“Your father is dead. His remains were cremated. I have handled everything.”The words hurt, opened up old wounds, caused me to doubt myself, and left me to grieve not only the death of my father, but another broken family relationship.
Sadly, I am not alone in the pain of living in a broken, estranged family. Statistics state 40% of all people are estranged from at least one family member. Disinherited.com defines estrangement this way, “Family estrangement occurs when certain family members come to an impasse in their relationship. The causes of the estrangement, whatever they may be, are so strong, certain family members separate for a long period of time—possibly even for the rest of their lives.”
They list the most common reasons for broken relationships within families as: intolerance, divorce, remarriage, unresolved conflicts, mental illness, addictions, recurring arguments, finance, politics, religion, lifestyle, and personality clashes.
In conversations with broken families, separation from loved family members is common to many discussions. One woman tearfully shared painful details of an argument with her only son’s fiancée. She was not invited to the wedding and has never met her grandchildren. Despite repeated attempts to reconcile, she has had no contact with her son for nine years. Another woman described warring family members choosing sides in an argument causing a family divide of over three decades. One man in his late fifties described his painful experience with his estranged siblings who had gone their separate ways after an argument over their dead mother’s estate. Life was especially hard for him sitting at an empty table where his siblings and their families could have been. One man told me he hadn’t spoken to his brother for thirty years. When I asked him what the argument was about, he said, “I can’t remember now, but it was really bad and it was his fault.”
Everyday life can be tough for people who experience broken relationships within their homes. Important life events like holidays, graduations, and weddings have a cruel way of bringing past pain to the surface and freshening old wounds. Times when most people are rejoicing and sharing love, many families face the harsh realities of damage left by bitterness, hatred, selfishness and pride. These disconnections tethered to painful situations from years gone by perpetuate brokenness in families.
I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had to reconnect with my estranged father after a fourteen-year rift. Had I not seized that brief time of reconciliation, the phone call about his death would have been devastating. Instead I can rest in the peace of knowing I did everything I could to mend that broken relationship.
How about you? Are there broken relationships in your family that are preventing restoration? No matter what ugly disconnections exist in your family relationships, the holidays may be a perfect opportunity for you to make some long overdue repairs.
Take Five Action Steps
Staying connected to friends and family is an important choice that can impact generations to come. Think about these ideas for reconnecting your relationships in the New Year.
1. Take responsibility for your actions. If you know you have hurt someone, go to them quickly and admit what you have done to hurt them. Acknowledge their pain and apologize to them sincerely. Take additional steps to restore the relationship.
2. If someone has hurt you, speak honestly about how their behavior affected you. Make the hurt clear without confusing the issue with other past hurts and offenses. You cannot change another person’s behavior towards you. You can be honest and protect yourself from further hurtful words and actions.
3. As far as you are able, live at peace. It isn’t always possible to live at peace with others. Some people refuse to make amends in broken relationships. Do what you can – set clear boundaries, make positive choices in interactions, and try to put their needs ahead of your own.
4. Forgive others. If someone has hurt you, forgive them. It doesn’t mean forgetting the offense or minimizing how they have wounded you, but rather acknowledging the behavior that hurt, making them aware of it and letting it go. Allowing bitterness and resentment to pile up will only lead to more disconnection.
5. Think about the lasting effects of your broken relationships. Who does it impact, how might this broken relationship hurt others now and in the future. Looking forward to examine the legacy of disconnection from a future perspective may help us count the cost of perpetuating brokenness.