Every grandparent hopes and prays that a new grandchild will be healthy. We count our grandson's fingers and toes after he is born. We keep an eye on our granddaughter to make sure she is developing "normally”. Most of the time, we breathe a deep sigh of relief because our grandchild is just fine.
But sometimes there are challenges. We may find out that the newest addition to our family has a disability. Such news can be very hard to hear. We feel shocked and sad. We are angry. We find it hard to understand how this could have happened to our family. We ache for our grandchild — and for the child's parents. These feelings are painful. As grandparents, one needs to take time to grieve the loss they are feeling. And then they need to get busy. That's because they have many special gifts to offer their families right now. They need them more than ever.
In Kullu, the Indian joint family tradition is commonly followed. The family consisting of grandchildren, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins live together and the grandparents being the eldest have a major say in all matters of household.
According to our experience, 50% of our children’s major caretakers are grandparents. There are various reasons for it: parents are busy with farm work or jobs to go to, parents are too young to take on the challenge of special needs parenting or are inexperienced so the grandparents assume the role etc.
While some of our grandparents assume responsibility of their special-need grandchildren, some our grandparents are going through stages of grief or denial, shock, depression and anger which hamper the child’s development and participation therapy.
With an aim to get together all the grandparents of our children, we organized a Grand Parents Day at Handimachal on 24 December. 25 grandparents attended the program.
Shakuntala, Special Educator, spoke about the significances of grandparents in the child’s life and the stages of grief grandparents go through when they have special-need grandchildren.
Shruti, Occupational Therapist, spoke about brain development, early intervention and research studies demonstrating the significances of parenting and family environment on the child’s development.
Rekha, Physiotherapist, spoke about how grandparents can help in therapy, especially to enhance play and language development.
Arjun grandfather, who is a Gur of a devta (spokesperson of the local god), shared his experiences of being caught between local orthodox traditions and his desperate search for cure for Arjun’s difficulty of walking. He told everybody his helplessness when he had to do animal sacrifice and even a horrid act of bloodletting, following the local belief that cutting through a vein in the hand and allowing the “impure blood” to drain out will cure illness.
Being a Gur himself he found it hard to convince his family members that such acts were not going to cure Arjun. It was a very moving experience for everyone to see Arjun’s grandfather share his experiences, his guilt for allowing orthodox practices to continue, his frustration on the medical system who were incompetent and indifference towards disability, his desperation to find a way to help Arjun, his hope now that Arjun is getting therapy and somebody has educated him about Cerebral Palsy and his optimism that Arjun will walk one day with the help of therapy.
Other grandparents also shared their experiences of concern and hope for their grandchildren. 80 years old granny of Chandrakiran also made the journey from Manali to attend the meeting. The atmosphere at Handimachal was filled with wisdom, blessings and strength of all these wonderful grandparents.
Mr Mandeep Singh, president of the Handimachal Society, addressing grandparents, parents and team members
There were a few grandparents who missed out on attending the function, these grandparents are in stages of denial, shock and depression and are unable to do any better for their grandchildren. We feel their pain and will continue to help them cope with the situation.
The program ended by an “Open letter for Grandparents by a special-need child's Mom”, recited by Kanchan Dhiman, Charu’s mother.
“Our children with special needs are often called Warrior Children. They are fighters. They are survivors. They soldier on after adults would have quit. Our children take on everyday tasks that their peers do with ease. Our Warrior Children persevere.
Mothers and fathers of special need children are often called Warrior Mothers and Warrior Fathers. We are fighters. We advocate. We fiercely protect and honor our children. We applaud their victories. Warrior Mothers and Warrior Fathers claim our children as our own.
Grandmothers and grandfathers of special need children, come and join us. You are Warrior Grandparents. You are fighters. You see the beautiful princesses and handsome princes. You support and you coach and you cheer. Warrior Grandmothers and Warrior Grandfathers give unconditional, unending love.
Dear grandparent, you matter. Never under estimate your value in our family.”
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