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For the Grandmas Grieving Their Grandbaby

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Today, we are celebrating the third birthday of my second beautiful granddaughter. She brings so much joy and happiness to my life. I now understand what other grandparents meant when they said, “You can’t understand the joy a grandchild can bring to you until you have one of your own.” Or, “You’ll understand when you have a grandchild yourself.” Seeing her grow and thrive so quickly is absolutely thrilling. Hearing the word “grandma” brings happiness to my heart every time she says it. Happiness that can’t be explained by mere words.

With this wonderful celebration, it made me realize I’d been missing for five years prior to her birth. Physically missing – no, but emotionally missing – partially. You’re probably wondering why, so let me explain.

The year 2011 was a difficult one for my immediate family. My husband was hospitalized several times and during one hospitalization, the doctor used the words, “if he makes it.” Those words stung very deep. I’m extremely happy to say that he’s still with me today. But during this dark and scary time, we learned we were going to be first-time grandparents. Our daughter and her husband had been trying for a while, and we were excited to welcome this little one into our lives. It was a joy to announce it to our church family, and they rejoiced with us.

Fast forward a couple of months. My husband’s health had improved a bit, my daughter and her husband had moved to California, and things were looking promising. We were getting ready to have a low-key celebration for Independence Day. I was busy doing laundry and other various house chores. My daughter called me into the living room where she was sitting and said, “Mom, I think I just peed my pants.” That’s odd for a grown woman to say, but occasionally, especially when a woman is pregnant, that does happen. She got up and took a shower, but she said, “It’s still dribbling down my leg.” It was at that point, we realized something was wrong. Since it had been 20 years since I’d had my last child, I couldn’t remember everything to consider. We called my sister who’d just had her first baby a few months earlier and told her what had happened. Her words burn in my memory: “Call your doctor, and get to the hospital.”

It still didn’t dawn on me that this was potentially a serious issue. I’m not sure why. Maybe I was being optimistic. Maybe I was thinking  my daughter was wanting attention. Maybe I didn’t want to face the obvious. After talking to the doctor, we returned home with instructions to return if my daughter started running a fever or continued losing fluid. Sadly, the next day, July 4, she had to return to the hospital due to a fever.

The next day and a half were heartbreaking. My daughter’s water had broken, and after several hours of labor, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Ashley, but our baby girl would never take her first breathe, get her first tooth, take her first step, say her first words. So many other “firsts” would be missed. Because of this painful loss, a part of me went missing as well.

I wasn’t sure what to do with my grandma status. Yes – I was a grandma. No – I couldn’t show the cute pictures, videos and share milestones of this precious baby and her parents. So how do I handle this status that doesn’t have a label? I found myself stepping away when a new baby was introduced. I was absent at baby showers. The one baby shower I attended was cut short on my part. The only reason I went was because there was no one else from our extended family in town. I felt obligated to represent
us. Once I felt my obligation had been met, I quietly slipped out and went home, tears streaming down my face the entire way home.

The first time I held a baby was about five months after our loss. I was at a family reunion in Florida, and my cousin’s wife knew I was hurting when I saw new babies. On the last day, she handed a baby to me, and I couldn’t get away. She said, “Holding this baby will help heal you.” Even though I cried almost the entire time holding this little precious baby, my cousin was right. Holding a newborn helped this missing grandma’s healing.

So, what did I do with the extra love I’d been getting ready to share? Remember that my sister had just had a baby a few months earlier? That baby girl got a lot of extra love. She was part of my healing. I wasn’t Grandma to her, but my mom (who is a wonderful grandma) shared this precious Rayna with me. I spoiled her, loved her, taught her to say important words like “diamonds” and “piggies.” We had so much fun – and still do. Children are a gift from God, and we need to cherish them as gifts. There were times when it was harder to be the aunt rather than the grandma. It felt as if those “firsts” we experienced with Rayna should have also been experienced with Ashley, and that hurt.

With the birth of my second granddaughter, I have continued to heal and find my inner grandma! I love being a grandma. My Madison lights up when she sees me, and I light up when I see her. I love watching her grow, learn, play, be serious, explore and all the other things that she does.

The grandma who was missing those few years has been found. She knows now what
all those grandma sayings mean. When my granddaughter comes to me to kiss the boo-boo or when she wants me to read to her or rock her, I’m there! When she spends the
night, it may wear me out, but I love waking up to her smiles and silliness. She’s such a happy kid, and I’m so glad I get to wear the “grandma” label as Madison’s grandma!

Maybe you’re like me. Perhaps you’ve had that heartbreaking experience of losing a beautiful grandbaby. There will be times when you’ll cry while holding another child as you think about your grandbaby, and that’s OK. It’s part of healing for missing grandmas (and grandpas). Perhaps there’s someone in your circle who doesn’t have a grandma. Maybe you can be their “adopted” grandparent. Share their firsts as best you can.

There are many ways to fill that hole that missing grandparents feel. Find what helps heal you, and share it with others who are experiencing the same pain our missing labels create. Helping others will help return joy to your life.

If you or a loved one is affected by infant loss, you can find grieving resources at The Grief Toolbox.

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Getty image by NADOFOTOS

Originally published: February 23, 2018
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