Grandparent Grief

By Ellen R. Jewart

In grief,
No friends near,
Alone with my thoughts
Weeping and tears come hourly.
Why should it be like this?
Why can’t grief be shared among everyone?
Even grandparents need closure from a tragedy.

Not allowed
To mention names
Or make reference to
The granddaughters we miss deeply.
Nobody wants to talk about it,
But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel.
We wanted to say good-bye to them, too.

Final words
Which go unspoken
Even as our hearts
Weep, long for, and anguish
To see photos and hear the story
Of how Rebecca and Maria entered the world.

Will we
Grieve adequately when
We didn’t get to
Say hello, good-bye or see
Two granddaughters in life or death?
How we weep over the lost dreams,
Shattered hopes, longed-for joys of watching
Our precious granddaughters grow healthy, strong, and beautiful!

No answers.
Only many questions.
Questions we may not ask.
Questions that will never be answered.

Author Note:

I’m an avid fan of classic clothing for children. I am a hand-sewer, enjoy English smocking, and dressed my children British style as long as possible, making many of their garments. In the picture, the two little gowns you see were intended for Rebecca and Maria, who were born and died 7/10/2008, in the Bahamas. The two tiny bracelets were waiting to be engraved, the beauty pins, which were intended for closing the back of clothing made from delicate fabrics, were also ready. I had intended to use them for the baptism of Rebecca and Maria, hoping to make their baptismal gowns.  

We got the call about the death of the girls while I was smocking these garments. I put the garments away, as I couldn’t bear to look at them, but finished them on 4/10/2009. The girls’ parents opted to not return the girls to the US. There was no memorial service. The parents shut themselves away from us for several months and any discussion was taboo. There were no pictures. It was the most painful experience Jim and I had ever had. We were doubly shattered – for the loss of our granddaughters and the loss of our son and his wife, who didn’t want us to contact them for a while.

Our way of grieving was the opposite of our son and his wife. We felt unable to simply accept the loss with nothing tangible to see or hold on to; no public recognition that we had granddaughters who had lived and died, and were loved and mourned deeply. There was hurt on both sides as we tried to navigate this change in the relationship between us. The girls’ death has still never been discussed with us. After almost eleven years, we expect it will stay that way. Sometimes, it still feels like an unhealed raw spot that sits under the surface of our relationship.

In November 2008, my parents were singing with the Salisbury Singers, who were doing a Requiem for All Saints’ Day. My husband and I decided that we would attend the Requiem, and that we would make a donation so that Rebecca and Maria’s names could be read aloud during the ceremony. The card from the Requiem is in blue, on top of the dresses.  

Friends who had given birth to a stillborn son three years prior to our loss encouraged me to finish the gowns, but the gowns stayed hidden as we didn’t know how to display them. We wanted to respect our son and his wife, but we needed to remember the girls tangibly. Finally, we opted for a shadow box which is still in our bedroom. We put it up on 7/10/2009, at their one year birthday.

I wrote the poem early on – just a few days after their death, when we were told there would be no discussion and our son and his wife wanted to be left alone. It’s a poem written during a period of intense and unresolved grief. Completing the shadow box was my funeral for Rebecca and Maria. They were born. They died. They are loved. They are missed. They will not be forgotten.

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