Cecelia kept putting him in a position of “it’s your mom or me.” She blocked all calls to his phone and wouldn’t even let him have a phone of his own. He was not allowed on social media either. He would create fake Facebook accounts just to be able to contact me. But he did keep contact with me, and I knew he was really struggling. This motherly fight of mine to help him damaged the relationship with his wife and her family, whom they lived with. During the week of my son’s memorial, I sat at their dining room table with Cecelia and her mother to go through some photos of Henry when he was young. Cecelia’s mother sent her on a walk just long enough for her to attack me verbally about having CPS involved in their lives, stating she could have lost her three children. I stormed out thinking how dare she bring up this situation at such a time — I had just lost my son! I didn’t even make it to Henry’s services that week as they cut me off from everything; as the law states: Since he was married, the wife calls all the shots. I was and am completely devastated and have been struggling with this grief.
My grandchildren are the only thing I have left of my son on this earth except the thousands of wonderful memories and photos.
I was there the day my granddaughter was born, and we had a short visit together on Christmas before Cecelia rushed them out. When Henry was alive, he would FaceTime me every three days and send photos, as I now live in a different state. Now… I get nothing. I’m told to stay out of my granddaughter’s life and Cecelia won’t even send photos. I understand that Cecelia is going through a lot right now. She’s lost her husband, is living at home with her parents, has one baby already, and is pregnant with another. I have tried contacting her several times. I tried setting up an hour at the park to see my granddaughter before I returned home to Florida, but I was denied. As the weeks have gone on, I have contacted her only one other time (via text) to see how she was feeling, and I got no response. The next thing I know, she is sending me a text stating she wants nothing to do with me and to stop harassing her.
Wendy, what should I do? The relationship with her is impossible while she is at home with her parents. I don’t want to upset her anymore or hurt her in any way emotionally, especially after the pain of losing Henry. But I want to be a part of my grandchildren’s lives. They are my son’s legacy, and it’s killing me not knowing how my granddaughter is doing since Daddy doesn’t come home anymore from work and how my daughter-in-law is feeling or what my grandson’s name is going to be. This is so painful for all. What can I do? — Grieving Grandmother
First, I am so sorry for your loss. Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, and I can’t imagine the pain you’re going through, the frustration you have felt at not being able to get the help your son desperately needed, and now the immense grief compounded by being alienated from your grandchild/grandchildren. And while I don’t believe that time necessarily heals all wounds, I do think it softens the hardest parts of grief and makes the daily living without someone you miss a little more bearable. I think this will be true for you, and it will be true for Cecelia, and as her grief softens a little, there will be more potential, and hopefully more room in her heart, to allow you a place in your grandchildren’s lives.
For now, as hard as it is, I would maintain a sense of distance and quiet longing. Give Cecelia the space to grieve and to adjust to life as a single mother along with the transition of a second baby. There are markers during the year when it would be more appropriate for you to reach out — the children’s birthdays (even the month of, if you don’t know a specific date), Henry and Cecelia’s wedding anniversary, Christmas, Mother’s Day, the anniversary of Henry’s death. Spread throughout the year, these occasions give you the opportunity to be in touch every few months, with a card, a note, maybe a cash gift if you’re comfortable with that. Be careful not to ask for anything in these messages — not even an acknowledgment of receipt. You might even say in the first note that your only wish is that your grandchildren know they are loved and missed and thought of by you, so you will be sending occasional cards for them to remind them. Tell Cecelia that you are respecting her request that you not harass her and are asking for nothing at all in return except that she let you know if she ever needs anything for the kids.
And then you wait. Maybe it will be weeks, maybe it will be months, or maybe it will be longer than that, but I believe and I hope that if you take and continue down the road of stoic acceptance and you don’t push and you respect the cold boundary that Cecelia has placed under the influence of her mother and in her time of grief and overwhelming burden of sudden responsibility, you will eventually be rewarded with the gift you desire most: a relationship with your grandchildren.
In the meantime, be gentle and kind to yourself. If you haven’t yet, consider talking to a therapist to help your process your grief. Spend time doing things that bring you joy and with people you love who lift you up. Talk about your son a lot, do things that honor his memory, and forgive him, yourself, and anyone else who couldn’t stop the demons who took his life way too early.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.