My life is very full in many ways. Although not always an easy task, I try and focus on the positive people and things going on in my life; just in the past 30 days of the “40 Days of Writing,” I have spotlighted numerous examples, slices of life, and general appreciation for the blessings I have in the form of family (including my dogs), home, friends, work, and whatever gratitude du jour I am feeling at the time. Scattered in and out are some melancholy subjects having to do with my deceased mom, a lost love or two, and toxic people.
The above opening statement was made to me by my younger brother Brian, late last summer. He is ten years my junior. Ever since our mother passed away in March of 2012 Brian had been very distant and aloof. He lives with his common-law wife Kim in a small town in North Carolina, where he is an Information Technology (IT) Engineer, while she is a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Fayetteville.
I had tried several times in a 6-month period to try and get Brian to open up and tell me what the problem was, why the distance (not returning my calls or emails), and even when we might have an opportunity for a visit in the near future.
I finally received the email from him, which not only included the above statement, but a 2-page laundry list of all I had done to upset him over the past three-or-so years. All of his issues were centered around our mother — her heart problems, her last moments, her death, and after her death. He ended his email with:
I could go on, but I think these are enough. Besides, I don’t believe you are introspective enough for it to do any good. As I said before, don’t worry about my contacting you when we have other legal issues to deal with – I will. So please stop your drama – it’s ridiculous.
Apparently, and unbeknownst to me, there is some sort of template outlining how each and every child in a family should react and behave when it comes to the illness and eventual transition of a parent. Brian seems to think so, anyway.
Once I let the various points in his email marinate within me — although some of his accusations and observations were skewed, some made sense to me as well — I sent an email to him, explaining, apologizing and trying hard to make him realize that the house I grew up in was very different from the house he grew up in. I carefully outlined to him my own issues, how my handling our mother’s illness and death in a different way than his, didn’t mean I had less love and respect for her. I admitted that some of my decisions and actions might not have been right ones. I apologized profusely for anything that I had done to upset him, even when I felt my actions were not out of line. My last two paragraphs to him were as follows:
In closing, I have to admit that I have learned a huge lesson in all of this, mainly that I should never take family for granted. I have learned the hard way that it’s not cool to let whatever is on my mind just come flying out with such abandon, before taking family members’ feelings into consideration. I guess since you and I have shared so much in our lifetimes, I felt I could say and do just about anything, and you would still love me. I sincerely apologize for my ignorance and insensitivity in that department.
To quote one of my favorite lines from the movie “Prince of Tides, “…in families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.” Not that I see anything I have done to upset you as a “crime,” it may as well be, if it has indeed left you so angry with me. I’m hoping you’ll be open to the “forgiveness” part — if not now, then someday.
A few days later I received a simple reply:
I’ve said my piece and you’ve said yours. I still do not want to maintain a relationship with you. Please move on.
Part of me is so broken by this. I have lost count of how often I have cried over the matter over the past seven months.
Another part of me is so angry with my brother; his flippancy, insensitivity and downright ignorance causes my inner demons to rear their ugly heads, inspiring me to want to shake him, maybe even hit him over the head with something, just to get through to him.
How dare he take such a stand, when I, too, lost my mother? Just because I didn’t handle it the way he did — or the way he felt I should — somehow makes me a “selfish and toxic” person in his eyes?
Am I supposed to bundle up every “40 Days” piece I have written about our mother in the past since June of 2012, tie them with a big bow, and present them to him as proof of the love I had and have for her, in an attempt that he will see the light?
It breaks my heart that the only full-blood relative I have wants nothing to do with me. My mother would have been heartbroken of this estrangement as well. At the advice of a spiritual friend, I even wrote Mom a letter, getting my feelings about the situation all out, and apologizing to her about anything I may have done that was out of line.
I have tried to talk to my husband Chuck about it, but he thinks I should take Brian’s advice and move on. Chuck is angry, as he and Brian used to be close, as well. It’s so much easier for Chuck to let go of things; I envy that trait.
I have tried very hard to “move on.” Sometimes it’s easy, but then feelings of melancholy will wash over me and I start to cry. Something so simple as watching a favorite TV show where there is a closeness among siblings, can cause me to well up and go into a funk.
Fortunately Chuck and I still have a good relationship with Pete and even his new wife Amy. Pete is baffled and disappointed by Brian’s behavior, but they remain close, just the same. Brian seems to paint himself as somewhat of a martyr for having been able to break away for weeks on end, during my mother’s last month on earth. He apparently told Pete earlier this year, “I just don’t understand my brother and sister.”*
Friends who I have shared the emails with tell me I have done the very best I can do. Some say I did everything right, in fact, and that it is Brian’s problem, not mine. Although I take solace in their words and encouragement, I still ache inside.
I am hoping that Brian will eventually come to his senses and want to have me in his life again. A psychologist friend of mine sheds some light in that Brian is still so wounded by my mother’s death and all that it encompassed. I accept that, but there has to be more.
I start seeing my own therapist this Thursday. There will be lots to talk about, and no doubt more tears to shed. I have other issues that will surface as well, but in the beginning it will be all about Brian and how I can get through my life — even with all it’s blessings — having someone I used to be so close to, hate me so.
* Our older, half-brother Tom and I are estranged as well, but it is a mutual agreement, having nothing to do with our mother.