Viewpoint—The Grandparents’ Quilt

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.
Kindness in giving creates love. Lao Tzu

EXPRESSING HEARTACHE AND HOPE

CGRA Quilt
Madeleine Bremner, Joan Wilson, Daphne Jennings Hall of Honor, House of Commons, Ottawa.
The few grandparents’ stories featured on these pages are only a fraction of the hundreds of stories told to CGRA over the years.  It’s clearly evident that these grandparents feel very real pain and grief over the ending of relationships to their grandchildren, due to the loss of access. They are confused and cannot understand why, suddenly, phone calls go unanswered and gifts are returned or not acknowledged. As they experience this horrible sense of loss, they are often in need of some way to express and share that pain and heartache.
 

This Quilt project came to life when Betty Cornelius, founder of The Association to Reunite Grandparents and Families in Ontario, was challenged by the Grandparents Resource Centre in Denver, Colorado to match their similar project. Grandparents from across Canada are represented on this quilt, each with a heartbreaking tale. It was a great idea. As the quilt traveled through the country, many grandparents whose hearts were breaking with the loss of their grandchildren took to the task of sewing a special square with a heart or hearts on it, some with a crack down the centre, to show a broken heart.

As well grandparents who had lost a married child to death, drugs, or to lifestyle choices found they were stepping forward to make a home for grandchildren who needed them, and they shared this experience, too. The squares created by grandparents raising grandchildren usually have a small hand or hands on them, with love notes or similar attached.

Squares on the quilt created by grandparents facing the loss of access sometimes contain a very sad message within a very limited space. One heart reads, “Clarke, There is no heart big enough for us to tell you how much we love and miss you.”

The Grandparents’ Quilt played a very special part in the lives of those who made the squares, whether they contained small hands or hearts with names and a message. They were sharing their grief with other Canadian grandparents who understood and felt their pain and sadness, as young-childrenthe quilt made its way across Canada and more squares were added to it. The quilt became a symbol of love. The Grandparents Rights Association and its volunteers answered a need in Canada and other countries to try and address a wrong within our own justice system.

QUILT SEEN NATIONWIDE

It wasn’t long before the quilt became known as the “Grandparents’ Quilt.” Indeed, that is what it had become. The quilt has visited towns all across Canada, in the Maritimes, Eastern Canada, Central Canada, Western Canada, and the North. It now measures over 20 ft. long and 7 ft. wide. In order to display the quilt to its full advantage, one needs a very long table or two, an upstairs rail on the landing at the top of the stairs—or a large public space, as it found in Ottawa, to really show it off.

GRANDPARENTS HELPING PARENTS

When in a divorce or separation settlement, a judge decides on sole custody for one parent, the non-custodial parent very often becomes alienated as well as the grandparents. These individuals are condemned to heartache and loneliness, some for the rest of their lives. Few understand this better than others faced with the same sorrow.

 Grandparents offer unconditional love, stability, experience, knowledge, patience, a safe home, and care. They have time to listen and family ties to share. The Grandparents’ Quilt is not about grandparents versus parents. Its special symbolism is the love and care grandparents can give to parents and their families.

Mark MacGuigan, when he wrote the position document on Divorce Law in Canada understood, In fact, he was very clear: “ A child should have maximum access to both parents.” In many families who have found it difficult to stay together, divorce happens.We are not talking about abuse here.  Every effort must be made to continue steady visitation between family members. Common sense dictates a child needs both father and mother, and their grandparents, for a happy life. We, the elected Members of Parliament failed them It’s not too late to say I’m sorry, and pass the necessary legislation to correct the Divorce Act.”

A grandmother remembers her grandparents:
“ I believe the relationship between generations is especially beneficial for children. I know that when I was growing up, my parents were both working and my grandparents were the ones I really bonded to. I have affection for my parents, but I have an extra, special, affection for my grandparents.” Sathia Areliah

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Viewpoint—Grandparents’ Rights and Personal Stories

THE GRANDPARENTS’ ROLE

There is a very important purpose in relating theses personal stories of loving grandparents. It is essential to recognize that, in the process of living these stories—through heartache and 2-childrenhardship— the grandparents began to understand the power of the judges and often came to the realization that many of our judges do not recognize just how important a role grandparents play in Canadian families.

The grandparents within each story were determined to get some answers from the courts. When there was no answer, not even recognition of the role grandparents played, they started support groups and challenged the courts where possible. During all this time, they explained (to the courts and to anyone who would listen) just how necessary grandparents were to the children. The grandparent plays a major role with ensuring understanding about their heritage and history, passing down the family anecdotes and tales plus a sense of security from an extended family network,  and provides ongoing encouragement, love, and care in the children’s everyday lives.

The following grandparents’ stories explain why continued access within their grandchildren’s lives is important. Grandparental support can be instrumental to help instill the values and sense of security that will ensure the children have the opportunity to grow up happy and contented.

 

GRANDPARENTS’ RIGHTS

“My husband and I have been married to one another for 36 years. We have five of our own children and are parents of six. Our family came to Alberta from Ontario in 1981.

“In 1998, I was a surrogate mother for our daughter and her husband. We were very blessed and gave birth to a baby girl. Our daughter had a year with this “Miracle Baby.” She was the true love of her life. This pure love shone in her eyes and could be heard in her voice and laughter. We lost our daughter to cancer in 1999.

“In a short time, our lives were shattered again when our daughter’s husband took our Miracle Baby away from us.

“After much investigating, we found that, as grandparents, we were considered by law to be “Legal Strangers” to this little girl. We were fortunate to find “Grandparents Rights Association.” They were a strong support and gave us good information regarding our rights. This devoted group is made up of heartbroken people whose lives have been damaged by the loss of contact with their grandchildren. They showed us ways and means to legally apply for access to our Miracle Girl. Until the courts decide our case, we are unable to elaborate on our present situation. The important thing is we have this special little girl with us. I cannot describe the terror of not knowing where a child is or if they are safe.

“Children who are not allowed contact with their elders lose a large part of their heritage and history. This is one of the things humans need in order to feel grounded in their lives. Love, support, and knowledge from elders encourage the healthy emotional growth of children. Most of us have someone in our childhood who has touched our souls with caring love and commitment. Positive influence when we are young is so very important. How many of us have relied on the words of wisdom of a mentor or elder to carry us through our daily life? I will continue to work within the group to help others to find a path to unify families once again.

 

“I am currently approaching all areas of Labour with the good news of “Grandparents Rights.” We are seeking public support for this family-based cause. Family breakdown affects us all, especially the children. History will judge us by our treatment of our children and our elders. Florence Knight, President of Canadian Grandparents Rights Association’s Alberta Chapter, was instrumental in the passing of Bill 204 in 1997, in Alberta. The Bill ensures the right of interested parties to seek access of all of us by continuing to seek better laws regarding children and family rights.

“When our personal situation has been determined by either the law of the land or by God, we are hoping to continue to work toward changing many of the laws determining the Rights of

children in Canada.”

SPECIAL GRANDPARENTS

Our granddaughter was born on Thanksgiving Monday, in October of 1997. Her mother being 16 years old at the time of her birth, our granddaughter had a rough start in life. This is her story.

“Our daughter got involved with an individual six years her senior. He was a high school drop-out, collecting Social Benefits. Shortly after they set up house together, they announced she was pregnant.

“He already had a bad track record and had been charged in the past with assault. His relationship with our daughter was anything but harmonious and was characterized by many violent outbursts, particularly when he had been drinking and smoking drugs. The inevitable happened. He assaulted our daughter and she pressed charges. He ended up in jail. The Children’s Aid Society then got involved. Up until this time, we were having our granddaughter over for weekend visits on a regular basis.

“Eventually, our daughter left her partner. However, CAS felt strongly that our granddaughter was in need of protection. In Sept. of 1999, a Family Court Judge ruled that our granddaughter should reside with us, her maternal grandparents, for a period of six months. This judgment was recently renewed for an additional six months (twice). We are now asking the courts for custody.

“Since we have had our granddaughter, both my husband and I have seen her blossom into a delightful little toddler. She went from timid and shy to being a confident, assertive little person who has a sweet sense of humor. Her smile and the sparkle in her eyes says it all!

“It’s hard to imagine the power of love a mother feels for her child that first time she holds her babe in her arms. I felt this strong bond for both my daughter and my granddaughter the minute they were placed in my arms, shortly after being born. I could not fathom feeling an

equally strong bond when I held my little granddaughter for the first time, but I can assure you, this was a precious moment indeed, and very real.

“I do not know how long we will be entrusted with our granddaughter’s care. Both my husband and I love her as much as if she were our own. We hope to make a positive difference in her young life at this very important stage of her development. It is said that it is in giving that we receive. If this is so, then our little one has certainly enriched our lives as much as we have given to her. God bless little girls!”

“This truly show the value of having grandparents in our lives. So many grandchildren are fortunate to have the opportunity to return their love and feel secure and safe in their early years. As they grow, the bond will strengthen, and our grandchildren will feel more secure as they are a part of their family.”