“Whenever someone makes out a guest list, the people not on it become officially uninvited, and that makes them the enemies of the invited. Guest lists are just a way of choosing sides. “
— E.L. Konigsburg
I can’t imagine a more relevant quote when we start thinking about the impact estrangement has on families around such things as special family events; weddings, births, funerals, birthdays, Christmas and the like. I have many posts on this blog about making it through such occasions, coping with grief and loss, and struggling with issues of acceptance of self and others. That’s not so much what I want to write about today.
There’s a post I wrote a long while back, Families Gone AWOL, that looks at the issues more broadly and is worth revisiting. People often compare estrangement to a death in the family. In my post I go to some lengths to explain why this analogy often does not fit. Dead people don’t get married, they don’t graduate, they don’t have babies. Dead people don’t have birthdays, they don’t gather for holidays and they generally don’t die again. Estranged family members do all of these things … and even if we are well and truly estranged, many of us still have a variety of ways of finding out that these things are happening and that we are not a part of them.
The follow along is we will also have these events occurring in our lives and we too will be busy with inviting or conversely not inviting. Sometimes we can feel quite alright with that. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we can vacillate between the two positions. I wrote a very personal blog post about how this works for me in my family called, Choose Joy. It was about my daughter’s high school graduation last year, and how difficult it can be to live with the realities of estrangement. Not only difficult for ourselves, but often difficult for entire family “factions”- those who are “in”and those who are “out”.
Many of us will struggle with making decisions about whether we should turn up for family events that we are clearly not invited to participate in; funerals are a great example of this. We may feel our own grief and our own need for goodbyes and closure, trump any current family disconnections or upsets. Many of us will also struggle to manage our own special occasions; do we notify estranged family members? Do we put differences aside to invite people who we are estranged from? Is that the “higher road”, the more noble, evolved choice?
We may struggle to reconcile the inevitable tensions estrangement brings. What does it mean if we are estranged from one person, like a sibling for instance, but we do not wish to be estranged from our sibling’s children? Can we choose not to be in relationship with one person, yet want to be in relationship with other people who maintain relationships with that person?
We may have heard that one of the most common times that reconciliation happens is during one of these family events. What we may not have heard is these events also can reinforce estrangement and make a nightmare out of events that should not be nightmares; weddings and births spring to mind.
Like estrangement, death brings grief and loss. Unlike death, estrangement brings with it complexity, possibility, and highly charged emotional conundrums. I’ll endeavour to write some follow along posts to this one, which might unpack some of these incredibly difficult choices.