I often hear heartbreaking stories by many people who talk of family members they haven’t seen, spoken to or been in contact with for years or decades. Our family of origin gives us our first experiences of life and love. They teach us how to interact with each other and the planet in intimate ways that we never really lose. The bonds created in the early formative years sink deeply in our brains, emotions, physical and spiritual natures. When those bonds break or are stretched across time and space our hearts feel the loss and grieve.
Why should you even be concerned about healing the estrangement in your family? If you’ve done fine without them for this long, why change now? Because if you have cut off your parents then the pattern may continue with your children. They may deliberately walk away from you if you don’t learn how to heal these family wounds. Then the pattern will repeat again in the next generation. If your siblings are at odds, then it may continue with fragmented families in future generations. We lose our support systems when we lose family connections.
Sometimes we or they feel justified in cutting the ties. Disastrous divorces with bitter custody disputes often cut off parents from access to children. The custodial parent may think the child is better off with the other parent in their life because of religious, lifestyle, drug, alcohol or abuse issues but child/parental bonds are inherently strong and continue years after non-custodial parents give up and abandon the fight. The hole in the life of both the parent and child is never filled. I recently was told of a 70 plus grandfather that was reunited with his son and granddaughter from who he had been estranged for nearly 25 years. He was overjoyed to be in touch again and connected to his family.
I knew a woman who hadn’t talked to her twin sister in over 30 years. I didn’t know the cause, but the loss to both must have been overwhelming. She always spoke of her sister with bitterness but the underlying pain always came through.
Families are the building blocks of all societies. Mothers are necessary to nurture the young while fathers provide for the family during the essential helpless period. Extended families support the nuclear family in times of hardship such as health, financial, career and social emergencies. In industrialized nations sometimes there are social services available but they never substitute for the support of family and close community.
Families carry all the challenges of society too. Violence, abuse, mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse begin in the home. Even the issues of growing up and separation from parental influence sometimes cause rifts that are difficult to overcome when children adopt different lifestyles choosing another religious belief, sexual preference, lifestyle (big city vs country) or refuse to follow the family business plan for a career. Parents find it hard to give up on their dreams for their children when it turns out that the children have different dreams of their own.
Siblings often carry their childhood rivalry, envy, roles or ideas about each other into adulthood without clearly seeing each other as they adults they have grown into. I was shocked when a sister once told me that she ‘knew’ I was ashamed of her about 20 years after I had left the family home. I immediately challenged her and asked where she could have possibly gotten that idea since I had no concept why I could ever possibly be ashamed of her. It was really her own self esteem that had conjured up an imaginary picture from our childhood drama that caused the misunderstanding. Now we are close friends and I admire her greatly.
I also appreciate my brother for calling me on my bad behavior. One day I was nagging him on his smoking-he is an adult after all. He turned to me and said: “I love you and this is my life. I get to make my own choices. So just stop.” He was right. I was so glad he had the nerve to speak up instead of just being angry and cutting me off. I have never said another word to him about his choices. I just love him as he is.
Sometimes it is difficult to forgive and simply love our family members when they have done something hurtful. If they have simply made a mistake-said or done something hurtful, didn’t issue you an invitation to an event, overlooked a birthday or holiday-these things can be remedied. Confront the person, maybe in a letter or email. Tell them how they hurt your feelings and ask for an apology. At least this will open a dialogue. They may have a response. At least you may be able to clear the air and begin the forgiveness process.
If the event or issue is deeper or more hurtful like years of neglect or abuse as a result of disease such mental illness, alcohol, drug or sexual abuse then possibly therapy, counseling (mental health and/or spiritual), group counseling and family counseling and intervention is called for to resolve the underlying physical, mental and emotional damage that may have occurred.
Family healing heals the planet as well as you. Cutting off a family member is like cutting off a finger or a limb. Sometimes it is necessary to save a life if that family member is a danger to you or your children. Most of the time it is generally a matter of healing the wounds between you.