Everyone has someone they have excised from their life – a brother, sister, mother, father or maybe just a childhood friend. I honestly believed I did not need or want Zanne in my current life. I justified this stance to myself with my boat-load of all the bruised ego and harsh words we had spent.
We lost our big brother to a murderer on Christmas Eve,1985. Our father succumbed three years later. The doctors said it was cancer but I knew it was from a broken heart. During the five years my sister and I had not spoken, my mother died.
Our mother’s health deteriorated through the years and to find comfort from the cold she moved from New Hampshire to Arizona, near my sister. There was frequent tension between the three of us. I finally felt triangulated and cut all ties. Occasionally I would write to my mother, updating her on the antics of her teen-aged granddaughters but my visits stopped and the daily phone calls were silenced.
In November of 2009 I received an email with the simple word “mom” in the subject line. My sister, Zanne, wrote that our mother had fallen and had spent a week in the hospital. She was in hospice care.
This signaled the end of her long decline into dementia and eventual death. I flew out immediately to see her. It was the last time I would see her alive. My sister and I did not meet while I was there. All communication was done through a lawyer. We emailed sporadically, information about the obituary and funeral arrangements as well as the small details that could be dealt with from a distance. We had dealt with death often enough to have the routine down.
Zanne came home to vacation every summer at the cottage. No amount of coaxing from friends or family could break down the walls we had erected. She was adamant that we not meet and I refused to entertain the thought of digging into all the past pain. I believe neither of us knew where or how to start over.
Fast forward to late July of 2012. I received an email saying she was at the cottage in NH and could we get together to talk. I was in the middle of packing for a week of vacation, followed by a business trip and then a visit from my youngest daughter. It seemed we had one window of opportunity before she left for Arizona – a Sunday afternoon – so we agreed to meet for coffee in Peterborough, NH, a neutral town between us.
She looked well, though painfully thin. I steeled myself, not wanting to feel anything, telling myself I had no need for her in my current life. We talked for about an hour. The conversation was totally driven by her questions about my daughters and life in very general terms. Finally, at a lull in the discourse, I looked her in the eye and asked, “Why are we here?” She took a deep breath and slowly replied, “I just thought it was time we might talk again.” My phone chirped, I did a quick check and used it as an excuse to end the meeting.
Two months later I received another email. The subject was “my recent failure”. She was back in NH, having packed her car and driven across the country. She had left for good, her home and relationship of 20 years, and was hunkered down at the cottage. Her questions betrayed a shattered mind and ego searching for answers to the choices she had just made.
I was in the midst of watching my job of 15 years slip away. My life was full of uncertainty and turmoil. I picked up the phone and asked her to come down to my house for dinner. That was a Thursday night. She stayed until Monday morning. We danced carefully around our own issues and focused on what she should do next. She was so broken in spirit. She asked for nothing but the warmth of my home and an ear to listen.
When she left, it was to go to the Cape for a job interview. We agreed to talk through the week. I encouraged her to take time to focus on the opportunity there and not to run into another situation too blindly.
Later that week, when she was offered the job, she again called distraught. She couldn’t imagine herself in that job and had declined their offer. Could she just come to stay for a few weeks while she got herself together? She didn’t want to be on the Cape and needed someplace to be while she looked for a job and a place to live.
I searched my soul. I spoke with everyone who knew us and listened to their advice. “You didn’t cause this problem.” “You have your own crisis to deal with.” “It will end badly between the two of you.” was the unanimous advice. But a quiet voice in my head repeated “She is all you have left of your childhood family. There is a lesson to be learned here. Let this scene unfold, carefully.”
We agreed to give it a try for two weeks. My job ended and we were sharing all the minutiae of daily living. We cautiously approached some of our issues, others we agreed not to touch. As the days went by I realized we laughed a lot, cried less, and forgave ourselves for more. While painting a fence one day in comfortable silence, I asked if she remembered the crazy kitchen in our childhood home. From there we peeled back the years and dug into the memories shared.
There were moments on both sides where we just had to separate ourselves, physically as well as mentally to “lick our wounds” and take a deep breath. It was not all love and hearts. But the barbs of ego-driven comments were deflected by the shell of a thought, something bigger was happening here. “Open your eyes and really see the situation before you react,” I told myself.
Sometime past the two-week mark, I was sitting at my computer, writing my journal entry of the day, when it struck me. “Why is this working? What have I learned?” The answer came to me in the quiet acknowledgement that when I stopped judging her, as I had done all my life, I had stopped measuring myself by that judgement.
Four months later, Zanne drove back to Arizona to take the job of a life-time. Though the parting was wrenching right to my soul, we talk daily and the bond we developed will never be undone.
Perhaps we will write it all down some day and if our journey helps just one person stop judging, measuring and justifying, it will be enough.
|Navigating the winds and tides of life together|