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Forgotten Grievers

The Duality of Grieving

Staring into the void left by the death of a grandchild.

Grandparents themselves react to the loss of a child in many different ways. "It's definitely a new life for them following a grandchild's death," says Laura Reno, the public relations director for First Candle, a national nonprofit organization dealing with infant death, that runs a 24/7 bilingual telephone crisis line to help grieving relatives through difficult periods. "You can never again be the same."

At First Candle, trained counselors determine callers' physical and emotional states and attempt to ease them through the days that follow the darkest moments of their lives. They listen, offer advice, then follow up through mail and e-mail. "You can get through it," Reno assures, "but you'll never get over it."

When golfer Jack Nicklaus's grandson, 17-month-old Jake, drowned in a family pool in 2005, the six-time Masters champion turned to golf to assuage his deep grief over both the loss of Jake and the pain endured by his son. He was quoted in the media as saying he felt ill watching Jake's parents, Steve and Krista, suffer. He called the child's death a "double whammy" for a grandparent, adding, "That's just not supposed to happen."

Nicklaus at first declined to play in what would be his last Masters tournament a month later, preferring to spend time with his grieving family. "That's the most important thing right now," he said at the time, "and I think it will be the most important thing for a long time." He changed his mind later at the request of his family.

Former Secretary of State James Baker III handled his grief over the drowning death of his 7-year-old granddaughter, Graeme, by campaigning to make others aware of the danger of the suction power of backyard pools and spas. Graeme, a twin, was trapped in the bottom of such a pool.

For the Kanters, the key has been remembering the vitality of Elisa's life. Their granddaughter remains a presence in their home, as they talk about her in the manner that only long-time marital partners can, filling in for each other the details of Elisa's life.

To further cope with their grief, Pinney prays and Ilean talks to a photograph of Elisa, taken on her graduation day from secondary school—a pretty, dark-haired girl brimming with the energy that would have propelled her into adulthood.

"I say, 'Hi, sweetheart. I love you. I miss you,'" Ilean shares. "I don't want to sound too nutty, but I talk to her as though she is really there.

"She wore her first high-heeled shoes for graduation. She loved to have her hair and her nails done.

"We needed more time with her."

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