A Visit With My Estranged Grandmother

Following the cobblestone walkway to her front door on Cape Cod, I am marveling at the fact that at ninety years old she is still living on her own. I am about to ring the doorbell when she pulls the door open and stands before me, small but steady on her feet. Her eyes show joy at my arrival, and I bend slightly to embrace her. After so many years of absence, I have found my way back to this grandmother who loves me.

This is becoming familiar, a pattern, this reconnection every few years. This time I vow to stay in touch better. She is all I have left from that before life, and she is always waiting for me to come back, my mother’s mother. We are connected not only through blood, but through terrible loss. In the before life she was my loving grandmother, providing stability and maturity where my young parents fell short. She gave me honey with my medicine, let me sleep at her house, took me on camping trips with my loving grandfather. I played in her yard, petted horses, sat on her countertop while she cooked for me in the kitchen.

All the while my parents’ fragile marriage was turning volatile. One day my father found out about my mother’s affair, and in a fit of rage he threw her out of our home and soon afterwards, out of my five-year-old life. My father says he thought the only way to protect me from being torn from him, and into my mother’s “ incapable hands”, was to erase her. So he encouraged her to go, to stay away, to leave us alone to piece our lives back together. Despite my grandmother’s pleas, my mother, a broken woman, did not fight for me but rather slipped away quietly.

In the midst of this tragedy, my beloved grandfather died of a heart attack. Through her own pain and loss, year after year, my grandmother sent me cards, letters, gifts. I didn’t receive any of these until years later, when I found them in a hidden drawer at my father’s house. She had tried to stay in touch, and I never knew it.

So here I am again, finally. She shows me pictures of trips she took with her other grandchildren, weddings, new babies, all the things I never got to share with her. I teeter on the edge of bitterness for my loss. I mention my grandfather’s death so many years ago, and instantly her eyes fill with tears. Today I see the past through her eyes, her daughter slipping away, her husband dying, her granddaughter gone. It is more than thirty years later and her grief is still raw.

When I am about to go, I tell her I will be back soon this time. I won’t let more years go by, I promise. She holds on to my hand tightly and tries to speak but she can’t. I know what she wants to say, a lifetime of words, but the void has swallowed them and all that is left in this moment is an understanding of love. I nod my head to tell her I know.

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14 thoughts on “A Visit With My Estranged Grandmother

  1. What a poignant story and beautifully written. I’m sorry for you both for the tragedy of missing out on all those years you could have had together. I am a grandmother who is missing her grandchildren and I hope and pray that they will find me. Blessings to you and your grandmother – you are both lovingly courageous.

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    1. My mom is missing out on her granddaughter, too. They once had a good relationship — my daughter was always just as excited and affectionate at the sight of my mom as my mom was with her. My former mother-in-law has been cut off from all her grandchildren thanks to my ex who learned from his father to instill hate and abuse. I hope and pray that education and awareness will help to bring all loved ones together and at peace.

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  2. I am that grandmother who will have to wait 15 1/2 yrs. until my precious grandson is 18 and I try to find him. I will continue to send cards and gifts to him knowing they are not being given to him. We had a strong bond for the first two years of his life. They want his little mind to forget me. I live with a huge hole in my heart and deep sadness.

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    1. I am truly sorry you are going through this. I know how difficult this is on grandparents too. Take care of yourself. You deserve to heal. Believe there is hope and then do something for yourself, every day.

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  3. So much loss and sadness here. How painful it must have been for your grandmother, being unable to remain in your life or convince her daughter to do the right thing (fight to see you). But there is hope in your stories too- at least you were eventually able to reconnect with your grandmother. That must feel like a huge blessing to her.

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    1. Yes, I am sure that my grandmother felt very helpless at the time of the separation and the alienation. Her husband (my grandfather) became ill then and she had two teens at home, so she was unable to take action. However, I do wish she had offered her support before things got to that point (during the marriage) so mother hadn’t felt so alone and desperate to escape. It was a different time then (1970) and staying in a painful marriage, to many, was considered the noble thing to do.

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  4. Crying my eyes out with sadness and hope!! I haven’t seen my grand kids in two years!! There parents decided that we were not worthy anymore!! After 9 years of babysitting every weekend and taking them camping and holidays and everything. This has broken our hearts in two and I pray someday they will look us up!!

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  5. I pray that my granddaughter will someday find me, as you did. I am saddened not only by my own loss, but through knowing how many of us are in this same terrible situation, our hearts broken.

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  6. Thanks for writing this blog it is encouraging to those of us whose children have been alienated. It gives hope that someday my children and others alike with come to the realization that you have. Thank you 🙂

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  7. I just got a chance to catch up and read 3 of your blogs tonight and they are all great, but this one is my favorite. So beautiful and mournful, you captured her pain and communicated it. So tragically sad, I cried.

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