Vicky Harris is Face 2 Face Co-ordinator for our befriending service at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. She believes that grandparents of disabled children, as well as parents, need access to emotional support. Here Vicky shares a very personal experience of disability in her family.
I have been blessed in my life to have three children and three grandchildren, but I feel there may be more grandchildren to come in time! My eldest child, who’s nearly 30 was born with a very rare physical disability which at times has been emotionally challenging. She has grown into a beautiful adult who I’m very proud of.
Nearly eight years ago my second grandchild Jack was born to my daughter Sammie who was 20 at the time. I remember being so
excited as I had a granddaughter who was two years old, and I was now lucky to have a grandson too. The first time I saw him, he looked so beautiful but I knew something was wrong. Within a week we received the news that Jack had catastrophic brain damage. I have to say I felt devastated. Devastated for my daughter and her partner, and devastated for Jack.
I loved him so much, part of me hoped the doctors had made a mistake but I knew they were right. I was trying to find light in what was a very dark time. We spoke to the consultant and then came crashing down again when we were told he might not live beyond eight years old. He would be completely reliant on my daughter for all his needs. My daughter hurt so much, I wanted to take her pain away and make her feel better but I knew I couldn’t.
As a family, we rallied round. I remember Jack started drinking from the bottle, which the professionals had feared he may not do. This offered us hope, but sadly it didn’t last and he had to be peg fed to help him thrive. We were always looking for hope, then hopes were dashed along the way. Picking ourselves up, loving each other, caring, scared the day we were dreading would come.
As a grandparent I felt almost useless, sitting back and watching the journey unfold, knowing the outcome one day would be having to say goodbye to Jack. I know my daughter hurt, she was a wonderful mother to him. I know she loved him with all her heart, and I wondered if she’d be able to let him go when that time came.
I wanted to fix the situation, change it, make it better. Watching Jack have many fits, hospital visits, but also trying to live this normal life. Enjoying every day, loving him every day, always mindful of how precious his life was. As a family we’d already experienced disability. We knew in the grand scheme of life that disability is not the end of the world. Yes, it can seem a different world at times, but none the less a good life can be lived. With Jack it seemed so final, and we just hoped he would stay strong for as long as possible.
My granddaughter Jess loved him so much, she would pretend she was reading him a book and then poke crayons in his ears! She seemed to understand he was special, her bond with him was so beautiful to see.
Sadly, the day we had dreaded arrived all too soon. Jack had pneumonia and was on life support for 10 days when it was agreed it should be withdrawn. My heart broke watching my daughter be so brave in letting him go. When we said goodbye, Jack was only three years old.
I have such immense pride in my daughter, I wanted to spare her the pain, spare her the hurt but no one could have loved him more than she did. We were all blessed to have Jack in our lives, and we’ll never forget him.
Vicky will be starting a grandparents drop-in group in Liverpool next year. Would any of you grandparents of disabled children be interested in attending something like this, where you can meet other grandparents, talk about your experiences, and gain support? Please let us know.
We are fortunate to have Grandparents Plus on our online community this week, talking about some of the issues Vicky has raised here, and answering your questions.