The Living Years

Tom, Bedford, UK

I have often read about people who have lost loved ones to cults, removing themselves into a parallel universe. An act of disappearance that leaves the abandoned grieving for their living dead.

After attending group meetings with Stand Alone Charity, I realised that this doesn’t just apply to cults, but to many families who have lost their loved ones into an unstoppable silence. The sessions were for those who ‘need the chance to meet people and talk broadly about family estrangement’.

So what happened in my case? I have lost a son, a daughter-in-law and their son — a grandchild I saw soon after birth but then no more.

My son and I were more like brothers than father and son. When I divorced his mother, he came to live with my partner and I in our one-bedroom flat. He supported me in the raging battles of separation and when he went through bad times, I helped him through them.

I knew he remained angry with me: anger that I had left home when he was 11 years old, anger that I went abroad at this time. A feeling of abandonment. I spent our years together trying to put this right, and my last communication from him spoke of his love for me.

And what about my ex-wife? Today, my son has rebuilt his relationship with her, and I have heard that she gets on well with my daughter-in-law. I’m pleased that is the case. In my daughter-in-law’s case, she was unacknowledged by her father and emotionally neglected by her mother.

I send them emails, most likely junked. Letters, most likely binned. Presents, most likely unopened. My messages are written as though all is normal between us. I send news about my life — only the good news. I close with lots of love and affection.

I’ve not been short of advice, from family and friends. Most of it centred on the principle of letting time be the healer. To keep silent, to play the same game as him and go to earth. To lead my life to the full and not let the situation get to me.

I’m not sure I have the time to act on this advice.

I recently had a major health issue and that puts a finite limit on acceptance that I have time on my side. I do not want to go without seeing my son again, knowing my grandson, and he not knowing me. While I am still alive my mistakes are correctable and I can still say sorry.

In 18 months the only communication has been from third parties — warned not to send Christmas or birthday presents to my grandson. I buy them anyway and store them in a cupboard. Maybe he will be 20 years old when he gets the picture book about dogs and the card with a glittering ‘2’ on its front.

What does he look like? I have no idea since his parents have changed the password on the family-photo website.

In my Stand Alone group, all of us seemed to have been living ‘normal’ family lives when these breaks occurred, but on reflection there were clearly reasons for what had happened. Because there were reasons, there was cause and effect. Where there is cause and effect there can be possible solutions.

One possibility is direct action. I could go to the city where my son and his family live and attempt to see and speak with them. On the corner of their street is a cafe. I could sit there and wait for them to walk past. A simple ‘hello’ might do the trick. But they may run, call the police or scream at me.

To keep myself busy, I play guitar. I am learning the music and words to ‘In The Living Years’ by Mike and The Mechanics. It is composed and sung by Mike Rutherford, one of the founding members of Genesis. It is for us all. And for those readers who are going through this situation, I hope it helps you as it does me.

This is the first in a series of bi-weekly blogs from Stand Alone beneficiaries. Do you want to write about your estrangement and its impact on your life? E-mail: e.nelson@standalone.org.uk

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