I can still hear her voice greeting me with glee as I entered her hospital room. “Granny!” she would sing out joyfully, momentarily distracted from the horrors of medication-induced nausea. Tali died shortly after her fourth birthday, losing a nine-month battle with an aggressive malignant brain tumour (ATRT). Although fifteen years have passed since her death, time has frozen a multitude of precious moments that still give me cause to smile.
Tali left behind heartbroken parents and grandparents and two bewildered little boys (one of whom was her twin). I watched my daughter facing this unspeakable loss, putting one foot in front of the other in an attempt to pick up the shattered pieces of her life. I was powerless to ease her pain, thereby adding layer upon layer to my own excruciating sorrow.
At that time, there was little support for grieving grandparents. Today there is greater recognition of grandparent grief, and support is available face-to-face and online. But when Tali died, I had no idea how to move forward with my broken heart and aching soul. So I began by spending weeks buried in the task of creating a photo book of Tali’s life within her family. It was exactly what I needed to do – a healing undertaking that, to this day, brings me comfort as I flip through the pages. I am also thankful that I had a penchant for taking videos, for we have clips of Tali taken both before and during her illness. There is one of the two of us in her hospital room kidding around and singing together, and a precious one taken before her illness of her and her twin brother Noam laughing hysterically. Gathering photographs and videos together was for me a labour of love that has provided for my daughter and me countless hours of solace.
Without my being aware of it, time had a way of gently nudging me forward, and over the years, my sorrow gradually evolved into memories of the happy moments, of which there were many, despite the circumstances. As Tali’s grandmother, I had the privilege of staying overnight with her when her parents were unable to, and we had a ritual in which I would sing a special song to her as she was falling asleep. It was always a moment overflowing with love and connection, and to this day, when I play our song on the piano, I feel that connection and my heart swells with love.
Tali and Noam would have celebrated their 19th birthday together on June 10th. It is always a difficult day for my daughter, as is the anniversary of Tali’s death. But I am inspired by how she has chosen to live her life – with grace, fortitude and determination. She welcomes joy into her life despite her loss, providing a role model for her sons and giving them as normal a childhood as possible. And when her grief surfaces, all I can offer to her is a loving ear and a heart filled with compassion.
Tali’s death has provided me with important lessons:
- I have learned that despite the pain, it is possible to accumulate beautiful memories that warm the heart;
- I have learned that grandparents grieve not only for themselves but also for the bereaved parents;
- I have learned to respect my right to grieve and not to compare it to my daughter’s struggle – it is not a competition;
- I have learned that many people are uncomfortable talking about the death of a child or grandchild – as if it might be contagious; and
- I have learned that time offers some healing, whether we like it or not.
I am indescribably grateful for having had four precious years with Tali in my life, and as I contemplate my own mortality, I take comfort in the possibility that I might one day be reunited in some way with my beloved granddaughter.
Resources for Grieving Grandparents
Centre for Loss and Transition
Article: Helping a Grandparent Who Is Grieving
“When a grandchild dies, grandparents grieve twice. They mourn the loss of the child and they feel the pain of their own child’s suffering. Sometimes we forget about the grandparents when a child dies. You can help by not forgetting, by offering the grandparents your love, support and presence in the weeks and months to come.”
The Compassionate Friends
Article: The Grief of Grandparents
“The relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild is very special and unique. When a grandchild dies, the grief associated with the loss is often so intense and painful, it leaves bereaved grandparents feeling hopeless as they experience what many refer to as a double loss. Not only do they mourn for their grandchild, they may also feel a sense of helplessness because they are unable to take away the pain felt by the parents of their grandchild, one of whom is their own child”
American Hospice Foundation
The Grief of Grandparents by Helen Fitzgerald, CT
“There is no bond greater than the bond between parent and child. When a child dies, the pain of parental loss is near the top of the scale of human grief, and there is an immediate outpouring of sympathy and concern for the bereaved parents. But other grieving family members, including siblings, are often seen as secondary players who must provide support to the distraught parents. Among these forgotten grievers are the grandparents”
BOOKS: (available on Amazon):
Healing a Grandparent’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas After Your Grandchild Dies
Paperback – May 1 2014
by Alan D Wolfelt PhD (Author)
Forgotten Tears: A Grandmother’s Journey Through Grief
Paperback – July 8 2005
by Nina Bennett
Grandparents…the forgotten grievers: A journal for grieving grandparents
Paperback – Nov. 12 2019
When a Grandchild Dies: What to Do, What to Say, How to Cope
Paperback – Oct. 1 1999