Monday, May 30, 2022

In Grief: A Priceless Gift Goes Unacknowledged

Often you think when you're rejected that you are not good enough, But the truth is they weren't ready for all you have to offer.  ~ Melchor Lim

A reader writes: My friend who died of cancer 14 months ago had been estranged from his family of origin the last year of his life. About 6 weeks before he died, they reached out to him, in the hope of reconciliation. Plans were made for a face-to-face meeting on neutral turf. Unfortunately, my friend began to physically deteriorate, and neither the meeting or the reconciliation took place.
His family did attend his funeral, though. 

Around the one-year death anniversary, I connected to my friend’s brother on social media to offer condolences for his loss. His response was warm, grateful, and effusive. After asking how, and for how long I had known my friend (we were professional colleagues for 25 years, personal friends for 8), he asked me to share a memory of him, which I did, including some inspiring words he had written down after he got diagnosed. This was received with warmth and appreciation, though his brother did acknowledge that reading it had been very emotional.  He went on to tell me of the estrangement, and the family’s lingering sorrow and pain over their failure to reconcile before the death. The message appeared to open a clear portal for future communication, as he offered to go into more depth on the subject. So I sent another reply, mostly about my friend’s professional recognition and honors. I ended it saying that he had told me of the efforts to reconnect, and had been committed to the goal of reconciliation. I thought this would comfort the family, but evidently it did not, because the communication abruptly ceased.  

I feel terrible, and now realize I must have hit them too hard emotionally. After no interaction with their brother and son for over 2 years, suddenly a disembodied stranger shows up and starts telling them stuff. I wish I had kept my communiques on the lighter side, although this was actually nearly impossible. My friend and I had a mostly electronic relationship, and it was intense, deep chat, knowing we did not have much time left. 

 I have yet to see this exact situation on the blogosphere, but lots of posts about how people who are grieving sometimes drop their connections abruptly. I am very sad about this, because I never intended to offend them, and because it was so healing for me to be able to share about him, and now that’s over.  

My response: My dear, I'm so sorry this is happening to you. Clearly your intentions were honorable and even generous. But it sounds as if you unintentionally opened a portal to a rather dysfunctional family ~ or at least a family with significant difficulties in having open, honest communication among themselves. 

It also sounds as if you may have stirred up some feelings of guilt for their failing to reconnect with your friend before he died, especially when they learn from you what a good and decent person he really was. None of this is your fault, and of course you never intended to offend anyone. 

As healing as this was for you to be able to share about your friend with his family through his brother, it appears that your safest approach now is to leave the ball in their court. If there is to be any further contact, I suggest that you let this brother be the one to initiate it. In the meantime, take satisfaction in knowing that you offered this family something no one else could give: a way to see their brother and son in a whole new light, from someone who knew him well. That is a priceless gift, and you've every right to be proud of your having given it to them ~ no matter how they have chosen to receive it.  ❤️

Afterword: I never imagined I would be writing the sequel. Three days ago I received a message my friend's brother, apologizing for checking out so abruptly two years ago. Said he appreciated the contact, but was overwhelmed and backed away, and is now readier to engage. I don't think it will be easy, as some minefields have already reared their heads, but he clearly understood that we have the ability to help each other grieve. It was nice getting confirmation that I did not do or say anything wrong in my messaging two years ago—as the saying goes, it wasn't me, it was him.

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Image by yuyun fan from Pixabay
© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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