Sick brother suddenly wants back into my life
I have an extremely long and painful relationship with my brother, my only sibling. It started with some very cruel decisions on his part with the death of our parents close to 35+ years ago. We have mostly been estranged since then, but occasionally the door opens and we attempt communication, however, whenever I want to discuss anything about the past he falls into “I have chosen to forget about our childhood and young adulthood” (basically any time with me in it) which basically shuts the door to any kind of communication. We have nothing in common (especially politics), except for a thin strand of DNA between us.
Last year, when I wasn’t invited to my niece’s wedding (I send the kids gifts every year, though I have no real relationship them), that was the final straw. I cemented over the door in my heart that I had left ajar for him.
Last week, on my birthday, he decided to use that opportunity to get in touch to let me know he has brain cancer. After all these years he calls me and tearfully describes his condition (which may or may not be treatable), and then launches into telling me about how his kids are. Not once does he ask how I am. I listened to him with as I would to a stranger who was sad and scared. I was kind and caring to him, but one I got off the phone I was furious!
Frankly, I still am furious at the audacity of him to try to get my support at a difficult time in his life, when he has done nothing almost our entire adult life except hurt me. If I shut him down and out, he gets to continue his myth of “my horrible sister” and further poison the fragile relationship I have with his kids. And, if I let him in, I feel like I’m being manipulated and feel resentful as hell for it. I need him to answer for some of the decisions he’s made, and get an apology. I just don’t know if he has the ability to do that.
Sorry, I think I just broke the brevity guideline, but I would love to hear what this community could offer.
Wow Maryla, there is so much here. Thank you for your clarity and willingness to share such a close personal issue. I have witnessed a similar situation that involves a family member who had a long running issue with another family member who simply could not discuss the issues that led to their estrangement. Amazingly, they are very good friends now, and have gone through a process that has deepened both of them, but without the issue itself being resolved or discussed.
I won’t relate their situation in detail, but rather, I’ll share the elements I learned through this experience that unfolded over decades. The first aspect involves acknowledging yourself, and the fact this is indeed a tough situation. It’s really about having kindness and compassion towards yourself and knowing that how you feel is natural.
The second aspect is about not needing to forgive an act or group of actions that were unskillful, harmful or vindictive. They’re what they were, and you don’t have to make them into anything else. How could they be? You might be curious about your perceptions of what happened, but ultimately this step is really about accepting that sometimes unfair or unconscionable things do happen. We so often wish we could change the past. Jack Kornfield says that forgiveness is giving up hope of having had a happier childhood!
The third aspect is about being very curious, clear and honest with yourself about your internal experience of this situation and what that does to you. When the situation comes up in your mind or heart, what are the sensations you feel? Most often they are unpleasant and involve contractions or buzzy energy. Feel how those energies and thought patterns poison your own mind and heart. There is a saying that holding resentment is like drinking a cup of poison yourself and hoping the other person dies from it. This doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or that you are to blame or be judged in any way for the fact that resentment is showing up, it just helps you be clear about what it’s presence does to your life. It gives you resolve to take care of yourself and relieve the burden for your own well-being.
The fourth key step is to recognize that people are a product of their conditioning and aptitudes. This can be really hard. Everyone is trying to be happy. Some try in skillful, wholesome ways, others in harmful and ignorant ways based once again on their conditioning and aptitude. People have their limitations of what they can handle. Knowing this we don’t want to hand our power to be happy over to someone else’s limited capacity to give us what we think we need from them. You can be happy in your own right and see the other person for who they are, warts and limitations and all.
Knowing that people are a product of their conditioning and aptitudes, a saint once said, “We may condemn the act, but we can never condemn the actor. ” Another quote that softens me is (and I’m not sure of the source) “Be kind because everyone is fighting a terrible battle.” I like this as it points to the challenges of our messy, fragile human lives that have been subject to so much unskillful cultural and often familial conditioning, and our misunderstandings about how life actually is. We try and control things, and when they don’t go our way, we feel to blame or let down, and we get so stressed. So many of us are walking around with these struggles. Reflecting on this gives me a sense of compassion and empathy.
When we truly have a sense of wanting to relieve the burden of our contraction, and seeing people for who they are and with some kindness, then we can take the fifth step of embracing the situation as an opportunity to grow, heal and explore our hearts’ incredible capacity to hold life’s paradoxes, complexities and absurdities. The story I shared at https://asklove.org/question/mother-her-incredible-response-to-her-sons-killer/ is an extreme example reflecting this truth. This does not mean anyone has to be that mother, it just indicates that the possibility is there. Likewise, this article from the NY Times has so moved me over the years http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/us/19questions.html . There many forgiveness practices and course and materials that you can employ. I love the Awakening Joy course and book at https://www.awakeningjoy.info by James Baraz which I’ve done. It includes a section on forgiveness that is wonderful.
In the case of my family members, there was a point at which the person who felt wronged had employed these steps. They resolved the issue in their own heart and could accept the other person for who they were limitations and all. They could focus on the good things the other person offered, and over time and some false starts, the two of them persisted and now have a very meaningful relationship even with that issue itself unresolved between the two of them.
I wish you well in your journey with this difficult situation. I hope you get a lot out of it, and that you are supported in doing so. As the process unfolds, feel free to ask for more input here on AskLove and let us know how you are doing. It is the community’s intent to be with you and hold you through the process. Blessings.
I can relate to your experience completely because I have a family member whom, still I hear her voice saying “your actions are the reason my life was destroyed” and that hurts incredibly….
I was actually very close to her, but am now also estranged from… Depending on who you talk to, the incident that acted as a catalyst for our disconnect yet ultimately disturbed us both, happened during a time which (I feel) was never given the appropriate attention or care for the Stop, Drop, and Ask to happen…That is, we could not handle things in such a way that either of us could express, hear, and heal with each other… Things were said and done, and there was no space, patience, or compassion to NOT take things personally… Her and I have both tried a couple times via email to build trust and (I think wrongly) try to gain insight from what happened so that we might truly forgive and let go… But there always seems to be a point where she or I seem to bump our head, very hard, on the ceiling in a room where I hope for us both to grow, awaken, and love…
I think sometimes it has to do with time, but also intention… If people in relationship are not wholly ready to shed the ego (the “I” or the “other”) from their mind then it’s (I think) impossible to connect and heal… I will pray for you as I pray for my own relationship, so that maybe one day Truth and Love will win in my mind’s eye and in hers… I don’t want to hate her, and I don’t believe she wants to hate me either…