A 9/11 family advocate reports that he has dealt with more than 100 conflicts in which parents of a World Trade Center victim, desperate to remain connected to the children of their lost offspring, had found themselves in bitter struggles with a surviving spouse who would rather they did not.
A mediator who helped negotiate settlements among 9/11 families in the early years after the attacks said 1 in 10 of his cases involved estranged grandparents.
Five years after their father was killed at the World Trade Center, two little girls, ages 7 and 5, sat crying in a car parked at the curb of their grandparents’ home here one December day, refusing to go inside for a court-ordered visit. There is a British woman who has not spoken to her twin grandsons since her son handed them the phone on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2001. A Florida grandmother who said her daughter-in-law called the police the last time she tried to visit. A couple who have seen their grandson in Brooklyn only a few times through a four-year court fight.
For some widows and widowers, their children's grandparents are a reminder of that terrible dark day, and they want to keep them at a distance to let the kids -- and themselves -- move on. But the older generation often cling to the grandchildren, not just as a doting grandparent, but as their only connection to the child they lost on 9/11.
Most people agree that these situations are the exception and not the rule. Family advocates who have worked with 9/11 survivors say that most families have been able to remain on very good terms with in-laws, even if they have been re-married.
"Much of this family squabbling had been seething for years, with decades of slights now drawn to the surface by tragedy," Mr. Feinberg wrote in a passage dealing with conflicts --—over a different flashpoint of tension, money -- in his 2005 book about the victims' fund. "Where did the truth lie?"
Patricia Bingley, 72, the mother of Kevin Dennis, a Cantor Fitzgerald bond trader killed on 9/11, said her daughter-in-law refused to return her phone calls after the attacks. Mrs. Bingley looked into hiring a lawyer but thought she would have little chance of winning visits with her twin grandsons, since she lives outside London and they are in New Jersey, and since she had a fraught relationship with her daughter-in-law predating her son's death.
"On the Sunday before 9/11, Kevin put the boys on the phone with me, and that is the last time I spoke to them," Mrs. Bingley said. "Kevin was my only child. I lost him, and now I've lost my grandchildren."
It never ceases to amaze me how absolutely crappy people can act toward each other, all in the name of the children, with such little regard to the emotional problems they are actually causing those kids.