If you can hug your grandchild or speak to him whenever you want, consider yourself blessed. Sadly, many grandparents are denied access to their grandchildren. Author Pat Hanson calls these heartbroken grandparents “Invisible Grandparents” and writes about them in her book Invisible Grandparenting: Leave a Legacy of Love Whether You Can Be There or Not.
Hanson writes from personal experience because she herself has been denied access to her two grandchildren for over a decade. She describes her heartbreaking journey with such gut-wrenching honesty that it’s almost too painful to read. Yet, her story is inspiring as she shares how she has learned to live with the loss and transform negative energy to forgiveness. Her book is a valuable tool for helping other grandparents cope with their loss.
The Pain of Invisible Grandparenting
She writes poignantly about recovering emotionally and spiritually from the separation she has endured by truly feeling the pain and loss but not spiraling down into the helplessness of depression. Writing letters for over four years as an invisible grandparent to the grandchildren she doesn’t get to see has enabled her to get over her resentment and guilt. As she writes, “I may be invisible but I can still have a voice.”
Hanson begins her story by sharing that her 17-year old firstborn son gets his 16-year old “first ever real girlfriend” pregnant, despite Hanson being a lifelong sex educator. Her son is too afraid to stick around and moves away only to make the same mistake two years later with a different girlfriend.
This second girlfriend, who initially allowed Hanson to spend time with her grandson, was the one who suggested Hanson write letters to the first grandchild, bundle them and save them for the day when she might finally meet her. She found the process incredibly therapeutic and helped her to get over the past hurts.
She developed two categories of letters: “Save and Share Someday” and “Said but Never Send.” One chapter of her book titled “Legacy of Letters and Life Lessons,” includes the poignant letters to her grandchildren that she hopes to share with them someday. By including these examples, she hopes to encourage other invisible grandparents to do the same so that they can rise above the “stories,” attempt to let go of bitterness, and leave a legacy for the children who will outlive and outlast them.
Suggestions for Writing Letters
On her website, Hanson offers writing prompts and suggestions to keep in mind to help you write your own letters:
- There is no one-way to write.
- We are not grading these letters.
- Put words on the page as quickly as possible without censoring yourself.
- Say what you mean.
- Envision or name the child even if you are a completely invisible grandparent.
- Vision a positive intention for the future of that child.
- Remember there is no formula for this process.
Coping with Loss
The final and most inspiring chapter of Hanson’s book is about healing. She encourages grandparents to share their story and feelings with their therapist, close friends and family. Hanson explains that she was a hospice bereavement volunteer for five years but nothing prepared her for the pain and grief that she felt from being kept from seeing her granddaughter. She lists some steps to go through to help cope with the loss:
- Become fully aware of what is going on.
- Make a list of what your grandchildren miss by not having you in their lives.
- Find something to be grateful for each day.
- Forgive yourself for whatever mistake you might have made in contributing to the situation.
- Grandmother yourself: whisper things in your own ear that only a grandmother who unconditionally loves you could.
Hanson ends her book with the hope that by sharing her often-dark decade of her life she may help others find the light in their own lives.