Hi Everyone! I’m back! Did you miss me? Did you even realize I was gone? After I completed the Try New Things challenge in March, I decided to take a little break in April to reconnect with myself and decide whether I wanted to continue with this blog.
I wish I could say that I spent the whole month in deep introspection, focused intently on this decision, but I really didn’t think about answering the question until the last week of the month. In that one week, it became very clear that I wanted to continue, I wanted to write more, explore more and connect more so here I am.
Today I want to share some thoughts about one big thing that happened during my month long blogging break. My grandfather died.
He had been sick for a while and in March his health just got worse and worse. This was the closest family member death for me, so it was a whole new experience. What also made it interesting was that this was my father’s father and up until two years ago, my father was not actively in my life.
I debated on whether to share this much here, but it could be helpful for someone so here goes something. My father was not in my life for most of my 30 years of existence. When I was a baby, he struggled with addiction and my mother had the good sense to physically separate from him for our well being. Once he got sober, I saw him a few times here and there, but a relationship never formed. During my childhood/teenage years, I experienced many emotions/feelings about his absence: anger, numbness, rejection, confusion.
I saw more of his parents throughout my childhood. I would spend a weekend here or there at their house. They would send holiday presents. As I became an adult, I often let my feelings about my father’s absence shadow over my relationship with his parents. It just felt weird to be close to them without remembering how we were connected – my father – and having that big pink elephant hanging out in the corner every time we talked.
A couple of years ago, I was invited to a banquet celebrating my paternal grandfather’s retirement from his decades long service as a Christian minister. It had been about 7 years since I’d seen my father, a few less years since I’d spent time with my grandparents and a year or so since I started of a period of talk therapy and healing work.
Knowing that I would see my father at this banquet, and having done this previous work in myself, I felt the need to say something to him. After some deep thought and bouts of terror at the idea of confronting him verbally, I decided to write a letter.
In that letter I bared my heart and shared all of the feelings I had about him not being in my life and not putting in the effort that I thought I was worth. I wrote a few drafts, sealed it and off we went. I gave him the letter very shortly after saying hello just to get it over with. I was so nervous before and after giving him the letter that I couldn’t even eat during the banquet.
A week or two after I got home, I got my father’s reply to my letter. I read his answers to my questions and I cried like a baby. But it was all worth it, nervous tummy and all.
Although we are still getting to know each other (and there are still moments of doubt, awkwardness and trial and error), I am happy to say that I am building a relationship with my father for the first time in 30 years. And watching him deal with the death of his father has brought me further knowledge, understanding and healing.
I don’t just share this to pat myself on the back. Being estranged from a family member is more common than I wish it was. Maybe you had someone in mind from your life when you read my story and are dealing with fear (and a whole bunch of other murky emotions) in regards to reconciling with them and/or healing.
I can share a few things from my limited perspective of experience that helped me get through this so far:
• Decide if you want to reconcile or not. For a long time I didn’t want to. If you decide that you don’t want to reconcile, take note of whether you still carry feelings about being estranged from this person. If so, you can still take steps to work on healing that do not involve the other person at all.
• Focus on your part, not the outcome. If I had focused on what my father’s response would be, I would not have written or given him my letter. I found that the only way I could move forward was to make the end result giving him the letter. You have no control over someone’s response to your truth. I’d also heard lots of stories about people reaching out to their family member and being rejected so I just focused on the letter and nothing else.
• Allow the feelings that come. I tried my best to let myself feel whatever feelings came up during the whole process. I cried when I felt like it. When I got nervous before and after giving the letter, I just let myself. It also might help to have practices in place to turn to when the feelings come: journaling, deep breathing, exercise, meditation, petting a cat, etc.
• Get help for dealing with your feelings. There is no shame in being supported. Situations like these can bring with them lots of scary feelings and it helps to have someone there to share them with. That person can be a friend, a therapist, a spouse or anyone willing to listen without judgement.
• Don’t expect too much after you’ve reconciled. It takes time to grow a relationship, even if this person is someone from your past. Don’t give up if things are weird or difficult in the beginning. Just take it slow.
• And finally, don’t consider yourself a failure if the other person chooses not to reconcile with you. Remember, you are only responsible for your actions and it’s best for your peace of mind and wellbeing to consider yourself a success for trying.
With that said, a synchronistic surprise happened the night after my grandfather’s funeral. My grandfather was a voracious reader and although I wasn’t very close to him, in that way we were a lot alike. As I was browsing through one of his bookshelves (there are walls of them!), a title caught my eye: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Dr. Susan Jeffers! Remember that book?
If you read my About page, you’ll remember that I originally found this book on the shelf at my grandparent’s house and here it was years later and months after I started Hug Your Fear (which was very much inspired by Dr. Jeffers’ book).
I took the book off the shelf, opened it up and was comforted to see my grandfather’s underlines and notes. I just felt so happy and grateful as I reflected on how I got to this place where I could feel happy and grateful in terms of my father and his side of the family. And it was just freakishly cool to see this book here given that I never mentioned it to my grandfather before he died and seeing his notes means I get to read the book with him.
So, if you’re seeking to reconcile with someone from your past and you’re willing to hug your fear and move through whatever comes up, I encourage you to do it. You can do it. One step at a time and with support as needed.
As Dr. Jeffers says, “At the bottom of every one of your fears is simply the fear that you can’t handle whatever life may bring to you.” So when in doubt about reconciling with someone or moving through any fear you have, just repeat this handy Dr. Jeffers mantra to yourself:
If you liked this post, you might also like:
Can You Be Grateful for Fear? Here are 7 Reasons I Am.
5 Ways to Make Your Fear Worse & How to Turn it Around