Last weekend I got to spend some time with my dad’s brother’s side of the family. I had a nice time and I got a lot of good feedback and answers both intellectually and emotionally. And it was nice to have a family event where the fireworks pictured were the only fireworks! This one’s a very long post, in fact, I think it may be longer than the actual Revolutionary War, so go get a cup of coffee, herbal tea, etc & get comfy! 🙂
As a result of this rift, I’ve been finding a huge amount of support from extended family & friends and I’m very grateful to have these folks in my life. One thing I’ve found out in the aftermath is that my dad & uncle stopped speaking to each other for over a year at one point. I remember that was about a year or so before my grandma died (I never got to know my other one as she committed suicide before I was born). That was also the time when my dad’s drinking gradually began to cross the too much partying line into the scary, terrorizing the family line. As soon as I found out about the rift, I wondered if there’d been a rift between my dad & grandma as well and if so, had his feelings about her death and not being as close to her before it as he was previously fueled the descent into the abusive behavior.
I set out with a mission to find out during this visit. Most of the time, it was a festive setting, such as the barbeque and everyone hanging out watching the fireworks. It wasn’t the time or place to bring it up. But before I got back on the road Sunday, my aunt and I had a nice heart to heart over coffee & bagels about some of the issues. It was revealing, comforting and illuminating.
The rift did include my grandmother. My uncle made a comment about my dad & money to a mutual friend. My aunt didn’t mention specifics, but I imagine the comment had to do with money managing abilities (not my strong suit either). It got back to my dad and he was angry. My mother was even angrier and severely limited the contact my dad could have with his mom. My mom didn’t want him seeing his brother while visiting his mom. For some reason, my dad accepted this instead of asserting a healthy boundary about seeing his mom more frequently.
During this time, my grandma was diagnosed with lung cancer. My aunt had 2 small kids at the time and was doing all of the taking her to appointments. When she called my mom to ask her & my dad for help, my mom told her they were “too busy”. As my grandma’s condition worsened, one of her last wishes was to see her sons reconcile. My aunt called my mom & explained how bad the situation was and how my grandma wanted her sons to reconcile. They did and my grandma died a short while after. That’s when the violence (for the most part against my mom) became a consistent issue. Not that there’s ever an excuse to use violence in a relationship as anything other than self defense from a physical attack. But I think this really illustrates the importance of setting healthy boundaries rather than letting people steam roll over you and letting resentment build. That resentment’s going to go somewhere eventually. Fortunately, I don’t get physical with people, but I do have my own anger management issues and I’m working on setting my boundaries and effectively lessening/preventing resentment. If my dad had asserted himself with my mother, he would have been able to spend more time with my grandma before she died. While he may have felt guilt or shame, as well as the to be expected grief, it wouldn’t have been as intense as it was. And he probably would have been able to handle it better.
Another thing that came up is that my aunt asked about my mother’s upbringing. Certain aspects of my mother’s behavior always felt kind of cold or cruel to my aunt. And she’d wondered about what her family life was like. My aunt comes from a family with a strong emphasis on sibling relationships. Her father was a Marine and the “never leave a man behind” motto applied to siblings too. My mom often had rifts with her Family of Origin. My grandfather and both her sisters for example. Her last words to her mother were after a fight when she told her to “drop dead”. She took an overdose of sleeping pills later that night and was dead by morning.
I think my maternal grandmother may have been bipolar. People describe her vacillating between the extremes of being unable to get out of bed and energetically cleaning, shopping, etc. like a whirlwind. My maternal grandfather was a medic in WWII. France was one of the places he was sent. He wasn’t at the D Day landing, but he wasn’t that far behind the landing and he saw a lot of things people shouldn’t have to see. I think he may have had PTSD. Also, I think both of my maternal grandparents (both alcoholics) tried to self-medicate as these conditions weren’t well understood or treated back in the 40s or 50s or 60s. My grandfather eventually got sober through AA. Both my mom & one of her sisters became alcoholics, but both got sober through AA and met husbands there. That side of the family likes to joke the single women should go to AA even if we’re not alcoholics so we can meet somebody. My brother met my SIL through AA as well.
I told my aunt the basics about the PTSD, the Bipolar and the fact of the suicide but not the details. My aunt said that she now understood my mom a lot better and why she did/said some of the things she did. She was still a bit hurt/angry by some of them, but they made a lot more sense. It was almost as if we were doing a puzzle together and we each had pieces the other was missing. I also mentioned that my mother’s words & behaviors towards me may possibly indicate Narcisstic Personality Disorder (it’s consistent with emotional/psychic injuries she suffered as a child and the scapegoat/Golden Child divide often found in the relationships between Narcissistic Mothers & their children).
One thing that really touched me is she invited me to consider my cousins like siblings and my aunt and uncle like parents. I didn’t really get to know them that well growing up because of the rifts, the divorce, etc. But I’m doing so as an adult and I feel we are getting closer.
That’s what makes me feel sorry for my mother and brother and SIL. There’s all of this great community in our extended family that they could reach out to for help in healing their wounds. Instead, they choose to disregard boundaries and refuse to communicate in an honest, open way. I think my mom believes love, compassion, sympathy and understanding are finite. There’s only so much love, compassion, sympathy and understanding to go around in her view. If someone else gets some, it’s at her expense. When really, love, compassion, sympathy and understanding can be infitinte and shared with all who need it. And we all do at one time or another. The great thing is those qualities are like the old Doritos commercial, which went something like go ahead, we’ll make more!
And those things are made possible by community. I’ve gone to a couple of AlAnon meetings (for the families of alcoholics). I’m finding some things I like there, but some things that I’m not quite comfortable with, such as all the sloganeering, ending prayer and the whole higher power thing. For the sloganeering & ending prayer, I figure I’ll go to some more meetings and see if the good outweighs that discomfort. For the higher power, I think that, for me, it’s community. Knowing that you’re part of something bigger than yourself and that you can both nuture it and be nutured by it.
Getting back to the rifts, the therapist I’ve been seeing for this recommended John Bradshaw’s book on Family Secrets. Here’s the Amazon link with the title, etc.
One exercise instructs you to do a genogram for your family and note when there are rifts/cutoffs. You’re supposed to include things like marriages, births, deaths and illnesses. As well as rifts & cutoffs. I found it interesting that both my brother and my father are the youngest of 2 children. Both had cutoffs/rifts with their siblings. In both cases, communication in resolving the rift and reconciling it has been hampered. We know about my mom’s involvement with my dad & uncle’s rift. And given that my brother doesn’t usually use words like “process” or “engage”, etc. I think it’s very likely my SIL is playing a role in our rift. That wording is very consistent with the way she speaks & her vocabulary. Another parallel is both my mom & my SIL have had falling outs with their own siblings. SIL’s bro didn’t even come to bro & SIL’s wedding and they were communicating good wishes via voice mail messages because they are having issues communicating. It’s possible that both my mom & SIL were/are so pained and wrapped up in their family situation that they may have been/may be subconsciously sabotaging their spouse’s sibling relationships. And it’s really sad if that’s the case because the siblings they are trying to drive away or drove away are willing to be part of the family community and help with the healing. Instead we are pushed away and there are more wounds and more scars to contend with.
But, sometimes surgery is the only way to heal a wound. This cutoff may be like surgery. I found a book called Healing Family Rifts. It’s not so much about how to reconcile as about how to cope with the sadness, etc. a rfit can cause. The author is a psychologist who had his own rift with his father. The book also discusses if/when reconciliation is appropriate & how to set healthy boundaries if it is. I’ve ordered it & I’m looking forward to reading it. Here is the info:
I think it’s very fitting and symbolic that all of this insight, work & thought happened so close to Independence Day. Setting healthy boundaries is a form of indepence. Yet in our independence, we are still dependent on others. The US received a great deal of help from the French in establishing this union. Our founding parents included both autonomy and unity in our government, recognizing powers of both the state and federal government (yeah, I know that’s The Constitution, which comes a bit later). None of the 13 states could have done it alone, they had to band together in community and the citizens had to trust one another as they fought for Independence. I’m adopting 2 mottos related to the founding of this country, “Don’t Tread on Me” (autonomy & healthy boundaries) & “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” (community & trust).
Well thanks for reading this. And if you’ve read all the way through, chances are you’re probably one of the members of my community. I’m truly blessed to have you as part of my community and I thank you for being part of it!