Today my grandson turns twelve. He was born at two o’clock in the morning on this day in 2004. I held him in my arms barely two hours after he took his first breath. Today, I choose to believe that he absorbed the love that flowed from every pore of my being into his tiny, newborn heart; that he remembers still.
I have not seen Riley for almost five years.
Poets and writers speak of broken hearts as a metaphor for suffering. I have learned there is nothing metaphorical about a broken heart. It is a physical, mental and emotional reality.
My heart hurts. It bleeds. The pain is unbearable–at times–often–particularly around Riley’s birthday. And although I send him birthday and Christmas presents, I have no idea if he receives them.
There are as many broken-hearted people in the world as there are reasons for suffering–illness, death and neglect, wars, torture, disappointments, starvation, incarceration–pain and loss of every kind. And there are as many reasons for family estrangements as there are brothers and sisters, parents and children: as many reasons for broken hearts as there are broken families.
But perhaps one of the most unacknowledged griefs is that of grandparents denied access to their grandchildren.
Grandparents Denied Access. GDA.
I sometimes think of myself as an acronym. GDA. I say it out loud to remind myself that I am part of a great silent mass of broken hearted people bumbling through life, confused and hurting and uncertain about what WE have done to be denied our grandchildren. To be punished. And our grandchildren punished in turn.
For most GDA’s our punishment is tinged with shame. We search endlessly to understand what we might have contributed to the situation. We reach out with requests for mediation. We turn to the Family Court for legal reconciliation. None of our attempts have any chance of success if the other party won’t participate. Parents have power. We–grandparent and grandchild–have none.
Is it coincidental that I write about lost children? In my novel, ‘The Lost Child’, Sylvie’s brother goes missing but she and her father are both lost children in their own ways.
In my novella, ‘The Last Taboo: A Love Story’, a young mother is forced to give up her child for adoption.
In my new novel, ‘The Year of the Wolf’, a child of doubtful parentage is ‘lost’ to the parent denied recognition.
Today I choose to remember the seven years I shared with my grandson. The baby I held over my shoulder to burp and soothe to sleep. My pride as I walked the streets and he gurgled and laughed in his pram. Could I have been given a greater gift?
The toddler watching Winnie the Pooh, his delighted giggles when Tigger did a Tigger thing. Making gingerbread men. His beautiful paintings and drawings. The day we did Jackson Pollock paintings on the back lawn, splashing paint onto big sheets of paper: the spots of green paint on the back door that I treasure still.
The forts we made on the living room floor from lounge-chair cushions and blanket throws. How we made Brando Poodle the baddie for all our games. Now I walk Barney Poodle on the beach where my grandson and I spent so many summer days. And in the tea-tree clearing close by, I pause where we built sculptures from driftwood, rocks and shells.
Once I used to attend Riley’s school to listen to him reading: now I listen to children reading as part of the Story Dogs Literacy Program. I didn’t realise it at the time but starting the program in Melbourne helped heal my broken heart. Story Dogs is my tribute to him.
Sometimes, not often but sometimes, I drive to my grandson’s school and watch him as he walks home. He has grown into a tall and beautiful boy. I pray that his heart is healing too.
And sometimes, on winter weekends, I watch him playing football too. I take care not to be seen but I am there on the sidelines, watching, loving, waiting. Waiting for the day when he will contact me. As I know he will.
Happy birthday, my beloved boy.