It’s been a while since I did a FOO (family of origin) post. My long and drawn out family stuff has surfaced recently in a rather unexpected place. My younger brother is the only person in my family I’m still in touch with. He understands why I am estranged from our parents. My middle brother is estranged, I assume by proxy and because he doesn’t want to deal with the drama. He’s the only one that hasn’t been in touch with anyone for about the last two years.
No one has a way to reach him and he wants it that way, and I totally understand and admire his ability to go off the grid. We hear whispers through mutual friends that he’s okay, but no information about location or contact information. I feel like this is a suitable arrangement because my brother gets the isolation he wants, but also has a way to reach us if he needs something in an emergency.
But my younger brother does not find this to be acceptable. While he is a kind and thoughtful person, and not abusive the way our parents have been, in the last six months or so that he’s been estranged from our mother and last remaining influence of self-destruction, he’s starting to show symptoms of fleas. For those not in the know, fleas are symptoms of growing up in dysfunction. We don’t often see them ourselves, but it takes the presence of others to let us know that the way we act is influenced by abuse or dysfunctional relationships. I know I have them, and it’s taken me almost my entire adult life in therapy trying to work around them. My brother, however, resists this.
He called me two days after our other brother’s birthday, stating he’d gotten his phone number and texted him to wish him a happy birthday. The response came almost immediately, angrily demanding to know how he’d gotten the number. Rather than out the friend who gave it to him, my brother lied, saying he’d used a background check service to locate him.
- Mistake 1. Do not tell someone you’re stalking that you got their information from a paid service like a private investigator or background check service. This makes you sound insane, and makes the stalkee frightened, because you took things to a very uncomfortable level just to wish them a happy birthday. He then went on to ask, nay demand, an explanation for my brother’s estrangement.
- Mistake 2. Do not suddenly pop back into someone’s life and demand explanation. This seems like a no brainer to me, but when I posed this idea to my brother, he did not see it that way. He assured me that our brother “should just know” that he’s not acting on our parents’ behalf, and that his simple act of reaching out like this should be enough to mend fences. It was not.
Two days later, my younger brother calls me to explain this whole scenario, and I honestly had trouble being supportive. I couldn’t condone what I perceived as a gross violation of our brother’s boundaries and wishes. And further, I was troubled by the demands he made for his own ego, rather than to ask if our brother was okay, safe or needed anything, such as help, money or a place to stay. Mistake 3. If you somehow manage to reach an estranged relative, do not fail to appreciate how delicate the relationship must be. To make demands of such a frail thing is an exercise in futility, as whatever hope you had for reconciliation is dashed on the harshness of meeting your own ego needs.
If I were to be in his shoes, I’d say this:
Brother, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry to violate your wish for privacy. I just want to know how much I love and miss you. I’m so sorry that things in our family and between us have become so painful for you that estrangement is your choice. It is important that I respect your decisions, so I want you to know I let you go with all the love in my heart and truly wish for all your happiness, whether or not that includes me. Should you ever decide you want to talk about things, for your own sense of closure, and not necessarily in the spirit of reconciliation, please know I am here and always will be, without judgement or haranguing. I am sad that you are not a part of my life, but understand and respect your choice to exclude me. I will always love you, and continue to hope for your peace, well-being and happiness. Love always, your sister, Haji.
I’d actually been down this road with our estranged brother once before. I was in the wrong and directed a blow up at my brother that I should not have. He was right to be angry, and maintained a stubborn and steadfast silence for about 6 months. At the time, I attempted to reconcile with a handwritten card to his home. He didn’t respond. I accepted it, as much as it pained me to do so.
For Christmas, my mother, who lived several states away, plotted to make the reconciliation happen on her terms, unbeknownst to me. I arrived to her home after a lengthy commute to learn my estranged brother was supposed to arrive as well. Once I realized what she intended, for him to arrive and “magically” forgive me, leading to a magical holiday where unicorns flew out of everyone’s recta, was absolutely NOT going to happen, I called his home. I forced my father to put him on the phone, which he reluctantly did.
I told him he didn’t have to say anything, but please just to listen. I told him of the plot I’d uncovered, that our mother had conjured this stupid idea and planned to manipulate us into doing her bidding. I told him that if I knew him well enough, he’d pull up to her home, see my car and turn right back around and leave. He laughed a bit, begrudgingly acknowledging that this would indeed be how it would play out. I told him I had no part in it, but wanted him to know now, and to treat his decisions with respect. He thanked me, said he wasn’t coming, and then ended the call. Of course, my mother was furious. Unbeknownst to us, two major storms were converging nearby and a blizzard would coat the better part of New England with enough snow to close the highways. If my brother had come up unawares, he’d likely be stuck in this storm, stranded on the road (in the days before cell phones), angry and possibly hurt or killed in the crappy car I knew he was driving at the time.
In truth, my husband and I did get caught in the storm ourselves, leaving after the emotional shit storm my mother threw once she realized I’d uncovered her devious plot and put an end to it. We spent the night in a crappy hotel after the weather hit and highways were impassible. I had called my father the next morning, when we left to get on the road. My brother asked to speak to me. He thanked me for being honest, wished me a Merry Christmas and told me he loved me.
After that, I saw him that spring and we talked, in generalities. And I gave him a version of the above listed speech. I told him I was sorry for the manipulation, and I would understand if at some point he’d need to cut ties again. When he cut ties, I realized that I may never get to say these words to him again. It’s my hope that he remembers. Either way, all I can do is let him go with all the love I have in my heart and hope that’s enough.