grandparent affect you?

For many people, the death of a grandparent is their first real experience of bereavement. This can make coping with your grief hard, as it is completely new to you and you might not know how to deal with your loss

Coping with grief can be very difficult and full of different feelings anyway, so this can add a further burden to an already tough experience. It can be scary when faced with their death and even cause you to have thoughts about your own mortality. But take reassurance from the fact that this is normal after losing a grandparent.

Or, when your last grandparent dies, this can be very hard to cope with as you can feel like you are losing the remaining connection to the older generations in your family and your shared history.

Dealing with the loss of your grandparent at any time can also make you feel as if you are losing your connection to your childhood and the memories you share with your grandparent. If you were close, you will have shared experiences with them. It can be tough knowing that that person will no longer be around to share things with.

Your mum or dad will also be grieving for one of their parents, which can be hard while you cope with your own grief. They will probably need your support and you theirs, so try to talk about how your feelings with them and give each other the time to grieve in your own ways.

Estranged grief after the death of a grandparent

If you’re estranged from your grandparents, you may have feelings of regret or anger at having not known them while they were alive. You might find that you feel a sense of anger with your parents for not allowing or helping you to have a closer relationship with them.

You are also likely to have unanswered questions about them. Talking with your family about them, or a friend or neighbour who knew them can sometimes help to find out more about their life and what they were like. This can help you gain some closure as you deal with your grief.

Bereavement leave for grandparents

As your grandparents are considered immediate family, you can take bereavement leave from work after they die. The amount of time you can take off work will depend on your employer, as there is no current legal ruling on this.

You should try to tell your employer as soon as possible about your grandparent’s death and how long you expect to be away from work. This means that they can make arrangements for cover and are aware of your personal situation.

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, most employees have the right to a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off to allow them to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies involving immediate family. This includes taking leave from work to arrange or attend their funeral.

Organisations and companies have different policies and can exercise their discretion in their own way. If your employer has a bereavement leave or compassionate leave policy, this should set out your entitlement. If they don’t have a policy, it is at their discretion as to how much bereavement leave they will allow you to take.

Many organisations also offer some paid bereavement leave, so it’s worth checking your contract of employment or your workplace’s policy on compassionate leave if they have one. You may be eligible for some bereavement benefits or support payments as well, to help you cope financially.

If the person who has died is not part of your immediate family, then you do not have any specific rights. It is up to your employer whether they allow you to take bereavement leave, so speak with them. The death of someone who you consider as being like a grandparent or part of your chosen family can still be legitimate grounds for bereavement leave from work.

If you feel that you need more time off work to cope with their death, then you can ask your employer if this is ok. It’s at your employer’s discretion if they are willing to extend your bereavement leave, though. Another option is to take some time as annual leave if more bereavement leave isn’t possible.

Helping a child to cope with the loss of their grandparent

Often, the death of a grandparent is a child’s first experience of bereavement and so their feelings of grief are something completely new to them. They may not understand the emotions they are going through, particularly if they are young when their grandma or grandad dies.

As their parent, it’s important that you are there for them during this difficult time and talk to them about how they are feeling. This also means being open about your feelings and not holding back your own tears if you are upset. Seeing you cry can help your child to see that it’s OK to feel sad, so they don’t feel like they have to bottle up their own emotions.

Find more advice on supporting a bereaved child

Telling a child about the death of their grandparent

When telling a child about the death of a grandparent, it’s crucial that you are honest about what has happened and explain that their grandma or grandad won’t be coming back. This will help the child grasp the reality of the situation better and cope with their feelings, which can also make it easier for them to ask any questions they have.

Even if your child doesn’t understand fully at first, it is important that you explain things clearly using simple language. Be aware that you might need to repeat things for them, particularly if they are very young.

If the child’s grandparent has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, it’s important that you don’t make any promises you can’t keep such as saying ‘they’ll be better soon’, as this will only add to the shock of their death for the child.

When they are ill for a long time, this can give you space to tell the child about what is going to happen to them. You could say something such as “The doctors have tried to help them, but they won’t be able to make them better again“, so that the child is more aware of their death and can process their feelings over time.

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