Those of us who have had the truly devastating experience of estrangement/alienation know only too well the damage it causes.
When I became a grandparent for the first time, it was a truly magical time, somehow getting my head around the fact that a child of mine had now become a parent himself was surreal.
There was this tiny little girl in my arms, looking up at me with such expectation, what a privilege it was going to be, to watch this precious person growing up and grabbing life with both hands.
Life, so often doesn’t turn out to be quite as we would like.
After a few years it became clear that my sons marriage was breaking down, the visits became less and less, until that dreadful day when our son and ourselves were told we would never see his daughter, our granddaughter again.
Like most of you, I thought it would be OK, that we would be able to sort this out.
How naive was I.
That was just over 11 years ago!
When we have to face any traumatic event in our lives, we have a choice of how to deal with it.
As I found myself slipping down the dark spiral of depression, I thought I could sink or swim, I decided to swim.
Not only was I suffering this ‘living bereavement’ so was my husband and all family members, but for me more importantly our son was a broken man.
I am a parent first, and to witness one of your children suffering so badly is truly gut wrenching.
All we could do was to be there whenever he needed us, and to pick him up each time he fell.
Before this happened to us, I had never heard of such a thing, so I made it my business to research the subject, and to my astonishment I found that it was estimated that over one million children were denied contact with their grandparents following a family breakdown.
I also discovered that family breakdown can occur for all sorts of reasons, so not just as a result of separation or divorce, but alcohol or drug dependency, domestic violence within the home (DV is not gender specific), bereavement or family fall out.
I really wanted to be able to talk to other grandparents who were going through this, but it was quite difficult to find anywhere to go.
If there were so many people suffering in this way, it stood to reason that there must be some grandparents in my area.
I sent a letter to my local press explaining what I was trying to do and I invited estranged grandparents to ‘Tea and Cake for the Grandchildren,’ in my home.
To my astonishment 6 grandparents arrived on my doorstep, and so Bristol Grandparents Support Group started to evolve, and to date we have been contacted by over 6,000 grandparents.
The clue of what we do is in the name of the group, support.
We can’t change the situation grandparents find themselves in, but we can hold out a hand of friendship in those really dark times. Talking to others who absolutely get what you are going through is a very powerful thing.
It is so important that they learn to self protect.
Estrangement and Alienation can and does have an effect on our physical and mental health, so learning to be a bit selfish every now and again is a positive thing.
We have to allow ourselves to have those times in the day when we feel unbearably sad, let the tears fall in the knowledge that this time will pass.
There are practical things to do as well.
Setting up a blog for our grandchildren, writing a journal, recording life histories and family events, all help.
Having worked with children for over 15 years, I know that all children type their names in their computer. To see a blog for them is a revelation.
Often grandparents ask what is the point in sending cards and presents as they don’t even know if their grandchildren receive them, I always say that, if you do send them there is a chance they will get them, if you don’t they certainly wont.
Sending postcards can be useful, it is a non threatening way, a resident parent can see what you have written rather than a sealed envelope.
Just a word of caution though, never use these projects as a place for ranting or badmouthing anyone, it must be a place of positivity.
For those sceptics out there, and I consider myself to be one!
Around 6 weeks ago our son was contacted by his daughter, she has now been to see us all twice and she had found the blog, she knew all the things BGSG have been up to, she could see that she had never been forgotten, that we all still loved her and that we weren’t the people she had been told we were.
So, the sun will rise and the text I have now that says, ‘I love you grandma,’ is the text I never believed would happen.
Never, ever give up HOPE.