All sorrows can be borne if you . . . tell a story about them.
Sharing stories of sorrow may not seem like the place to begin healing from estrangement. However, author Barbara LeBey believes that stories are important to healing. LeBey wrote the book Family Estrangements when she discovered, after going through an estrangement from her son, that almost nothing existed on this topic. Her book shares tips on how to cope with estrangement. First and foremost, however, she shares stories. "Each of us can make a difference by simply sharing our own stories with real people in real times and places" LeBey says.
I agree. Here's my story. I lost my daughter for the first time (to adoption) on the day she was born. Flash forward 29 years to the day that we were reunited. We fell into each other's arms, both of us weeping with joy and the honeymoon phase of our reunion had begun. Only later did we consider what the reunion meant for our already existing lives. During this phase, my daughter phoned and wrote less frequently. We weren't estranged yet, but the warning signs were there. However, I ignored them, because I was so afraid of losing her again.
Flash forward nine years to April, 2010. Early on Easter morning, my daughter's husband died of a heart attack. He was only 42 years old and his death was a huge shock for everyone. By then, I'd met her other mother and father and recently been in touch with my high school sweetheart - her biological father - and everyone agreed that I should come to the funeral and spend time with my daughter. In retrospect, I can see that it was a mistake. Seeing her biological parents - my ex and I - together for the first time just after her husband died was overwhelming and everyone's feelings were raw; it was a recipe for estrangement. My daughter and I muddled along for several months and, at first, the two of us seemed to be closer than before. Or at least it seemed that way to me. Eventually, I returned home - 2,000 miles away from where my daughter lived - and we stayed in touch by phone and email. (Lily, photo by Alison Curtis, flickr)
Disaster struck on my daughter's birthday. I phoned her, as I always do, and we had been talking for quite a while when she blurted out, "bad accident," and I realized that she was driving while talking on her cell. She also told me that it was raining hard and she was in heavy traffic on I-94 (a major freeway in Michigan with average speeds of 75 mph.) I asked her if I could call her later because I didn't feel comfortable talking to her while she was driving. She agreed, but - I realize now - she was angry because she thought I was telling her what to do. That's not how I meant things to come out. I wasn't criticizing her driving skills; I was simply worried about her safety
It took me a week of unreturned calls to realize that something was wrong. Then I received a curt email informing me that she'd call me "when I'm ready to." Almost two years later, she still isn't ready. I've struggled with our separation ever since and it has caused me a great deal of distress. One of the things that keeps coming into my mind are some of the last words she said to me, after a trying day not long before I left. "You're my mother," she said, "don't worry, you won't lose me again." I have no idea if she remembers those words. I can only hope. Meanwhile, I've written her a number of times, including on her birthday; all of my cards and letters have disappeared into the black hole of silence.
Below is another story of estrangement.
Do you have a story to share? I'd love to hear it.