A friend of mine had me over for dinner. What she shared with me broke my heart and was all too familiar.
She has a daughter the same age as my daughter, 35. A few years ago, her daughter became a widow.
My friend was there for her daughter in so many ways. Her grandson came to stay at her house after school and sometimes for the weekend. Times when she wasn’t available, I was nanny for her grandson, staying weekends with him as his mom traveled for work.
Now her daughter is in a new relationship. My friend hardly ever sees her grandson because she is not allowed to. Her daughter let her know she must follow their rules and respect their boundaries. If she can not, she will not be allowed to see her grandson.
My heart sank. That is how I was treated by my daughter.
Easter weekend, my friend wanted to take treats over. Her daughter said, “can’t you just mail them?” She and I were eating the cheesecake and enjoying the flowers meant for her daughter as she was telling me this story. Cheesecake and flowers in the mail?!
Another friend reached out to me sharing his sadness about his sudden estrangement from his daughter and hence grandchildren. “Sometimes it hurts so bad I don’t know if I can go on” he said. “Yes, it hurts like hell” I replied.
The comfort is that these two friends of mine and I can be there for each other. We know each other’s pain. The sadness is that estrangement is happening more and more.
I don’t understand this phenomenon. Writing my memoir is one attempt for me to understand my own estrangement from my daughter. Being cut off from family, including siblings, without a real discussion has left me feeling shunned and dismissed. I know I have a part in it. But I feel judged, that my actions are unforgivable. I made mistakes. I am not here to deny them. I have offered opportunities for my daughter to express her hurts while empathizing with them. My amends have not brought healing, that I have to accept.
I am a recovered alcoholic. However, I never imagined I would experience the stigma of alcoholism so up-close and personal. My family has talked among themselves, inaccurately diagnosed me, decided I am the problem and dismissed me, sending the message that I am incurable and unworthy.
Dr. Joshua Coleman, an expert on estrangement and author of When Parents Hurt, offered to reach out to my daughter after we had a few sessions. He did but he never heard back from her. (His newest book, Rules of Estrangement, is now available.) Dr. Coleman has gone so far as to say he feels it is becoming an epidemic.
Why has it become so easy to cut loved ones from our lives? I have a few theories of my own.
More divorces, more disruption and more parents playing their child against the other parent.
Our increasingly virtual world allows for more detachment as well as misunderstandings.
Lack of societal mores that call for respect to elders and parents.
Society as a whole is much more individualized. Individual happiness wins over caring for the good of the whole. Individuals inside the family become more concerned with their own happiness, can pick up and leave easily when faced with the discomfort of family conflicts.
People don’t want to be put out, inconvenienced or made uncomfortable.
It’s been five years since I have seen my twin grandchildren who are now seven. The first two years of their life I helped when asked and fell madly in love with them. I’m a childcare provider, I love children. I loved being a mother and loved being a grandmother. I miss my daughter and grandchildren every day.
But I carry on, writing memoir to understand, to learn, to grow, to maybe help someone else experiencing this loss that is different from the death of a loved one. I am estranged from family. That is part of my identity now, but not my only identity. I am also a friend, a photographer, a writer, a traveler, a lover of the outdoors, an animal lover, and a caretaker of children. I am lucky to have a couple of kids in my life who consider me their stand-in grandma, a role I am happy to take on.
I currently live in Missoula, MT while writing my memoir about family estrangement.