Tuesday, June 8, 2010

History Repeating Itself

Branches broken off a tree in Wythenshawe Park...Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday when I wrote about emotional cutoff and my three siblings. What I didn't mention in that post was my family's history of emotional cutoff, which truly deserves this post of its own. It's quite amazing what I have pieced together on just my mother's side of the family alone. Since the participants are all deceased, it seems like the most appropriate side of my family tree to explore...

I should start with the comment that impressed upon me that getting along with my siblings should be important to me. The comment came from my beloved Grandma Ann. She offered it to teenage Selena as a piece of advise, a pearl of wisdom, with what I believe was the intention of helping me navigate the waters of adulthood. She said to me, "You should try and get along with your brother and sisters, because in the end, they are all you will be left with."

What motivated her to say this to me?

My grandma grew up with many siblings in Minnesota. I am not sure of the exact number and the genealogy that provides this information is currently hopelessly lost under a pile of papers. (Note to self: get help cleaning up the house.) The number aside, what I remember from my childhood is snippets about how there was a lot of conflict among those siblings that resulted in cutoffs. In fact, some of my grandma's siblings when so far as to make sure the siblings they no longer had contact with received copies of their wills after they died that stated they were being deliberately written out.

Then there was my Grandpa Herbert's side of the family, Grandma Ann's husband. I knew my Great Aunt Myrtle, my Grandpa's sister. What I didn't know until I was a young adult was that I had a great uncle too. His name was Edward and he died at age 50 in 1951. No one talked about him when I was growing up. My mother mentioned him once, saying that he was cutoff from his siblings and that his surviving wife and children moved to Northern California.

Most of all, perhaps my grandma could see the beginnings of the rifts between us grandkids before her death in 1981. It's no secret in our family that there were two camps: my mother's versus mine. My siblings frequently changed sides between the two, manipulated by my mother. My dad avoided the conflict by retreating to the backyard garden. I could tell my grandma was frustrated with her only child's parenting style and seemed almost helpless to do anything about it. What my mother was doing was tearing us siblings apart; what my grandma hoped was that we could find a way to stick together.

I have learned that overcoming multi-generational family patterns of behavior is impossible for me to do on my own.

It's funny how, as I put this in writing, I suddenly feel absolved of my perceived failure to overcome this. I really wanted to put my grandma's advice into action, but I know as an adult that the task was not one I could accomplish without the cooperation of my siblings. I still believe her advice is the truth. Our siblings are the last remnants of family we have after our parents and grandparents are gone. Our siblings move through our entire past, present and future in a way that no one else can or will. Which makes losing them along the way to something like emotional cutoff seem so fundamentally wrong.

While I understand the wisdom and the motivation behind my grandma's advice, it was never something I could achieve on my own. I recognize now that it's not a failure on my part if my siblings choose to avoid their unresolved family issues by cutting off contact with me. As long as I continue to work on my own issues and remain open to my siblings should they change their minds, I can take comfort that I have done all I can do to prevent history from going down the same path one more time.
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