I never knew my paternal grandfather and grandmother.
I knew they existed of course, but I don’t remember ever attending a Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering where they were present. Was I therefore deprived in some way? I guess I will never know. I suppose it is possible that I suffer some kind of psychological damage from not knowing them. I just don’t know.
Have you ever been “shunned?” Shunning is the practice, particularly among the Amish people, of the social isolation of someone, usually a family member, for something disagreeable that they did or sometimes just because they believe something different from the rest of the group.
My father shunned my grandfather (his father) and my uncle.
Around the time when I was six or seven, my fathers alcoholism got the best of him and he lost the family farm. I don’t remember a lot of details about this. I have been told that my Dad, one of his brothers and my grandfather were running a Kosher cattle raising and butchering operation, supplying meat to the Jewish community in Chicago (just sixty miles away).
Dad was the book keeper, and apparently he allowed his alcoholism to intervene with the family business. Like I mentioned, I was maybe seven when this all came down, so I don’t remember many details.
An intervention happened, involving my father, uncle and grandfather. Soon after my family was packing up and moving up to the Woodstock area of Northern Illinois.
That was the last I ever saw of my Grandfather or my uncle. Well, until their funerals. Actually there was another time. During the summer of my, I think, twelfth year, my father was at work and my mother received a call from my Grandfather: “Hey, how have you been? Say, would Ellis like to make some money? Could you drive him over to my house so he could mow my lawn?” My mom agreed and off I went to my Grandfathers house. I mowed his lawn, he paid me, and then made some hot dogs for me.
That never happened again. My Dad was furious. A huge bi-lingual fight ensued (my Father in French. My Mother in Yiddish). The next time I saw my Grandfather was in March 0f 1972. He was in a coffin.
So, I never really got to know my paternal Grandfather. Dad had instituted a “shunning.” That was that. My needs were never considered.
Have you everheard the expresssion, “This has happened before and it will happen again”? Well, I have been shunned.
In the spring of 1992, I was shunned by my former wife. This took the form of a pact or promise that she imposed onto my sons.
I was married to Lynne on August 9th 1975. Joshua, Jordan and Jesse were born in 1976 and 1981. Lynne gradually became a raging Fundagelical, but I didn’t notice so much, since I mostly worked graveyard shift at a local hospital. I did take an active fatherly role with my sons, and became their Scoutmaster for a few years. Those were good times.
My Father died March 17th 1990. My brother and I split his estate, and for the first time in my life I had a boatload of money. Things with Lynne were getting more strained. I thought “space”would solve some problems, so I bought this really big house. A mansion really. Six bedrooms, three full baths, a half bath, a formal dining room, huge kitchen, sun porch, library, finished basement, etc. Two stair cases, one grand and formal, the other a servants stairwell, from the maids room (my den) to the kitchen.
She filled it with crap. Cardboard boxes full of clutter lined both staircases. We had a third floor – an attic to store stuff – there was no excuse. She ran a daycare out of the basement. Six or seven little kids whose parents paid “through the nose,” for day care. Lynne didn’t drive so it was up to me to do all of the grocery shopping She would send me with a list of the cheapest crap she could cook in the microwave.
I stopped attending church around mid 1990, having come to the conclusion that they were all cults. In 1991 I was fired from my position as Scoutmaster for Troop 313 (The People’s Church). And, in order to punish the Scouts, the Troop was disbanded. Later I found out that this had by instigated by Lynne.
In January of 1992 I left. An apartment in a building that I owned came empty, and I moved in. The boys would visit once or twice a week. I think we had a good, but awkward, relationship. I met someone on the Internet, and moved to Santa Cruz CA in May 0f 1992.
This is when my shunning began. It wasn’t all inclusive. So long as I was the one reaching out, all was well. But apparently the twins and Josh were enjoined to not reach out to me. So, they cannot travel out here to Northern California to visit me. If I travel to Illinois, they may visit with me, but they can’t come visit me. This applies to all eight grand children as well. It was alright when I first moved here, and I was able to travel to Illinois a few times. But that didn’t last. Thanks to wife number two, I ended up in bankruptcy and my credit rating was trashed (she also committed identity theft on Joshua, using information she found in my personal records. That is what ended that relationship). So travel to Illinois is practically impossible for me.
But they could come out to see me, right? Well Josh and Aisha and their son Jalen did a few years back. But the twins haven’t tried. Jordan has stated his desire to come see me, but if that happens, it will be after Joy (my youngest granddaughter) gets over her Leukemia. Jordan and family did come out to California this past summer. Jordan works for WMAQ-TV (Channel 7 – Chicago). WMAQ is an ABC owned station, and ABC is a subsidiary of Disney. So their trip to California was to Anaheim – Disneyland; all expenses paid. So no time (or money) for a trip to the North Coast (a 12 hour drive). Jordan enjoys a lot of Disney perks. Jordan has also won eight Emmy Awards for videography and editing (Just FYI). His twin brother, Jesse is also a videographer. Jesse owns a private video production studio. He is one of maybe six videographers on the continent that videos surgeries, mostly for Northwestern University Medical Center/School in Chicago. I truly believe that Jesse does the more important work, but gets no recognition.
A couple years ago Jesse was doing some work up in Portland OR (about eight hours drive) but was too busy to travel down. Jesse has never expressed an interest in visiting me or bringing his three girls out to meet me. I know he can afford it. Even as I am typing this he and Lyndsay are visiting her best friend —in Paris France.
This is the third year in a row I have not spoken to any of them over the holidays. I guess I expect them to call me. Joshua used to call me quite a bit, but not for some time. This year Jordan called me on my birthday. I really appreciated that. They have all called me when was in the hospital (2008, 2012, 2020).
I used to call them on the holidays. You know, not one time did any of them say to their kids, “Hey, guys come talk do your grandfather on the phone.” Not once. And usually they talk about their work. I have to coax out news of their children.
Honestly? I don’t know if my grandchildren even know I exist. Maybe I am dead? I have a smallish relationship with Jalen (Josh’s son) over Facebook (he is a very, very talented budding Rapper. I think he’s going to be very famous eventually). None of the others is on Facebook (or perhaps they are not allowed). I wonder if they even have smart phones.
So, where am I at with all of this? I am grieving.
Let’s talk about the 7 stages of grief (These are about grieving some one who has died.My situation is radically different, since a simple change would correct everything. But still…..):
“Feelings of shock are unavoidable in nearly every situation, even if we feel we have had time to prepare for the loss of a loved one. We know it’s going to happen, but not right then, not on that day. People in shock often appear to be behaving normally without a lot of emotion, because the news hasn’t fully sunk in yet.”
This is where I have been for at least the past thirty years. I just couldn’t believe that people who professed to be followers of Jesus could be so hateful and narrow.
“Many people experience denial after a bereavement: they know something has happened but it doesn’t feel real.”
Actually, my experience has been a combination of shock and denial. I refused to believe that someone I love could treat me with such distain.
“It’s perfectly normal to feel anger in times of loss, but often people try to keep this stage of grief hidden.”
I’ve been taught all my life that anger leads to hate; that hate is a cancerous emotion (and perhaps can even cause cancer to manifest). It’s part of the “dark side,” to be denied and avoided at all costs.
Except today, when I learned that Jesse is in France visiting “a friend.” I was livid for a moment. But I got over that. I love my boys. They can do no wrong. But –it does prove that he can afford to travel for pleasure.
“The bargaining stage is about making promises to yourself or a higher being, asking the universe for a chance to put things right. A bereaved person may seek reason where there is none, and may feel guilty about how they behaved, or feel in some way to blame.”
“There’s a sense that, ‘Maybe I could have done things differently’,” says Nathan. “If only I’d stopped them leaving the house or I knew more about their medical condition, I could’ve intervened. We may feel helpless and hopeless, and consumed by thoughts of, ‘What if?’”
When I first landed in Santa Cruz, and for several years after, my plan was to go back to Illinois and collect my sons, and bring them back to California to live with me. The money for that (thanks to blood sucking wife number two) disappeared. So did opportunites to visit in Illinois. I missed three High School Graduations. Three College Graduations. Three Weddings (although Jordan did send an invite to his, after I badgered him about it, but, lack of money kept me away. Actually I never learned of the other events until after they occurred. Lynne strikes again!)
Since then? If not for Facebook, I would have missed eight births, and eight 1st days of school and one High School Graduation.
“The jumble of emotions that usually accompanies the grieving process can typically lead to feelings of depression, isolation, anxiety and a feeling of dread. Sometimes the suffering seems too much to bear.”
Periodically I have boughts of feeling sorry for myself, of self-doubt. I think that I should never had left when I did. That I should have at least waited until the Twins had graduated from High School. That things turned out as they did because I wasn’t around to supervise and influence. On the other hand, I needed to get as far away as humanly possible. I knew Lynne would never forgive me, and Doreen was crazier than a road lizard. Of course, as it turned out, wife number two was even crazier.
Acceptance and hope
“Humans, by nature, crave contact, connection and support, and at some stage in the grieving process will want to engage with friends and family again. Acceptance is about realising you can’t change the circumstances, but that you can gain some control over how you respond.”
This is sort of where I am headed. I feel like I need to just accept the fact that I’m never going to have any kind of relationship with my grandchildren; that I am never going to meet most of them, or that they are never going to know that I existed.
I’m not there yet. I want to try sending them birthday presents. See if I get any kind of acknowledgment. Maybe a thank-you card. Maybe.
I thank the G-ds that I have a support group among the Kirtan community. People who love without limits or conditions. They just love.
“Love is the answer, love is the way. Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram.”
There is no right or wrong way to grieve – the process is highly individual. In addition, there’s no quick fix; the healing process takes time and varies from person to person. Importantly, there is no “normal” timeframe, so be patient with yourself.
The following coping strategies have ben suggested:
- Express your grief in words or another creative outlet, such as painting or drawing.
- Connect with others – this can be loved ones or community support groups. (Thank you Skywater Kirtan Band!)
- Ask for help, in whatever form.
- Practise deep breathing regularly.
- Set small, realistic goals.
- Ensure you’re getting enough sleep and aim for some form of movement each day.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet and keep hydrated.
- Rehearse how you respond to questions and new situatoons.
Good suggestions. For me. But what about my grandchildren? What about Cam, Ian, Joy, Mia, Poppy and Dorothy? What are they missing from not knowing me? Of course that assumes that they even know I exist. Do I?
Here are my sons and their families. This is what I am being denied:
My three sons: Jesse Jonathan, Joshua Joel, Jordan Justin
Aisha and Joshua
Joshua’s son Jalen. Jalen is the only Grandchild I have met. He will be 23 this coming February 10th.
Jordan and family: From top row: Jordan and his son Cam (Cam will turn 16 on May 24),
Second Row: Nikki,
Third Row: Ian (He will turn 12 on July 16) and Joy She will turn 6 this coming October 17)
Jesse’s Family: Top Row: Jesse, Lyndsay, Mia (Mia will turn 18 on August 22);
Bottom Row: Poppy (She will turn 12 on December 24) and Dorothy (She will turn 10 on April 26th).