DEALING WITH LOSS

Children of Divorce
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Time heals, they say. The love of family, friends and being a parent can help you get through the loss of a partner through divorce or death. But loss is such a powerful emotion that the only thing that can soften the blow of losing someone you love is time. At first, once the shock and early grief have passed, the anger takes over. It can be overwhelming. You want to find someone to blame, anyone. There has to be someone you can direct all that anger towards and hope they will absorb it, because you know it will destroy you if you don’t.

Learning to accept that life will never be the same again, that it has to change irrevocably is terrifying. The truth of what has happened – the visualising after the event that the person you loved most in the world has left, can be like on-going torture of the mind. And there is no escape. In the dark of the night, those scenes haunt you and you look for ways to satisfy feelings of revenge. The very rooms in your house become black holes, where memories lurk like steel knives, waiting to plunge into your already damaged heart. If you are left with small children to care for, or to share with your ex-spouse, those black holes that were once happy places, become spaces of deep anxiety for both you and your children. Somehow, you have to set about trying to create a false normality where you can invite your ex-partner in to collect the kids, or visit them at their new home, without allowing yourself to  collapse into sobs.

Explaining to people what has happened is another bridge you have to cross. When someone you love dies, people are sympathetic. But they can also think they understand, when usually they don’t, unless they have gone through it themselves. It is so easy to say the wrong thing to someone who is newly widowed. My mother was furious with my father when he died at 58 years of age. She hated the way people spoke to her. No-one said the right words. His death was so unexpected and she found it hard to forgive him for going. At that time, she certainly couldn’t tell friends how she felt.  The emotions were so strong that some time after his death she suffered a breakdown through her inability to express no other feeling but rage. Her time away from the world in hospital gave her space to find out what grieving was about. She had also lost two children in infancy, as people did in the 20’s and 30’s and I remember her telling me that she could never cry, not even at their funerals. The breakdown enabled to shed a lifetime of held-back tears and come through, a more accepting person.

The loss after separation and divorce can be just as great as that experienced in a bereavement, yet people tend to think that as divorce is so common these days, you will get over it far quicker than you probably will. It’s the destruction of so much promise that only the one left behind can feel. Often, marriage is seen as something organic. It will flower and grow, but that perception can be an illusion, because the person who leaves has a new horizon in sight. It is particularly hard when small children are involved. How could a father/mother leave their beautiful kids, their loving partner, for another person? It can take years to come to terms with that.

Moving your life on after any such major event takes a huge amount of courage. Having children helps, because they focus your mind on their needs. But sometimes, you are so bound up in the loss, that you forget they are grieving too. Even if both parents have contact, the children have to learn to accept that their home life with mummy and daddy has gone. They may also express anger that will, if not treated with sensitivity, fester and may explode later on.

Giving kids who have lost that sense of permanence in their lives a way to regain confidence and trust can be difficult. The younger they are when the loss happens, the easier it may be, but that’s not always the case. Here is a quote from a woman who knows how it feels:

“I can remember taking my three and five year old children to the park shortly after my husband had left and feeling as if I was in a dream from which I could not wake up. Finding my little son sitting on the grass crying because he was watching fathers playing football with their boys, bought me back to reality with a shock. I could see then that my son was as hurt and confused as I was. In a strange way, it propelled me forward and gave me strength to make life as good as I could for them. Being able to forget myself for a bit was cathartic. Later on, when I had remarried, the anger came to surface again when I had to try to negotiate with my ex-husband on access and visiting rights. No matter how hard I tried, it was always a struggle to remain calm. It was as if those demons – hurt pride, loneliness, grief, the loss of a future, the  knowledge that he could leave our children – all came to the surface again and threatened to engulf me. It was only the support of my new partner and my family that got me through. But I know now that the fall-out from those episodes affected my kids at the time and at other phases of their lives. Now they are adults, and two of them have children of their own. I can’t protect them any more, but I can still be there for them as someone who can empathise and tries to listen. I can also impart the wisdom I have learned as I’ve travelled through my life and hope they will, in turn, become wise for their own children. I could not wish for more.”

Time does heal. It’s the waiting that is so difficult. But if you hang in there, if you know that all things pass and that life, like water, finds its own level and will ultimately be okay, then you can’t go far wrong.

CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE: WHAT GRANDPARENTS CAN DO TO HELP KIDS GOING THROUGH DIVORCE

English: A grandfather teaching his little gra...
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Parents going through an acrimonious divorce often cannot see the wood for the trees. They may be involved with other partners so the energy that should be going into raising and supporting their children, is diverted into new love affairs. The children know this and will often suffer a great deal, terrified, like the grandparents, to put a foot wrong in case it causes more rows and upset between their parents. Children as young as three years old can feel a sort of inner chaos if they have to live through this sort of trauma, and the effects on their fragile developing minds may not manifest until much later, usually when they hit their teens.

Childhood is the most precious time of a person’s life. The things you experience as a child, stay with you forever. Good or bad, memories are made in childhood. Children who experience chaotic home lives, with constant rows and bad atmospheres, spiteful and abusive behaviour between parents and other family members, will not forget. They will be damaged. Their perception of the way people behave will be that adults are always in conflict, that to be calm and happy is something unusual, that anger and distrust, insult and abuse are the norm. They will learn that this is the way to live your life and it will stay with them throughout their own lives.

Grandparents caught up in situations like this can do very little. Children’s Services will only intervene if there is obvious and very serious abuse. The subtle, on-going mayhem that many kids experience while parents are in the early stages of separation and divorce is of no interest to them. They have far more horrendous cases to deal with. But the damage is no less serious.

Grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends can give children in such circumstances, enormous support. Children understand this and respond to love and kindness, care and empathy in a positive way. They will remember the grandparents who did not take sides, or verbally abuse the parents, but simply loved and cared for them and took time to be with them, listen to them and do things with them, impartially. They will know that these loving people will never let them down and will always provide respite and sanctuary from a difficult and unhappy home life or from selfish, immature warring parents. Never underestimate the value of hands-on, loving and caring grandparents. They are invaluable.

But what happens when one or other of the parents decides that they do not want grandparents to see the children any more? Grandparents have few legal rights. To go to court to get access to your grandchildren is a huge step and there is no guarantee that you will win. Often grandparents bite their tongues and say nothing, hoping that things will settle down and the parents will see their value. But this doesn’t always happen. And it causes enormous suffering and hurt for both the grandparents and the children, who have often had a loving and close relationship with Gran and Granddad since babyhood.  I have  friends who after the divorce, were told that they could never see their grandson again. The years went by and their health deteriorated. One night there was ring on the doorbell. They opened the door to find their fifteen year old grandson on the doorstep, begging to come and live with them until he reached the age of eighteen and could leave home for good. He had been living with the mother who had refused to let him see his grandparents. He’d also had no contact with father, who had gone abroad to live with a new partner. They took him in at once, but the stress of the whole thing had taken its toll and six months later, the grandfather died of a heart attack. The boy was heartbroken. All those years he could have had a relationship with his beloved grandfather, all that time waiting and when he had finally found him, to lose him again. The boy lived on with his grandmother, refusing to go back home. In the end the courts became guardians and he was allowed to stay with his grandmother. He never spoke to his mother again.

So much unhappiness is caused to innocent children by the callousness and uncaring attitudes of some divorcing parents, whose main concern is to free themselves from the other partner. They often have little insight into the feelings and sensitivities of their children. They think they love them, but do they? Do they really see what is happening to them? I don’t think so. Why do we have so many kids failing in school, committing petty crimes and more recently, rioting on the streets. Why are so many kids caught up with alcohol and drugs? Is it really the fault of our diminished economy or  lack of jobs? Or is it the lack of respect adults have for each other and their marriages or partnerships? Is it the way family life deteriorates when parents split? How influenced are young parents by what they read in magazines or see on TV? The ‘have it all’ society we have lived through, where we amassed huge debts in order to feel we were ‘living’! Now, left in debt, with houses repossessed and families struggling to cope financially, is it any wonder that the kids are caught in the middle and are suffering so much? Grandparents have to stay strong, even though they may be old and infirm, or struggling on pensions. They can give kids so much; life experience, history, patience, affection, an understanding of heritage, time, listening, sanctuary, and most of all, unconditional love.

DEALING WITH A BULLY

§Physical bullying at school, as depicted in th...
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Cyber bullying is apparently rife across networking sites on the Internet. It is a hateful practice and has been responsible for much despair and unhappiness. In some cases a suicide has been the outcome. Why do people do this sort of thing to others? Young people, it seems, are particularly vulnerable to cyber nastiness. Bullying of any sort is evil, but on the net, where a bully can terrorise someone for months on a daily basis make me sick to my stomach.

Something is seriously wrong with a society that allows this to happen. Why are some social networking sites so irresponsible? I found a site the other day, quite by chance, that asks you to write in a box what you think of a person. Of course, you could use this site to write very nice things or you could say something hateful and all the world might read it. Why? This is an open invitation to  bullying. These sites should be closed down.

I love the Internet. It is a wonderful tool and it enables people like me to have a voice. But when people abuse it, when kid’s are tormented by these cyber crackpots, then something should be done.

I remember my experiences of bullying when I was a child. The fact that I remember them so clearly, shows how much impact they had on me. On one occasion, I was bullied by a particularly obnoxious boy of about ten years old called Roger. He had two equally nasty brothers, a year or so older and they made an unpleasant trio. One day, playing in the local park with my friends – you did that in those days, parents thought the dangers less  – the hateful trio appeared and began to verbally abuse me and my friend. Then, because I was a lippy kid, they turned the full force of their brutishness on me. I was tied up to a tree and threatened with a kitchen knife. My friend escaped and ran home to tell her Mum, a rotund lady with a forceful personality. She marched to the park and screamed blue murder at the boys. They scattered like frightened sheep. I was untied and taken home, where my elder brother who had a day off work and was cleaning bits of his motorbike engine on the kitchen table, listened to my story with rapt attention.

I wasn’t too upset, I was furious. I was indignant and I wanted revenge! My brother and I hatched a plan. Our house had a long drive and at the end was a gate. I would sit on the gate and swinging back and forth, watching the world go by. I knew that the hateful Roger and his brothers would pass our gate every Saturday afternoon on their way to the park, where no doubt, they would bully some other kid. On this particular Saturday, having been briefed by my brother; a very grown-up teenager, I waited on the gate. Roger came into view. He was alone. I was on target. As he approached the gate, I jumped down and, with my brother egging me on, I pushed the hapless boy against the gate and pummelled his flabby chest with my little fists. He didn’t put up a fight, but sank to the ground like a melted jelly. I was victorious. I told him in no uncertain terms, that I would finish him and his brothers off if they dared to come near me again. I was nine years old at the time.

Roger slunk away and I never saw him or his brothers in the park again. Now, I am not saying that violence is the way to stop bullying – but that experience gave me huge confidence to be able to stand up for myself and fight my corner when I needed to. And it was all thanks to my brother, who gave up tinkering with his motorbike in order to spend some time telling me how to deal with a bully by myself. Of course, he’d been hiding behind the garden wall, watching incase it all went pear-shaped, but I did it myself and for that, I felt that any other sort of bullying I experienced would be simple for me to stop.

Of course, things were slightly more complicated when I reached adulthood. I was on my own and there were still bullies out there, particularly in the work place. But that early experience tempered the way I dealt with such problems. There were no punch-ups but I was confident to be able to face up to bullies and use well chosen words to defeat them. If I needed more help, I would whistle-blow.

There is, however, one exception. It’s not easy to deal with bullies in your own family. Where familial emotions are concerned, it can throw your carefully planned anti-bullying tactics. Dealing with a bullying child, sibling, in-law or parents is very difficult. Of course, it is abuse, as all bullying is. And then you do need to ask for help.

http://www.beatbullying.org/