Every mediation has a story. Due to the confidential nature of the process, mediators often don’t get the opportunity to tell those stories. Our work is infinitely rewarding, as is the chance to share our experiences with others.
A few years back, I had the privilege of mediating a grandparent’s rights matter. e case was ordered to mediation by the court and involved a grandmother, Faye, and her former son-in-law, John. e case had a tragic backstory. Faye’s daughter Sue, the mother of 3 young children with John, had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Before her death, Sue and John had divorced and Sue had primary physical custody. John did not play a big role in the children’s lives. Sue had her own business and relied quite heavily on Faye to help with the children. Faye lived close by and saw the kids often. She got them ready for school and watched them most days after school. By the time Faye and John ended up in my o ce, however, things had changed drastically and Faye had not seen her grandchildren in close to a year.
Faye arrived early for the mediation. I had not had a chance to speak with either party beforehand about what to expect from the process. I found out later that Faye immediately asked the receptionist if she’d have to sit in the same room with John. When the receptionist told her that was customary in family mediation, Faye nervously replied that she really did not want to do that. John soon arrived and, unaware of Faye’s misgivings, I immediately ushered them both back to my once. It was evident that neither Faye nor John was happy to be there. Their discomfort with each other was palpable and they were unwilling to make eye contact. I set about doing my best to put them at ease, assuring them that we were just going to have a conversation and they were free to leave at any time.
I’m frequently amazed at how fast people can open up in mediation. Sometimes, the most difficult part is getting parties to come to the table. Once they are there, the process often takes care of the rest. John quickly filled me in on the circumstances. He explained that, before his ex-wife’s death, he had little to do with the children. When she died, he realized that as the only parent they had left, he needed to step forward and become a father. And John had done just that. He beamed when he spoke of his daily life with the kids. He was so proud of the home he had created for them. He said he felt like he was accomplishing something substantial for the first time in his life.
Faye talked about how before Sue’s death, she had been a central figure in her grandchildren’s lives. She cherished her involvement with them. It hurt her deeply that she not only suddenly lost her daughter, she lost her grandchildren too. Although she was try- ing very hard to keep her emotions in check, it was clear that Faye was devastated.
There is often a point in mediation where you can see a change in the parties. Words become less harsh, body language softens – signs that indicate they may be hearing each other and shifting positions. As this mediation progressed, the conversation became deeper and I could see that shift happening. John expressed that he always believed Faye disapproved of him as a father and that was why he cut her out of his life. He didn’t want her looking over his shoulder and criticizing his decisions as he grew into his new role. Faye was quick to assure him that was never the case. She brought up examples of how they had cooperated in the past when Sue was still alive. She expressed how wonderful it was that John was now so involved with the kids. John and Faye were beginning to rekindle their relationship. They even vented some mutual frustration over how Sue used to do some things. Both parties were able to let go of some long-held hurts and misunderstandings.
Talk eventually turned to how Faye could once again be a part of her grandchildren’s lives. John said he had completely changed his mind about Faye’s involvement with the kids and agreed to set up a visit that very week. John and Faye left the mediation together, going to a coffee shop to plan Faye’s reunifying visit with the kids.
Mediators celebrate small miracles every day. Mediation is about so much more than helping parties resolve a case. It is a chance to accept the past, perhaps do a little healing and find a conflict-free path for the future. In the space of a few hours, by sitting down and having a meaningful conversation, John and Faye changed the course of their family’s lives forever.
Every mediation has a story. This one had a happy ending.