The Legacy of Strength: A Grandparent’s Grief

By: Kayla Leibner

Seeing your child suffer is a type of suffering in itself. 

As parents, our love runs so deep that when they hurt or suffer, we also hurt and suffer.  If something happens to cause one of my children distress or pain, my first instinct is to fix or remove the problem to make it better.  I believe I speak for at least the majority of parents when I say these things.  Our ability to be selfless has no limits when it comes to our children.  Our desire to bear their burdens makes us ache for their sufferings.  I have learned that this dedication, this love, this commitment is not limited to just parents, but also is very much part of the job description of being a grandparent.

My view on a grandparent’s grief is unique in that I am not actually a grandparent.  However, I am experiencing the effects of a grandparent’s grief. 

You see, my own mom is an angel parent. Before I was born, my parents buried my oldest brother, Wade. 

He died in the womb, after my mom was hit by a drunk driver.  I saw her sadness when I was a child.  Even though I couldn’t relate to it, I knew it was there.  I was aware of the loss, but it was a different time.  It wasn’t something that was talked openly about back then.  My mom wasn’t aware of the support groups or resources that might have existed at that time. 

My husband and I experienced our first loss in August 2017.  Our daughter, Melody was diagnosed in utero with a severe and rare congenital heart defect at 30 weeks gestation.  It was detected that her heart was enlarged during an ultrasound on a Wednesday.  Two days later she was diagnosed with Ebstein’s Anomaly via fetal echocardiogram.  Her condition resulted in Hydrops Fetalis and pulmonary hypoplasia.  After her diagnosis, I was admitted to the hospital for constant monitoring.  Over the weekend, she went into heart failure and was delivered by emergency c-section on Monday morning.  There was a plan to stabilize her and transport her to the nearby children’s hospital for her first open heart surgery.  However, she never made it out of the NICU where she was born.  She fought hard for her life the entire time the doctors worked on her, but her body was just too sick.  She lived an hour and twenty-seven minutes.

We lost what would have been our rainbow baby almost nine months later in May of 2018.  Jamie was also considered to be a rare medical instance.  I was nearly eleven weeks pregnant when I miscarried.  The pathology report revealed that I had what is called a partial molar pregnancy, which basically means that genetically our baby was not compatible with life.  It was real.  There was a heartbeat, but Jamie could not have survived.

The first words I remember saying after Melody died were, “I don’t know how to do this.”  I said them to my mom. 

Besides my husband, she was the first person I saw afterward.  At that point, it hadn’t even dawned on me that my mom knew exactly what I was feeling in that moment.  The day before I was discharged, my mom prepared me for what I would encounter upon reentering the real world again… 

Things would look different.

 People would look at me differently. 

Some would avoid me altogether. 

It was going to be lonely… 

She was right.

 She knew this from experience. 

She lived this same hell on earth. 

Still to this day, I don’t really know what I’m doing. 

I just take it one day at a time.

I’ve always told people that I come from a long line of strong women, and that I am strong because I was raised by strong women. 

I had more in common with these women in my family than I knew – I am a fourth-generation survivor of pregnancy and infant loss. 

I’ve lost two babies.  My mom lost a baby.  My grandma lost a baby.  My great-grandma lost a baby.  I knew they were strong, but I didn’t realize just how strong until I, too, walked in their shoes – their hideously uncomfortable shoes.

My great-grandmother has gone on from this life, but I have seen my own mom and grandma feel my pain.  I have seen them ache for my loss. 

Not only are these two women grieving the loss of their babies and my babies, but also grieving for me in my loss. 

They feel the pain I feel.  They know the loneliness that still envelops me at times.  They have heard the little voice that tells grieving mothers it’s all their fault, that they did something wrong.  They know it.  They feel it.  They relive it with me on my own journey.

My mom, the grandmother of my children, has expressed to me at great length how she wishes I didn’t know the pain she’s felt for all these years. 

She is my mom, my protector, and yet she and I both know the cruelty of this world.  I’ve watched her agonize over my own agony.  I’ve watched her grieve not only for my child, but for the innocence I lost when my babies died.  Oh, to be so naïve again! 

The losses of my babies have brought so much of my mom’s hurt and suffering back to the surface again.  My outspokenness and my need for the special support that she can offer me has seemed to empower her to be able to speak more about her loss and about Wade than before.  For this, I am grateful.  Though her burden is indescribably great, she seems to have found a way to truly work through her loss by aiding me on my own grief journey.

While the burden of a grieving parent is the heaviest of loads, we shouldn’t forget that grandparents suffer, too – for their grandchildren, and for their own child’s suffering.

About Kayla Leibner

Kayla is a Christian, a wife, a mother, and a preschool teacher.  She and her husband, Ben, have been married for five years and live north of St. Louis with two of their children, Jace (12) and Kiley (4).  They also carry two of their children in their hearts – Melody, and Jamie.  Kayla and her family have deep and strong roots in their faith and have relied heavily on God and His comfort in their journey of loss and grief.  Kayla hopes that her writing would be of help, comfort, and encouragement to families who are suffering this same tragic loss.

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