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October 22
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FEBRUARY 13, 2012 10:42AM

How To Go Forward When Things Have Gone Too Far To Go Back

Rate: 42 Flag

I remember watching one of those news shows, like 48 Hours or Dateline, where they were talking about a pair of brothers who were being reunited after 50 years or something like that, and the whole time I kept thinking “How does that happen? How do you get estranged from a sibling like that?” The concept seemed so foreign to me.  One of those things that only happens to other people and in extreme circumstances. Only, I guess that’s not true, as I am now officially a member of the “Other People.”

You don’t need to know the details, although I know you’d like them. You’re a nosy bunch. It suffices to say that actions have been taken, words have been spoken, legal documents have been filed, and government agencies have intervened, and in the end, I’m down another sister.  One more to go and I’m the only child I always wanted to be. You would have thought that when my sister Parrish died, the remaining family would have rallied around each other and formed a tighter bond. For a while, we did. But the aftermath of drama and grief is really only temporary. Life resumes, old resentments return. Sibling rivalries never die.

When we were younger, my sister Parrish and I went through phases where we wouldn’t speak to each other.  We fought like professionals. She broke my arm when we were kids. I laid in wait for several years to return the favour.  We stole each other’s clothes and drugs in high school. We called each other names. We blamed the pile of unwashed dishes in the sink on each other. We had divergent life philosophies. She honoured Timothy Leary and Jerry Garcia, I worshipped Elvis Costello and Giorgio Armani. Eventually the animosity stopped.  We grew up. We mocked each other teasingly, and we were friends the day she died.

Now, my youngest sister and I are at odds. Only things have gone too far for us to ever go back. The friction between us, between her and the rest of our nuclear family, has rubbed things so raw you can see bone. Things have been said. Heinous accusations have been made. Lawyers have been hired. Wills have been changed. Actions have been taken from which there is no foreseeable recovery. It’s not just a spat. It’s not just a sibling rivalry any more. It’s no longer kids teasing each other. It’s not repairable. Along the way something broke. The fracture was almost audible when it happened, like the snapping of bone or the sharp crack of a wind-shield when it is hit with a skull. And there is no cast or crazy glue to repair it. Other people have been hurt, and the field of debris is so wide it’s like someone set off an IED at a family gathering and everyone has a piece of shrapnel sticking out of their body.

So, how to go forward? Once the lawyers are out of the way and the government agencies have laid down their rulings, how does one proceed? It is possible that my mother and my other sister Reese will find a way to forgive in the future. They are better and less bitter people by nature than I. But for me, there will be no happy family holiday parties with all my kin around.  There will be awkward family traditions acted out short one member of the cast.  There will be events that Dave and I do not attend.  I will not see my nieces and nephews graduate from school or get married. I will not be on the invite list, but I will send a gift. There will be whispered conversations wondering “What happened? How did things get to this point?” There will be people, like you, thinking to themselves “This only happens to other people.” I guess you can add to your list of cocktail gossip tid bits that you actually know “The Other People.” Congratulations.

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Surly - this post really gets at what I'm going through with my only brother right now - although maybe not as extreme - but it feels like that is where it's going - I think it is like deciding to jump from the steps of the slide rather than going down the slide at the playground - you really don't know how high up you are or how much it is going to hurt until you hit the ground and look up - thanks for sharing
Family dynamics can in reality also be referred to as family dynamite. Ours never exploded, but there is just a constant ignoring that takes place. I have tried for years to over come that with communication, but there is never enough when it is only from one side. They just prefer to live in a kind of isolation and that is their choice.
I don't know what to say. I get along with both my older brother and sister. Of course, it might have something to do with the fact that for over 35 years I've lived in Germany; while my sister lives in Oregon and my brother in Kansas.
Maybe it's true what they say... absence makes the heart grow fonder.
I hope somewhere along the line, things cool down.
When directed toward the state of human affairs, the expression
"...cannot be fixed..."

Implies a state of 'brokenness' that is by far and away almost always illusionary, and subjective.
My dad is as big a sensitive plant, champion grudge holder, self-centered, self-righteous wingnut one could ever wish to come across. As a result, The Prince of Darkness and I grew up not knowing ANY of our cousins until we became adults and decided the man is certifiable and we were going to associate with whom we wanted to. We have great cousins.

Talking to the aunts and uncles later, it was clear they missed us as much as we missed them and we were left wondering why nobody made an effort to keep up with us despite our father being Mr. Hyde. Apparently they were frightened he'd blame my mother and further increase the joy that was abounding at our house.

Point being--- try to stay in touch with the nieces and nephews. Aunts are important.

I am, last time I looked anyway still disowned (out of the will, out of the heart) by my lunatic father. He's the one missing out on two marvelous grandsons, who I refuse to shield from his rotten behavior by telling them "it's just his way" or "you know how grandpa is, he loves you , really he does". Grandpa is a bastard and they figured that out on their own. Kids do.
I have a sister who's out of control and in deep denial over her life. Avoiding her is simple self-preservation only she's mounted a vicious campaign of martyrdom and victimhood I cannot combat. So, yes, separations do happen. Like anything, one is rarely safe.
I understand this. It was very painful to be disowned by my own mother and brothers. It turned out to be the best thing for me and my own family, however. But every situation is different. As Tolstoy said, "every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
time is often the salve that heals broken hearts.
Though I usually am very optimistic, some things are irreparable because others don't want them to be. I understand. Love one of the "formerly others."
What V. Corso said. Aunts are important.
& what kurt v's uncle said : 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'
& what kim g says : 'We are here to work.'
I'm sorry it's happened, to you and to me. There are echoes here for me, distilled to sameness in spite of the families involved. And it's pretty common--we can pick our friends, etc. I'm not sure how I need to proceed that doesn't involve complete abasement and capitulation, but a hint of quid pro quo would be nice and none is forthcoming. Because of all that I have nothing to offer in advice or experience, just understanding. xo
I have nothing to add to the other comments but wanted you to know I understand. My family does it, too.
makes me feel almost almost uniquely fortunate Rated.
Coming back to agree with those who said, "aunts are important." I stay in close touch with my niece. I forget that her dad is my brother sometimes.
Sad, really sad... but I get it.
As someone who's resided in Estranged-Sib Town for quite a few years, all I can say is that you're doing what you need to do for yourself. Maybe others here don't know what happened or need to know the details, but some of us--myself and, apparently, others--can guess and understand exactly.

I cut off ties w/some SERIOUSLY f**cked-up siblings upon our parents' deaths. It was the only way I knew of to save my sanity. Since then, I have to say that life is far more peaceful, and it's so b/c none of them are around me. Nor do I plan to change that any time now or later.

To those who've never trodden this difficult path: keep your pity and/or advice. If forgiveness is impossible, and sometimes it is, then acceptance is the next best thing, coupled w/avoidance to walk away from "raising the dead" to the point of pointless repetition. So, don't judge and just keep it to yerselves, thank you.

Remember that sometimes abuse is abuse, and blood doesn't get a pass either.
whether we nosy parkers know the dirty details or not, it seems some of us have heard the sound of that snapping bone. count me in. i'm sorry you have to know it too, surly girl, but sometimes the best and only thing is to walk away and not look back. that's my sisterly advice, anyway. maybe we should form an 'other people' club? xo
I try to cut my sisters some slack, since our parents trained us to fight each other for resources, but more than half of them are certifiable. Self-preservation rules, always. But notice that this is a common occurrence - lots of us here. That happy family illusion is just a story manufactured by Hollywood and the ad agencies.
I volunteer to be your replacement sister. You're welcome.
Got out of "The Other People" club. Talked after twenty years. Couldn't remember who said what.
Chin up. 2032 is just around the corner.
Wow - I'm so sorry. I talked about this a bit in my piece, Forgiveness and Forgetfulness. I know we should always answer with love, and we must forgive if only for our own survival but.... sometimes to forget is to allow oneself to become the victim, and I don't believe we owe anyone, family or other, that. We needn't go down with the ship. You can detach, with love. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own survival. Peace and blessings to you. A good, thought-provoking piece you've written here, thank you.
I told you not to give one of those vintage recipe cards as a Christmas present!
If your sister is someone who shoots cute babies out her vagina, I'd say you got a chance at reconciliation. If not, you're probably as fucked as you note.

Don't underestimate the power of a cute kid to solve problems. Grandmas yearn to be grandmas, and so on. If you could arrange for her to have a little of kittens, then I'd say a reunion is a certainty, but I'm no endorsing freaky genetic experiments...you might hurt the kitties, and I can't have that on my conscious.
conscience...something like that. whatever.
During their lives, my late mother-in-law and her sister didn't speak for 25 years, reached a temporary detente for a couple years, then didn't speak for the rest of their lives. Now that they're gone, their kids (all daughters) are trying to reaquaint themselves across the mothers' schism. I'm sorry you're going through this.
I fully understand and empathize. My audible break came 12 years ago, but there were no lawyers or governments involved; that sounds truly heinous. I am sorry for your pain.
I would probably murder my sister if I thought I could get away with it.
I know what you mean, surly. My brother and only sibling have become estranged over the last several years. He moved upstate, about 5 1/2 hours from me in NJ, and by choice, has no car, so he never visits. My husband and I have visited him a few times at his house. Since my mother became ill with Alzheimers, I hardly ever see him or hear from him. Sad, but true. It happens. Rated.

My experience is that something minor can pretty much do in a family relationship if people are scattered across the country. In which case it tends to be non traumatic. But after enough years and miles it is just as isolating.

I just went through something minor -- and came to the realization that a close relative is living in a different world. And this my sensibilities are just as bizarre to him as vice versa.

A wakeup call.

Still, you should do whatever the fuck you want. And not limit yourself based on any matter of principle. Life tends to be more fluid than anyone expects.

One door shuts, another opens. Etc.

Just random thoughts. You obviously know your situation, your mind, etc. And seem to have more than enough insight to figure things out without input from me.
I wish that I could offer up something more than just "sorry, that sucks". Well, I'll offer up all the good thoughts and prayers I can for you, Surly.

And proceed one day at a time. After all, that's all we get, isn't it?
I'm part of that "Other People Club" too. Sometimes it's just called survival. We've got to do what we need to in order to keep our sanity. Just because we share genes doesn't mean we have to take their crap.
Pithy as it may sound, never say never. A similar situation occurred between me and a younger sister. Strangely, it was my wife's death that brought us back on speaking terms.
Relatives are random people who are supposed to get along. When it happens, great, but it's a matter of chance.
Tragic! I reunited with one of my sisters recently, after years of not even speaking with each other. Is it great? No. Is anything different? Yes. We've both matured to the point that we respect each others differences rather than calling them out.

I'd like to say that I extended the olive branch on my own volition. That would be untrue. I did so after listening to a friend tell his story, a number of times, about the brother he lost in Vietnam and how he misses him everyday, so many years later. He concludes his story each time by expressing the bewilderment of how siblings can carry such animosity toward one another, that they stop being siblings altogether.

I agree. Family and friends are all we have and that matter most. I believe that today.
My mother and her sister were estranged for many years. They did speak before my Aunt's death in March 2010, but evidently, my mother did something my Aunt found hard to forgive, although it was a situation of "if you don't know what you did, I'm not going to tell you, so there!" My Aunt was mentally unstable for most of her adult life, and her five children paid a steep price for that. My mother, uncle and grandmother all worried and wondered about staging an intervention, but wondered if anything they did would do any good legally, as my Aunt could be very lucid when necessary.

Family breakups happen, and I'm sorry this rift has opened between you and your sister.


I am so sorry to hear that, and that you're hurting. I know how challenging these circumstances can be.

Chin up, Surly, and keep moving forward.
I think we all have pins holding us together where we would break if left alone. But forever is a long time....
surly, I'm glad I came across this, if only because I think of you sometimes in passing so it's good to know you're okay. and probably still slim and terrorizing the neighborhood on your bike.

but it's sad to read you're suffering a loss. losing love is a big loss. and family have a way of getting under our skins permanently.

I guess too many of us have family members, close family we grew up with that are enemies, or on a list of people we hope 1) we'll never see again, or 2) will get some professional help so we can see them again. I'm big on therapy, especially for loved ones. I have a brother, a meth addict I haven't seen in close to thirty years. he threatened my life, he terrorized and harassed my kids, my son's mother in law too. but still...I hope maybe some day, maybe when we're old, we might see each other and put it all aside. maybe his brain will have healed a little. maybe I won't care.

any chance you and your sister might...oh I don't know...find a therapist and push some shit around in the future? now isn't good. whatever it is is too fresh and hot, and there's too much bad blood. but maybe in a couple of years when you're both missing each other, just a little.

it sucks to lose someone when they're still around, breathing and living and somewhere in them, being the person you have loved. I think to myself, where there's life, there's always hope. I hope you guys find each other again.
There's way too much pressure on families to stay together anyway. It's illogical to assume 3 or 4 or 5 people will love and stay in touch with each other unconditionally just because they share the same genes. Good riddance, I say!