BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — While many families prepared for gift-opening get-togethers during the holiday season, Jenna Richey instead dealt with what she called “an emotional roller coaster.”
The Bowling Green woman is two years removed from a suicide attempt brought about by her estrangement from her two grown children and her grandchildren. She has bounced back from that low point and can say now: “I’m happy with who I am.”
Her bouts of depression were so severe that getting out of bed was an effort, and the road back hasn’t been easy, largely because there are few resources that support parents dealing with estrangement.
“My friends didn’t know how to deal with estrangement,” she recalled. “As a mother, you can’t move forward when you love your children and need them in your life.”
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But her divorce and other issues have made it nearly impossible for Richey to reconnect with her daughters and grandchildren, leading to substance abuse and to trying to end her own life.
“It’s called ambiguous grief,” she said in trying to explain the estrangement experience. “The pain is like losing someone, but this is a greater grief because there’s no resolution.”
Learning to deal with that “greater grief” has not only helped Richey; it has led her to want to help others. Now one of the administrators of a Facebook group called Parents Grieving for Living Children, she is looking into starting a local support group for others who share her experience.
“When I got out of the hospital (in 2015), my life began to change,” said Richey, 57. “I found groups on the internet for estranged parents. I had no idea there were other people going through this.”
Eventually, Richey started her own group on Facebook.
“It provided a safe place for women to come and talk freely about their experience,” she said. “It started with a few friends who were aware of my situation. It took a while, but it has grown.”
So much so that her fellow Facebook group administrator, Sharon Stack, says keeping up with the group “has gotten to be overwhelming.”
Stack, who lives in Pennsylvania and has also experienced estrangement, said that the group has more than 600 members and at least 60 pending requests to join.
“I don’t approve the majority of the requests because I don’t have enough information,” Stack said. “People can join under a fake name and stalk their parents.”
Such groups are needed, Stack said.
“Awareness is important for people who are suffering and feel like they’re the only ones,” she said. “People think they’re alone, and the risk of depression and suicide is high.”
Part of Richey’s healing has come through contact with others on the Facebook page. Mostly, she discovered that dealing with estrangement is not a unique experience.
“It has been an enormous help because others in the group validate my pain,” Richey said. “I’ve realized that I’m not the only one. A lot of people are going through this.
“It’s more prevalent with this generation. Times have changed. It’s not about family anymore. We’re a selfish society.”
Richey, who has begun working on a degree in paralegal studies at Western Kentucky University, was able to bounce back from her darkest days with help from her online friends and from her church. Now she’s trying to help others deal with similar issues.
“There’s some reason why I’m still here,” she said. “It has to be to help others. I want to help other people.”
Doing that strictly through the internet can be frustrating, so Richey has begun to look into starting a nonprofit geared toward helping parents estranged from their children. She already has a logo, but she said forming the nonprofit “could be down the road a bit.”
Richey expects whatever support group she forms to find a good number of parents needing help.
“I know there are women in Bowling Green dealing with this issue,” she said. “They need to know that this is not a shameful thing. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
Information from: Daily News, http://www.bgdailynews.com