On Sept 1, 2002, I stood in the room at the hospital looking into the face of my daughter Denise and seeing only pain.
I knew I was about to enter into the black hole. I felt the shooting sting through my heart as my daughter delivered the horrible news and seeing her I stepped immediately into “fix-it mode,” the worst decision I ever made. But that was my role as a parent – to fix things. It almost always worked in the past. Put a band-aid on it wipe away some tears or a tight hug. It has been working for forty plus years. So, that is where I stayed for at least the next two-plus years, if only I knew about “support mode” at that time.
It was very difficult to watch as my daughter seemed unable to smile or laugh. Denise always had a great sense of humor and a smile that always made you want to smile back. I listened to her, felt her pain and cried thousands of tears with and without her. I yelled at God and wanted to know how he could be so cruel to both my daughter and me. He was supposed to be a loving God. When I stopped yelling I cried out to him, I begged him to please give me the support I needed. Wow! What a revelation. Why didn’t I think about supporting and not fixing sooner? How many times in the past had my friends and family been there to support me? When my parents and three of my brothers died the support I received was what helped me the most.
As grandparents, it is easy for us to get stuck in fix-it mode. We believe that we must have the answers and the magical powers to help those in our family heal. We not only carry our own grief but also the grief that our child bears as well as our grandchildren who are now bereaved siblings. We certainly are caught in the middle and have big shoes to fill. It took time but I finally came to the conclusion that trying to fix things simply doesn’t work. I needed to be in “support mode” which meant supporting my children and grandchildren in their own unique grief journey while seeking support for myself. “Support mode” is where we can most effectively help our children and grandchildren by grieving with them and learning to heal together.
When we support our children and grandchildren in grief, it allows us to know when they are ready to start to go forward in the healing process. Just like in our own grief, we don’t try to push or rush anybody. Support mode considers the process of grief and allows the time and space for each of us to take baby steps. Support mode gives our grieving children and grandchildren a safe place to feel every hurt, embrace every tear and yet welcome the warmth of laughter and smiles once again when the time feels right. Slowly the smiles did return and the laughter too for all of us.
As a family, we learned together that grief doesn’t have a time limit. As a grandparent it is a gift in that we know our children – we can read their face and hear it in their voice, we know every facial expression and what their eyes are saying. Our grieving children cannot hide their pain from us. Support mode makes it alright for us to not hide our pain from them either.
So I want to close by saying that the first step toward moving from “fix-it mode” to “support mode” is to find a friend or family member who understands your loss and will support you in your grief. We cannot help others until we have found support for ourselves. We need someone who will just listen. The next most important thing is to take care of ourselves. Exercise, eating well and taking care of our health gives us the added strength and energy we will need to help our family in grief.
So what is my advice to other grandparents trying to fix things? Rip the band-aid off and realize this is a forever journey for us, our children and our grandchildren. Together, our family has come a long way on our grief journey. Denise started attending a TCF support group twelve years ago and served as a Chapter Leader for seven years. Today, we are working together to help plan and organize TCF National Conference in 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. To all my fellow grieving grandparents, always remember, You Need Not Walk Alone.
Use the chapter locator to find out information about chapters in your area. Locate a Chapter by selecting your state and zip code.