The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome

from the silent-epidemic dept.

From Janus comes this cool scientific paper correlating college student examinations with the unexpected death of those students’ grandmothers. Scary stuff.

2 Responses to “The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome”

  1. Antonio Guijarro-Morales, MD Says:

    The Slave Grandmother Syndrome

    Antonio Guijarro-Morales, MD.

    University of Granada (Spain) Faculty of Medicine


    The Slave Grandmother Syndrome is a very frequent, serious and

    potentially fatal health and social problem in adult housewife women, due to

    ignored and/or denied imbalance, when her age-related decreasing

    abilities and will power are not enough to fulfil the familial tasks she

    is carrying at present.


    The origin of a “slave grandmother” is an adult woman with direct housewife

    responsibilities, voluntarily taken on with pleasure, who, due to educational and/or

    psychological reasons, has an extraordinary sense of order, responsibility, dignity and


    With such magnificent virtues, it is normal that for many years these

    women have been extraordinary daughters, housewives, mothers and wives.

    They become grandmothers without realising it, in the prime of their

    life, when they are strong, healthy and even beautiful. With pleasure they take on the

    bringing up and care of the grandchildren, as if they were mothers the second time

    round, but with an even more pleasurable, gratifying and affectionate character.


    The years go by and nobody realises. The load and the family stress

    multiply: More sons- and daughters-in-law, sometimes doubled or even tripled through

    divorces, separations and all kinds of pairing.

    The grandchildren grow up, and so do the needs and responsibilities of

    those who look after them on a daily basis.

    The grandchildren and their parents often bring home friends and family

    to enjoy the hospitality of the enviable grandmother.

    In addition, there may be a brother who becomes ill or whose marriage

    breaks down, who needs a helping hand, sometimes parents or dear aunts and uncles who

    are still alive, and who, although the grandchildren took care of getting them

    into an old people’s home, the daughter or niece (the slave grandmother) still has

    to visit, at least from time to time.

    The grandmother’s physical and emotional capacity also start to feel the

    passing of the years. Sometimes an associated illness decreases her strength even more.


    There comes a moment when the abilities and the will power of the

    grandmother are not enough to be able to fulfil the tasks she has been carrying out for

    years. But she will not give them up. An imbalance occurs.

    If an opportune remedy is not provided, a new slave grandmother is

    created. One more, amongst thousands.


    Neither the grandmother nor her children realise, with sufficient

    clarity, what is happening.

    They only believe, or want to believe, that the slight hypertension or

    the trivial diabetes or the anxiety that the grandmother has are the reason why, in

    recent months, she has lost her joy for living, she feels bad and starts

    suffering from aches and pains: pains in her chest, undefined discomfort, pain, lethargy,

    dizziness, etc.

    The grandmother repeatedly goes to the doctor and the emergency

    services, telling them about her aches and pains, but without clearly revealing the kind

    of stress to which she is being subjected.

    If she has organic illnesses, they do not respond correctly to

    conventional treatments.

    If she does not have organic illnesses, anxiety pills, vitamins,

    psychotherapy, chiromancy and esoteric therapies not only do not help but, on the

    whole, make things worse.

    Admissions in hospital for several days, stays in hotels with groups of

    old-similar retired people, or staying as a guest (resting) at the home of family members

    improve her in an extraordinary way.

    Her symptoms reappear when she starts her habitual tasks.

    Educational and psychological reasons prevent her from asking for help

    in an expressive enough way.

    She is frustrated because her children are blind to the situation and do

    not understand her, even when she timidly tries to tell them.

    She is especially frightened of the Law of All of Nothing. Her children

    could react in an exaggerated way saying: “Don’t worry, if you’re ill we won’t bring you

    the grandchildren so they won’t bother you”. The drastic, brutal

    interruption of the gratifying contact with her grandchildren, for this kind of grandmother,

    is worse than death.


    She blames herself: I’m no longer any use and each day will be worse.

    Behind the lack of comprehension of her nearest and dearest, of those

    she loves in an indescribable way, she starts to discern suspicion, reproaches,

    sometimes sarcasm and lack of affection.

    Maybe tomorrow they will feel disdain. At this point, she is assaulted

    by a fixed self-destructive thought.

    The poor lovesick family woman starts to believe that the only way she

    will find definitive rest is by leaving this ungrateful world.

    In her imagination, she is sure that the family would be happier if they

    were rid of the useless charge, which she believes she has become.


    If only someone in the family unit realises in time about the nature of

    the process and is able to convince the other members of the family to fairly

    redistribute the grandmother’s excessive loads!

    Between them all, it is easy to free the grandmother of the tasks that

    give her most stress: all those that need to be carried out in a set time or those

    that involve direct responsibilities.

    The grandmother should still be the centre of the family unit, with

    maximum contact with the younger members. She may be the main source of love for her

    grandchildren, which will allow them to grow up emotionally healthy.

    But the grandmother must never have to feel responsible for the safety

    of her grandchildren. Preventing and avoiding domestic accidents must be a task

    assigned to and taken on by other younger people.


    As this is an illness that is very frequent and serious, that can lead

    to death, including suicide, it has the peculiarity that its complete cure is usually in the

    hands of the patient’s nearest and dearest ones.

    It is a shame that they are usually totally blind.

    In some unfortunate cases there is no feasible family possibility to

    unburden the grandmother from her chains, or if the freedom does occur, it is without

    the suitable balance and sharing out of tasks, which, sooner or later, leads to the

    creation of a new slave grandmother in the person who inherits the chains from her


    To resolve this supposition, society should be sufficiently aware and

    informed about the problem, so that it is in a condition to generate, in an opportune

    way, social family help just when the case requires it.

    To achieve this objective of diffusion and creating awareness, not only

    in the families involved, but also society in general and the most active social agents

    in particular, it is vital to have the collaboration of all of us and of the mass media.

    We should take into account that if the grandmother and her closest

    family members were alerted, aware and willing to act, the problem would quite surely

    be resolved.

    Unfortunately, we still hear about too many cases where this does not


    In society, harmoniously, we should help each other open our eyes,

    delicately but without paralysing modesty and not be surprised that all of us, every

    one of us, human beings, are inclined to see the problems from which other people suffer

    rather than our own more serious ones.

    The most efficient health agent to end this 21st century plague could be

    just you, a social or health worker, a journalist, or simply a friend or family member, usually someone with some distance from the slave, who knows the problem well and can judge more objectively than the members of the family nucleus, who have been

    blinded by the incredible strength of the person the grandmother was for so many years.

    If you know of one or more cases of slave grandmothers you must

    obviously dedicate your professional care to them, but above this, for greater efficiency,

    you, as I am doing now, must publicly comment on it, with specific data, without

    identifying the family involved, through all media at your hands.

    Let’s all share what we know. Without offending anyone, as nobody in

    this matter is “guilty”, but without remaining passive in the face of a social

    injustice so inexplicably “ignored”.

    Let’s do what our conscience asks of us. Without enslaving modesty or

    unfounded fear.

    Let us finally free, between us all, these suffering slave grandmothers, unable to free herself.

    Let us do it. Because it is fair and they deserve it.


    A. Guijarro Morales. El Síndrome de la Abuela Esclava (Pandemia del

    Siglo XXI).

    Investig Clin (Granada) 2001;4(4):407-410.

    A. Guijarro Morales. El Síndrome de la Abuela Esclava. Pandemia del

    Siglo XXI.

    Grupo Editorial Universitario. Granada, October 2001.

  2. Rufus Williams Says:

    I have observer this in my family, and many other families. My interpritation is that the grandmother is trying to maitain a position of authority over the family to the point of enslaving the children and the grandchildren. It is related to the edipus type of reaction. In fact I fell in love with the granddaughter of my neighbor, after I had said to the grandmother, “You can be my girl friend”. The grandmother remembered this remark, and became jealous of the granddaughter. The grandmother would hit the granddaughter with her cane, and tried to turn the great granddaughter against her mother. The family is disfuctional in other ways. This is a political type of ploy; when one family member does not do what the other family member wants them to do. I would think this has been observed, but have not read any material of this nature. Any feedback would be appreciated

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