A Reader’s Response

  • July 6, 2021
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Phil W. reconciled with only sister after decades of estrangement. Here, he identifies the reason he distanced himself from his family.

Reading Brother, Sisters, Strangers has caused me to think about my decades-long estrangement from and reconciliation with my younger sister.

Often, there isn’t one dramatic cause of a ruptured relationship. In my case, estrangement was the result of a long-ago event that shattered our family and left all of us broken — my father’s death. I was only 15, and I didn’t know how to grieve such a devastating loss. It was difficult for me to be around the remaining members of our family. Instead of turning towards them for support, I turned away and resented them for what I had lost. That was the hidden reason that I distanced myself from my family for decades, and I carry guilt and shame for those choices. I’ve learned to forgive myself, though it hasn’t been easy.

I never talked with anyone about not having a relationship with my sister.  Estrangement is a widespread but unacknowledged social phenomenon, and that makes things worse for those who don’t know how to change the relationship or to reconcile. Whenever I saw brothers and sisters happy around each other, I felt as if a knife had been stuck in my side. I suffered in silence for decades.

Finally, after years of estrangement, a life-changing decision was the catalyst for calling my sister. On the phone, I asked if we could see each other and talk. At that time, I needed consolation, affirmation, and love that only a sibling can provide. I was fortunate that she was forgiving and understanding. Now, I have achieved a peace that eluded me for most of my adult life.

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