The Picture on the Fridge

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Grandparent & Grandchild Holding Hands
28 Jul 2009

My eldest granddaughter turned eight years old this year. I have not seen her or spoken to her in more than six months, and wonder what new achievements and milestones she has attained this year. I wonder if her hair is long or short, what she is learning in school and if she is happy. Sometimes I imagine that when families left for America from Europe long ago, this was what it was like. Not knowing what was happening to your family far away, trying to picture them in your mind as the reality fades over time.

I don’t know where she lives or what school she attends. I don’t know who her friends are or if she is happy. Each Friday night when I light the shabbos candles, I add my private prayers for her welfare, as well as that of her younger brother. I have a picture on my refrigerator of the two of them smiling into the camera, which I look at each day. I smile back, remembering how we all laughed as the ice cream fell out of the cone as we were enjoying a snack on the last day we spent together.

There are people who tell me to stop thinking about these two precious grandchildren. Their mother has chosen to ignore the court orders mandating her to allow us contact with them, and my friends say that I should stop spending my money on lawyers and court fees, and just wait until the kids are old enough to pursue a relationship with us on their own.

How do you mandate a heart that feels itself torn into pieces? Every time I talk to one of my other grandchildren, a part of me cries inside at the loss of not hearing the voices of those who are shut off from me. Every time I hear of an achievement of one of the others, I wonder what the missing two have accomplished as well. I feel cheated and disappointed that I am not part of their lives, and that they are missing out on a relationship not only with their grandparents, but with all of their cousins as well.

The pictures on my refrigerator change frequently. In these days of email and camera phones, smiles and accomplishments are captured by parents who are quick to send them off for the grandparents in far away cities to enjoy. All of the children grow before my eyes, except for the two who remain captured in the moment. I wonder if they ever think about us. What tales have they been told that may paint us as ogres or even as being uninterested in their lives? Do they have a place in their hearts that reaches out to us as we want to reach out to them?

I try to accept that their mother must feel in some way that she is protecting her children. Obviously she views us as a negative influence. A bitter divorce has made us adversaries where once we were family. The pain and anger she feels at our son has left no room for acceptance for those remaining as victims in the wake of such powerful emotions.

Unlike American law, which does not grant rights easily to grandparents, in Judaism we consider the relationships of our forebears as guidelines for our behaviors and customs (ma’aseh avot siman l’banim; minhag avoteinu beyadeinu). For these two young children, the family tree has been uprooted and the remaining stump has been left to wither. Each week I call, hoping this time the phone will be answered and I will hear their voices. Each week my calls go unanswered and I walk away from the phone feeling frustrated and hurt.

On some level I know that G-d gives us all tests and trials and that His plans for us are ones we often can not understand. Perhaps some years in the future, I will be able to look back at this time in our lives and see how this all worked out and once again revel in the laughter of my beautiful grandchildren. Meantime, I gaze at the picture on my refrigerator and bask in the smiles of the two beautiful faces that look back at me, and hope that somewhere they sometimes think about me too.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.