Grief comes in many forms, including the feelings associated with death, anticipatory grief, and self–grief. During the grieving process, we may also mourn for broken family relationships.
My brother was five years older than I. According to my mother, he was so excited to have a baby sister he asked to stay home from kindergarten when I came home from the hospital. Due to the age difference between us, we didn’t play together that much.
Though we shared the same sense of humor, our personalities were very different. I was the quieter, creative person, whereas he was the boisterous, loud person. After I graduated from college, we went our separate ways. My brother moved to Florida and I moved to Minnesota.
Our mother also lived in Florida. She moved there to be near her older sister, and then her sister died. Mom went downhill after that. When she was found wandering in a department store, I realized she needed to be closer to family. Often the female child in the family is the caregiver and that was the case with our family.
I moved my mother to an assisted living apartment in my hometown and was her caregiver for nine years. My brother and his wife visited her several times and he always said the same thing, “Mom is fine.” But he wasn’t in the caregiving trenches, and I knew our mother was far from fine. Mini strokes were destroying her mind. She wandered at night, had hallucinations, developed diabetes, and was an addictive spender. Taking away her checkbook was one of the most painful experiences of my life.
And I was totally unprepared for another painful experience. For unknown reasons, my brother cut off all contact with me and we were estranged for 10 years. Then, out of the blue, he called to tell me he had throat cancer. He asked my husband, a retired Mayo physician, to help him get an appointment at the Jacksonville clinic.
Several weeks later, my brother called again. He said cancer treatment was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life and suddenly blurted, “I love you.” I was so surprised I forgot to say, “I love you” in return. A short while later, he died of a heart attack.
I mourned his passing and all of the years we wasted.
Paula Spencer Scott writes about family conflicts in her article, “Reconciling with Siblings After a Fight Over Caregiving for a Parent,” published on the Caring website. “Some of the saddest caregiving stories concern brothers and sisters who come to loggerheads over some aspect of their parents’ or another relative’s care – and wind up saying ugly things, or not speaking, or worse,” she writes.
She offers suggestions for resolving this conflict, including agreeing to disagree. Family members need to recognize that each sibling has a different relationship with a parent, she continues. Siblings may have to get an intermediary to help. I didn’t have a chance to do any of these things.
After a loved one dies, we examine our relationship with that person. You may be doing this now and it’s painful. So I try to focus on happy memories. I think about sailing with my brother on Long Island sound, Christmas parties at the local fire house (our father was a volunteer fireman), and church socials.
Despite our broken relationship, I’m grateful for the time I had with my brother. Katrina Kenison makes this point in her book, The Gift of an Ordinary Day. She thinks remembering is the only way we can hold on to the things [and people] we love, and don’t want to lose. “Maybe it is a form of prayer, this list making in the name of gratitude and remembrance,” she concludes.
So we remember, and pray, and continue with our lives.
Harriet Hodgson 2011