August 26, 2017

It's Never a Good Day to Be Estranged.

Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go according to any rules. They're not like aches or wounds, they're more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

They say there's a time and place for everything. Even the bible has that whole section about a time and purpose for every thing under heaven. But there's never a good time to be estranged.

Not when you're 22 and getting ready to graduate from college. Not when you're 28 and feeling generally lost and disconnected. And especially not when you're 33, getting married to the love of your life.

As a kid, I remember hearing stories on the news about someone being shot by his strange wife and I used to wonder what exactly they were basing that on. I wondered if I knew any strange folks, and were they capable of killing someone they used to love. I later learned that what I heard said as 'strange' was actually the word 'estranged.' But at the time, I had no idea what that meant or that I'd one day live it.

Defined as being no longer close or affectionate to someone; alienated, estrangement is one of those things nobody wants to talk about.

Even researching this piece was tough because the stats about estrangement are relatively few. One article suggested that the current stats are probably wrong anyway because so many people are estranged but don't talk about it.

Even if this doesn't affect you personally, I'll bet you can think of at least one friend who has a family member they don't see or speak to, or who doesn't speak to them. That is, if your friend is willing to share this.

I've never shared anything quite this personal on the blog, but over omelets and mimosas awhile back, my husband told me I needed to quit playing it so safe. So here goes.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, "wow, this is a great day to be estranged from my family."

Sometimes it happens all at once, because of a big fight or problem. Other times it's more like the end result of a recipe...the ingredients were there and the conditions were right.

As an aside, please don't get your hopes up and think I have any answers about how to fix these family heartbreaks. I have none. But it's not always about having the answers. Sometimes it's just about not feeling quite so alone.

Here's what I know...

If you have family that you don't associate with or speak to, you're not alone. This issue affects all different kinds of families: rich, poor, from all sorts of cultural backgrounds and education levels from all walks of life. What these families do have in common is that they once declared their affection for each other. And now there's a great divide.

Sometimes these fissures happen over division of stuff and property when one generation passes away. Other times it's about lifestyle choices, including marriages or divorces, too much drinking or drugs. Or maybe it has to do with hurt feelings, hard feelings that built over time, like layers in a pastry...smooshing together until they can't be peeled apart anymore.

These kinds of things have a way of taking on a new life of their own and eventually planting themselves firmly in your path.

You learn to work around the issue, to live with that giant elephant in the room. Sometimes its presence affects you more than others. Sometimes you feel almost normal.

Other times it hits you smack dab in the middle of the face (or really in the heart) and leaves you feeling like the wind has been knocked out of you.

Certain days are harder than others. Holidays. Anniversaries of particular events or occasions. Sometimes you just want to skip these altogether.

And then there are those people in your life who don't understand, who won't ever understand exactly how you feel. Maybe they blame you or think you're ridiculous because you can't just get over it or work it out. Maybe they lost someone dear to them and think you're squandering a precious gift they wish they still had. Sometimes these people are even harder to deal with than the ones you're estranged from.

In a perfect world, all families would gather. Every person would feel seen and known. There'd be no awkwardness or stuffing down your feelings. It would be a free, safe place to speak from your heart, knowing you would be heard by people who'd love you no matter what.

But of course we know this is not a perfect world.

As easy or tempting as it might be to point blame, these types of situations are just too complicated for that. Everybody plays a part and we all contribute something in some way. It'd be much easier if all the heroes wore capes and the bad guys donned eye patches, but it ain't the case.

Something to remember: If you're estranged from your family, or they are estranged from you, you don't have to feel ashamed about it. And you never, ever have to feel guilty because someone else tries to give their opinion about your situation without understanding all the facts. Heck, even if they do understand the doesn't mean they truly know how you feel.

And it definitely doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. I'm not putting the blame squarely on the other party, just saying that it's complicated and we don't know always know why certain situations unfold the way they do.

Maybe you are doing the best you can. Sometimes that has to be enough. But on the flip side, maybe they are doing the best they can. Sometimes that has to be enough. That doesn't always make things easy.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about and can't think of one friend in this situation, then you're probably living a pretty good life.

But if this post resonates with you in any way, I hope it makes you feel like maybe there's someone else out there, living their life and being grateful for all the good stuff, while still hurting over the hard stuff too. I hope you know you aren't alone.