Post Surgery At-Home Assistance Tools

There Was an Old Woman...


...who was estranged from her only relative. A short, sad story.

They had adored one another as children – big sister, little brother. Then, the parents' divorce separated the two resulting in their living in different states, visiting on holidays and summers. The split came about thusly:

At age 15, big sister was allowed by law to choose the parent she lived with. Little brother was too young to be given the choice and further, government bureaucracy required that big sister go alone to a courthouse to answer questions from a judge about her homelife.

Sixty years ago, 15-year-olds were nowhere near as sophisticated as they are nowadays, big sister then being even more naive than many. She was frightened and nervous during the proceeding but did the best she could.

Life went on. In their adulthood, the sister and brother lived on opposite coasts of the United States. They hardly ever saw one another and then, mostly when sister traveled to the west because brother did not like to fly.

Time passed. At one point they developed a habit of spending an hour or so on the telephone together each Saturday and sister looked forward to that every week. It lasted quite a long time until brother's girlfriend announced she was now an orthodox Jew and brother could not talk on the telephone on the Sabbath anymore. No alternative seemed possible.

Thereafter, communication became a haphazard affair – neither regularly on nor entirely off.

Decades went by until circumstances brought big sister, now an old woman, to live in the vicinity of her brother. She thought, hoped they might be able to forge a new kind of sibling relationship in their dotage.

At their first holiday together, brother accused sister, who had taken on the caregiving their mother in her final months, of not equally sharing the small inheritance. Sister was shocked. It was nowhere near true; in fact, she had used her own money to clear up a few hundred dollars of extra bills that came in late.

Apparently, brother had been harboring his misbegotten belief for 20 years.

Next, brother refused a gift from sister because, he said, he could not afford to respond in kind – that is, monetary kind. Who, thought sister, tots up the price of gifts to make sure they come out even?

For those and some other disagreements, there was no resolution and for several years they each lived in their nearby towns without communicating.

Out of the blue, sister was hit with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. As she prepared for surgery, she thought to inform her one and only relative, if only so that he had that family medical information for his own use if ever necessary. After vacillating, she sent a neutral, informational email.

Brother was terribly busy wrote his wife, but in several exchanges between the two women, there seemed to be some room for a rapprochement that sister welcomed even if something god-awful had brought it into being.

As she prepared to leave for the hospital at 5AM on the morning of her surgery, sister checked her email for what she surmised would be the last time in awhile. There, time-dated at 2:43AM on the morning of that frightening medical ordeal, was a note from brother.

There was something he wanted to clear up, he wrote. The gist was that because of sister's conversation with the judge 60 years previously, brother had “lost his family” and grew up with the wrong parent which had ruined his life.

But oh, he added in closing, sister was his one and only relative so she had better survive, signing off with “love.”

The ride to the hospital felt longer for the old woman than it really was and she couldn't get her brother's monstrously timed note out of her mind even as she was wheeled into the operating room.

Because neither brother nor his wife has followed up since then, the old woman assumes they have come to see that with such a grotesque message sent in the final hours prior to sister's surgery, an immutable line was crossed.

Even so, not a day has passed – nor a few nights - that the old woman has not been haunted by this sad, painful story in all its aspects, wondering again and again from whence such cruelty arises.

* * *

PERSONAL ADDENDUM: As just about every TGB commenter has mentioned over the past several weeks since this difficult new "adventure" in my life began, an optimistic outlook - within the context of reality - is crucial to a good recovery. With some effort, I am maintaining that and it is in no small part to the warm, loving support of this TimeGoesBy community.


Ronni, thank you for sharing your story.

I do believe it helps to relate that which is causing us turmoil. Families and the childhood experiences somehow stick to us like glue. Trying to reconcile ones childhood memories with those of a sibling is a difficult proposition in the face of reality vs. personal memory.

It is sad that he has chosen to be so miserable.

Who knows what his life would have been had he grown up in the same household you did. The "what ifs", the "if onlys", the poor me and my lot in life--sad to say, but, you could have the same outcome as long as he never learned to see the others perspective.

Here's hoping you can rest in the fact that you have extended a hand and have not, yourself, slammed the door. Also, I hope you can see in his misery, the childish perspective he still holds for whatever self-image he seems to be protecting.

My last visit with my younger brother who was terminal with lung cancer, I buffered the visit by having a childhood neighbor and her husband take me to his home. I could not bring myself to visit him and his wife because of the possibility of a confrontation. The visit was quite amiable with the three of us reliving some of our early memories as neighborhood families.

Sad, isn't it? Life in all its intricacies can be a sad situation.

May you be at peace within and open to what comes next that is beyond control.

Thank you for your honesty as painful as it is to acknowledge not only to one self, but to those of us who have followed your blog.
I have an estranged brother and I too am the big sister. I stopped reaching out through cards on his birthday and Christmas a few year's ago because he is unable to find a way to reach back in a healthy way. I needed to protect myself.
Many blessings to you as you continue on your recovery journey.

I had wondered what happened, having met your brother and his wife at that gathering when you moved to Oregon. I am glad now to hear the story painful as it probably was for you to share. I may be wrong, of course, but it is possible he has allowed someone else to influence his feelings on these matters, someone who sees another love as being competition. It's a sad story but not an unusual one from those I know. Maybe your relationship will once again find balance but that email was definitely not one of thoughtfulness or love but could be of guilt. I can imagine easily the pain as I also have just one brother and would hate being estranged from him.

Ronni - You are just amazing. The honesty in which you relate your struggles and emotions is inspiring. How many families have been broken because of misplaced blame, jealousy and greed. I am sorry that you have this to deal with on top of everything else. Please know that many people do care about you. Sending warm thoughts your way

Thank you for your story Ronni. I'd wondered what happened to your brother having met him at your blogger get-together. I am sad for you both, he's missed a lot. It amazes me that our siblings who in some ways do know a lot about us also know nothing. One of ours pretty much cut us all out of her life for 40 years. She is working on connecting but it's complicated for her and the rest of us emotionally protect ourselves when we are with her. We all lived together as children but her memories are still quite different from the remaining three of us. She too wondered if she had been shortchanged when our parents had died. I send you love and I will aim some for him too.

I too am estranged from my brother. Unfortunately, his second marriage has made him as toxic as his wife. He didn't even come to his mother's funeral. I'm too old to let this cause me anymore anxiety than I already have. So I'm neutral toward him. However there is a blessing here. He has 4 really great kids, one of whom lives nearby & whom I am very close to. He has a lovely wife & 2 great kids.

I am sorry about your situation, but somehow you must find a way to become neutral. You have so many of us out here who are family, surrogate as we may be we care for you as a sister. Continure to grow strong, try to stay positive. There's much love our here for you & TGB. Dee:):)

Dear Ronni,
So sorry to hear your story. Alas, many of us have probably experienced a similar estrangement with family members. It is very very sad. What's that saying about you can pick your friends (and your nose) but you can't pick your family. Many of us are picking you today (and maybe our noses too!).
Love and hugs,

I have found that even with the best of intentions, situations in families are often difficult. It has helped me in my situation to know that I was doing the best I could at all times even though the outcomes have not been positive in any way.

Sorry that you are carrying this on top of everything else you are going through. xxoo

I am so sorry, especially that you had to go into surgery with this cruel missive on your mind. The only sister who remains in communication with me is a great disappointment due to her petty and unkind personal criticisms. And we were raised in an intact, although dysfunctional, family.

I have had to give up toxic people in my life in the past, and have decided to bless and release this one with love.

You need all the positive vibes available, Ronni, and deserve them. Healing abounds.
Sending all good healing thoughts and prayers for your physical and mental comfort.

Once again, you bravely share your truth, and as always, know that you are not alone. This is so truly sad, worthy of every tear shed. And it has me shedding tears, in communion with how many of us become elder "orphans." (we must come up with a better, more hopeful word!)

I too lost my family through deaths and misunderstandings. Tight, frightened hearts seem to need scapegoats. Oh lord, I hear that old Jesse Winchester song with the line, "the grownups get to make the rules, but we have all the fun." The "grownups" being the tight rule makers, and while usually we scapegoats have fuller, richer lives with more "fun," there's also a lot of sadness and pain due to the unnecessary losses. One of the sufferings of the scapegoated is the ongoing drumbeat of "what could I have done differently, or better? The answer is.........nothing. And I do believe the universe gets that.

In every moment, we are all completely lovable, completely, foibles, warts, everything, completely. With love, hugs, cups of tea, Salinda

That is a sad story and you are a better woman than I am if you can move past that ill-timed email from your brother. But, of course, we both know that you must do exactly that. I do hope when you are stronger you can have a sit-down with your brother. It's so hard to convey the proper tone and emotion with written words.

I can't remember the saying about you can't choose your family, but you can choose your friends, but that's the gist of it. Your friends become your family and you have such a vast loving family of friends, albeit Internet ones, that your brother lacks.

He has obviously been jealous of the fact that you grew up with your mother and probably thought that you had the best of the bargain. The old cliche that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence applies. Every time he was disciplined or was denied something he wanted as a child he probably thought that his mother would not have treated him so and blamed you when he should have blamed the adult Judge who made the decision. He must have let those envious thoughts fester into making him a bitter old man. He is to be pitied.

You became very successful while I would guess that his life became ordinary with few friends. The fault was not of your making but of his own. Small people need a scapegoat for their failings and it appears that you became his. It is definitely his loss. So sorry.

At times I feel the way many of us communicate today, via texts and emails can easily be misconstrued. We can't hear another's voice inflection nor see their eyes. Having said this and certainly not knowing you nor your brother personally, I offer another take on his text. It can been seen as sarcastic but perhaps you both always bantered back and forth like that..I don't know..I saw the words, only sister, survive and love...huggzz

Some people wallow in their misery and always find someone else to blame for it. I have a sister I only hear from when she wants to borrow money and as I've stopped lending it I don't hear from her at all. I continue to send a gift of money at her birthday and Christmas. My husband says why do I do it and I always say because I can't control or change her behavior, I can only be responsible for mine.

Family is complicated anyway, and fragmented families are ever so much more so, I think. In my own family, my older sister experienced one reality, my middle sister and I another, and my baby sister yet another. Who knows and what does it matter now all these years later? No do-overs here.
I am sad for him that he chose those for what might have been his final words to you, and I can't fathom what his mental state might have been at 2:43 that morning. Did he perhaps think it was an olive branch? He did end it with "Love."
I'm thankful that you're with us!

Ronni, my heart aches for you and admires your honesty. I, too, as have so many experienced the heartache of family estrangements that are rooted in perceived slights as children. I grew up thinking I was part of a very normal family only to learn as an adult that there was a dysfunctional aspect that I had totally missed seeing. The pain involved for all cuts deep and seems intractable.

I hope you can have some comfort in knowing you have tried your best. You are not responsible for the decisions of others. Not even today's 15 year olds can control the ways of the courts. You cannot heal that which does not want to be healed. You should take solace in that you did try and try again. It is gratifying to know that your TGB community knows your heart and appreciates your connection to their lives. We hope you can find peace in that.

Especially now, feel the love you have cultivated in giving to others. Both you and your brother have made your own choices as adults, and no second guessing can account for choosing to be miserable.

Whenever your mind seems to dwell on these thoughts and imagined scenarios of what could have been different, I hope you can purposely take your mental conversation to the warm connections you have in long-time friendships you have developed with many of your readers and fellow bloggers.

I too belong to the long lineage of sisters with toxic brothers, esp. brothers who are long out of their sisters' lives but reach out at pivotal moments (parent demise and in the sister's life ) to make the sister's existence all about him.

My brother, who also lives thousands of miles away, could charm a dog off a meat truck. It took me decades as an adult --and many, many, many sucker punches-- to learn how to surf his continuous breath-taking outreaches: knock on the door, button-holing my children out in their worlds, ...

As Thich Nhat Hahn says, "Breathe. You are alive." Congratulations for that!
And thank you for being part of my tribe and hi to Ollie, riding shotgun.

Crazy how people hold resentments for years and years and share at the most inopportune times. My mom passed away at home, and not a half-hour later my dad told me what a sham their marriage was. I overcame the shock since I don't dwell in the past but it certainly changed my relationship with dad. "Family" is not always who you are related to, as you know from your web-family. Sending warm loving thoughts.

R0nni, My heart aches for you. I am so sorry your brother is behaving in such a hurtful way. My story is almost a mirror image: close family of 2 girls, my older sister & I fought until she went away to college, when we became best friends. That remained so for over 60 years, until one day I addressed the elephant on the floor--her having ruined her son's life by infantalizing him for 50+ years. In our family of origin, one never dealt openly with anything, and she had never moved from that mind-set. She never spoke to me again, except for sending cards when I was in the hospital with life-threatening heart issues; when I recovered, she resumed her previous behavior and, when she was dying 4 years ago, she would not allow me to come to the hospital nor nursing homes. My family filled in for me, but it was so painful. At least she couldn't keep me from the memorial service where my granddaughter and I demolished a box of Kleenex between us. I still grieve more than I would have, had things been different at the end, but I deliberately remember the good times. I sincerely hope your brother can reach out to you. I'm sending hopeful and healing thoughts.

Who among us doesn't know family strife? Two quotes come to mind: "Life is 1% what happens and 99% how we react to what happens." If you feel it would help you to get some things off your chest, you could try to write him a letter and say what you need to say. You could tear it up or send it, but if you send it, try to do so without expectation of a good, or any, answer. Certainly no 15 year old is responsible for how things turned out in this sad story. Thank you for fearlessness in sharing it with us.

And, second, "Be kind. Be kind. For everyone you meet is carrying a great burden." What are we here for if not to help one another shoulder their burdens? I'm hoping you feel this particular burden lighten in the coming days.

"And the universe said, let's give that bright shiny spirit to the one family that will least understand her...and will help her to grow into an amazing human because of it."

Ah, yes, your story brought up quite a bit for me, Ronnie.Going through current similar circumstances in regards to an estrangement from a brother who, because of a pittance of inheritance (if it could even be called that) actually going to his family. Guilt for this, defensiveness and some big story he's (excuse the pun) 'trumped' up about how this is resented has led to the understanding that he does not see who I am given the lens with which he sees life. Lens is everything. I feel you!

Oh, and by the way...the comments here to you have been very helpful to me! Love to you and Ollie, and your indomitable spirit!

I agree with Kate R that texting and email is often fraught with misunderstanding. Humor, sarcasm, uneasiness, and a wide array of emotions and feelings are ripe for misunderstanding when they are simply typed in a text or on Facebook. I am one of the few people not on Facebook. I know I miss a lot but I still can't bring myself to join.

That being said I am also estranged from a sibling. Its uncomfortable, sad, and horribly regretful, but I have no idea how to "fix it". Its taken a long time to realize I can't fix it, can't change the past, & can't change how others think. So eventually you give up trying and for your own mental health move on.

The family vs. friends comparison always makes me smile. If a friend acted like my sibling they would have been long gone as a friend. Still its so much harder to do that with family isn't it?

Another personal experience that relates to sibling estrangement is that once my parents were both deceased it seemed like my 3 siblings and I were free to do what we wanted. The clue holding the whole dynamic together was gone and it was amazing to discover how much everything changed.

I don't have any answers but in a small way its comforting to know I'm not the only person who has had difficulty understanding and having a genuinely happy sibling relationship.


I am an only child, so I can only come to this from a different place. When I first read this blog earlier, I was upset and angry with your brother, brought to tears, so didn't write. Now I am back & have had a chance to read what others have written. Apparently your situation happens with some frequency. I had always wished to have a sibling, but as an adult, I see that just because you have a brother and/or a sister doesn't guarantee a loving, close relationship, and that is a pity. I can almost feel sorry for your brother, because apparently he has had this bitterness eating away inside him for most of his life. It has made him a miserable person. I hope you can acknowledge that you have done the best that you can and concentrate on healing. We need you to be here to help us through life. (Is that selfish of me? So be it!) I wish I lived closer so that I could do something to help in a tangible way. Take care.

Ah..."money" - so often the 'evil-doer' in families, causing rifts, opening old wounds. I've seen it happen many times.

Amazing that through all the years of your communication he never came to understand your side of the situation.

The early morning time that he wrote/sent the email seems significant. Perhaps his last comment "Oh...[you] had better survive", and his sign off, "love" can be seen as a reaching out and you might feel more comforted.

We can't undo the past, just continue to go forward and be the best person we know how to be. Thank you for continuing to share with us all that you are experiencing. Sounds like you are well on the path to recovery...Onward and upward!

Very sad. Sometimes we all feel alone. I am not a religious person, but I do have faith and in stressful times my faith does sustain me. I hope that woman had something to sustain her.

I am so sorry! I have a similar situation with a sister. It's not easy. I gave our relationship great thought this year. Would we be friends if we weren't sisters? Probably not. That has made it easier for me to deal with her.
I have no answers for you, I'm afraid. I send healing thoughts and love your way as you try to resolve this.

My first thought when reading your post was: "Oh, families!"

You have reached out, he has responded. Thankfully, neither of you are responsible for the other's actions or words.

Your responsibility now is to heal yourself. All other wants or wishes take second place to that primary goal.

On a personal note, oddly enough, I made a somewhat similar decision to a judge when I was 14, and never looked back.

I will add finally that each of us makes our own choices and decisions. Then we deal with what we have decided.

From what I can tell, and I've 'known' you through your blog for a number of years now, you have done pretty well with your outlook on life. Keep up the good work.

Like Kate R, I saw the letter as more of a clumsy but well intentioned last-minute effort to explain himself and reach out and express love to his sister, his only relative. It's so easy to misconstrue written words.

Glad you're continuing to do so well. Keep up the good work!

That early morning email could have happened after a long, guilty sleep-deprived night.

Your brother has had years to Hollywooodize his version of that day in the courtroom, making you the undisputed villain of his life.

Time can twist events like that.

But he forgot to include this chapter..

Once an individual hits adulthood, he or she is responsible for choices and decisions.

Your brother had the choice of owning the rest of his life, or blaming every rock on the road for that day in family court.

He chose blame.

We can't change our past, however horrific it may have been.

But, we can and must acknowledge that past and use what we learned from it to create a solid future for ourselves.

You are not responsible for your brother's choices.

A brief P.S. -- I too have refused gifts, embarrassed because I could not afford to reciprocate.

Ronni: This is so terrible. So unfair. I'm so sad for you. What I hope is that every day makes you stronger and that you prevail in the end, beat the cancer. Direct question: How can people like me, who live far away, be of help to you?

I'm mainly sorry that you're having to ruminate about the relationship at this point, when you're hopefully recovering from major surgery.

What you and he did in years past is an exquisite mixture of genetics, parental influence, circumstance, and chance, unalterable now. AND, thank God that you yourself don't have to waste your life blaming a tough childhood for present unhappiness, and that you learned the lesson that the quality of our lives is what we make it. It took my nearly killing myself with alcohol to get to a recovery program that taught me how to live well, and how to let old resentments go, and to concentrate on what I can do TODAY to make my life meaningful. That has worked extremely well. Spending my time sitting in a corner going over and over all the bad things my mother did to me did NOT work well at all. I had to learn that I had agency in my own life. Sounds like your brother has not learned that.

I don't doubt for an instant that you've *always* done the very best you could by him. And that you've tried to make it clear, as well. What he does with that is utterly out of your control. I encourage you to spend your energy thinking about friends who care about you, and people with whom you have a good and affectionate understanding. You've obviously done very well with your life, because you chose to take responsibility for it.

Big hugs, Ronni.

This Old Woman is saddened to the core by the apparently purposeful estrangement of her adored younger brother. The Old Woman sets great store by 'words'. For she blogs them out by the handful, usually smiling as she does so. It was "Saturday's words", and their import, which had connected her with her family. But, alas, no more. And she was saddened. But then her awareness grew, - -for she, and her wounded core were taken to the collective bosoms of a great many 'Brothers'. And Sisters, too. These were the siblings to whom she had beckoned, using the words of her blog. And these Sisters and Brothers responded with love and caring. That the Old Woman might now feel at peace. And loved. Words.

Siblings all perceive things differently as evidenced by all the information above. I have 7 children and let me tell you, at times it seems that they all grew up with different parents in a different household. Also spouses can have a huge effect on the interpretation that is put on events in the life of the other spouse. Sometimes the person that you think is the problem is just trying to maintain a relationship and keep the peace with their spouse by appeasing them. Perhaps your brother wrote his message at such a late hour because that was the only time that he had alone. We never know what sorrows others have as evidenced by all the previous comments. I think that texting is so easily misunderstood and can come across as quite harsh even though it is not meant in that tone. Perhaps in the long run your relationship with your brother will improve and remember, "Friends become our chosen family"......Kudos for your strength and sharing this difficult history, Ronni. Love and wishes for healing especially for you.

So, so sorry. But he has finally explained himself and his reason for not having a relationship with you for all these years. It is too bad that he didn't voice this resentment to you in person long ago when you could have cleared up his misconceptions, making each of you feel better.

His final paragraph and signature, though, sound positive.

Perhaps you could email back your response to his thoughts that you influenced the judge and therefore are responsible for ruining his life, and let him take it from there. I would make that the final exchange of hostilities, however. Either a pleasant relationship from now on or none because anything else would be detrimental to your well being.

Community is family, and you have so many sisters and brothers now. You reached out when you started TGB; we came, and we're with you.

A wise, treasured friend of mine (and many) has said: "You get what you concentrate upon, there is no other main rule."

This is indeed a sad, negative story involving "past selves" that can only do you harm. He is no longer the young brother you adored, and you are not now the young girl who spoke to the judge. Your intent then was not to "ruin anyone's life" and thankfully, none of us have that kind of power over our fellow travelers, unless we allow it.

My wise friend also suggested: "Concentrate upon the present moment -- but more, concentrate upon the most most pleasant aspects of the present moment. If that moment has distracting, unfavorable aspects, then resolutely bring into your mind whatever images delight or please you at the moment. These may be very simple. "

Love yourself.

So sorry Ronni that the Old woman and her estranged brother story did not have the ending you thought (hoped)might have unfolded at this moment in time.

Hopefully the story will have an addendum that will make us all happy.

If I have learned one thing about life, it's that nothing is ever over. There are no immutable lines being crossed forever, no final denouements, no point at which the story is done and we get to file out of the movie theatre. It's all an endless tapestry.

This goes against our need for Story to make sense of our lives, but ultimately, it's freeing. Everything that occurs is part of a transition to the future. We can always say, "All right, so that happened. What follows from it?"

I would say there's no need to do anything about that email right now. You're rightfully busy recovering your strength. That has to be your first priority. It might be helpful to that recovery if you can find a way to think about it in the meantime that will lessen the hurt.

If you can categorize the terrible timing, in particular, as a mistake of thoughtlessness on his part, a bit of self-centredness where it just didn't occur to him how it would make you feel... that might let you set the matter aside for the future, as something you can work through -- if you choose to -- weeks or months from now when you are stronger.

you don't know me and i only recently found you. but, please know there is a stranger somewhere in a busy corporate office in the midwest wishing she could lift away your pain. my heart to you, my new friend.

in the wide net of humanity there are strong souls that lift the weak and i believe you are one of those strong souls. however, even the strongest souls need a lift at times. you have a vast family out here. i hope the abundance of encouragement i've seen in your comments does just that, lifts you.

peace and strength to you

Don't you hate it when people (frequently doctors, alas) assume that because you have "family," you're all taken care of in some basic way? They have no idea.

I am an only child, and my son, also an only child, lives three hours away, so there isn't a lot of caregiving bandwidth there. My husband has one sister, and it hasn't always been smooth sailing (jealousy, unequal treatment by the now-dead parents, etc) but after the last parental funeral two years ago, it all seemed to work out. The estate settled, with some rocky spots, but now they're medium-good friends, albeit separated by 2,000 miles (which may help).

Nobody's gotten really, horribly ill yet, fortunately, but so far ... it's pretty good but fragile. I encourage him constantly to maintain this bond because the future time to rehash or repair those old hurt feelings is growing short.

Still, when one of us gets really sick, I bet we're gonna have some long rides to the hospital, too.

Ronni, you are not alone in estrangement from a biological sibling. The details are different, but my story has almost the same outcome as yours--estrangement between sister and brother. My younger brother, who would have turned 75 next month, died last Friday after being diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in February. There was no contact whatsoever between us for almost 30 years, but in the past 10 we had been in phone and email contact. About 10 years ago my husband and I got together with him in Oregon (half way between his home in California and mine outside Seattle). That was a tangible first step towards a degree of partial reconciliation, although future communication was often with his wife, who was much more accepting from the start.

My brother and I were very different personality types and, with 5-1/2 years between us, we weren't terribly close growing up. Life went on and in 1969 I moved to the Pacific NW, where I worked on reestablishing my Party Girl career, but by age 37 I had aged ( and burned) out. I had the great good fortune to meet the wonderful man who was to become my 3rd, and last, husband; our marriage has endured for almost 40 years. The "problem"? He's African-American and I'm not. I knew that my family wouldn't be pleased but miscalculated how totally DISpleased they would be. I was disowned and disinherited except for a small irrevocable trust from my mother.

My father was a product of his generation and life script. He was from a working class family and came of age during the Depression. He was the first in his family to go to college and hold a white collar job; eventually he worked his way up to high level management for a large corporation (remember "The Organization Man"?). He worked hard and did his best for his family but also enjoyed the 3-martini-lunch aspect.

My mother died in 1974 and my father remarried two years later, but he believed what he believed and never relented. Neither did I. I couldn't because what would have been required of me was surrender of a core principle--sorry, no deal! My brother remained close to my father and was like him in many ways--but after he met my husband in person, his views moderated. Funny how that happens!

I'm still sorting out his death, but this I know: rewriting a family's life script isn't always possible. Moving on from an unfortunate turn of events--as you did, Ronni--IS. These situations fall under my old-age mantra: it is what it is.

That is a very sad story and one that is not all that uncommon. I am thinking of you often in ways that some might call prayers.


It was a good thing you wrote him. and a better thing that you told TGB what happened.

We are not in age of to be shy about our emotional pain. It is time to share everything with the others.

Sure that you are feeling better now.

best wishes



So many have commented, and so well, there isn't much I can add.
Childhood losses or deprivations are remembered with the mind of a child and in reactions and accusations grown people revert to childishness. Your brother's pain is as real as yours but he seems unable to deal with it as an adult. You shouldn't have to feel the brunt of his pain, especially right now, and I'm sorry he couldn't have dug a little deeper for some compassion for your situation.
Don't dwell there. You have lovingly done what you could. Find your joy in the present moments and days and the friends who care so deeply about you.
Peace and healing to you, Ronni.

Your account really touched a nerve for me. I truly regret this family issue has imposed itself into your life at this time, especially. "Gunnysacking" and making false assumptions about what another may think, want, did or why, can be a most destructive combination in a relationship as your brother seems to have done. Having experienced that in my own life I can appreciate the personal impact this can have. I have often come back to the thought about how easily much heartache could have been avoided in my situation if only there had been more honest open communication from my loved one, since I could have clarified issues had I only known. I can only wish for you that somehow you and your brother will be able to resolve past issues and/or leave them all behind -- moving forward from now. If not, you must concentrate on your own well-being, confident in yourself. What's past is past and cannot be undone. We all do the best we can at any given time in our lives. Coming from a broken home myself I am acutely aware of many issues associated with that experience. Continue to focus on your recovery!

I'm so sorry Ronnie. You can just let him go to his bitterness and problems, and remember you now have a unique and special family all of your own. It's hard to do this, but liberating.

Almost everyone has that uncomfortable, inconsiderate family member who just dosent get it. You are so loved by your virtual family Ronni-we'll be your family.

Brother has shown his selfish true colors and to hell with that...who needs it?

Try and remain upbeat, your struggles are our struggles, your pain is our pain. And we like you just the way you are.

Your bravery has really inspired me. I'm fortunate, so far my medical issues aren't really awful..and everyone has pain when they are in their 70's, don't they. If you can go thru what you've been thru physically the past month, I know that, should I get bad information about my old ladies body I will strive to emulate you and not give up.

I thank you for that

Hugs and Love, Elle

This was quite an eye-opener for me. I have been thinking that my estrangement from my sister was highly unusual as no one I know is not on speaking terms with their siblings. Your experience and especially these surprising comments tell a different story, so this blog has made another unexpected and positive contribution for someone else. Thank you.

I hope you are feeling better and stronger. The fact that you wrote such an emotionally difficult and lengthy blogpost suggests that maybe you are getting some of your energy back.


I don't think I mentioned that first there's the "Holy C**p" reaction when someone blindsides you as Ronni's brother did, whatever his reasons. Ronni's brother apparently determined to make her responsible for his possibly less-rewarding life based on a decision she was forced to make at age 15. With the encouragement of our father--my brother held me responsible for violating a longstanding, deeply-held (at the time) family tradition by marrying a man of a different skin color. (There is a huge difference in that Ronni was a child and I was an adult as all this happened.)

Neither of us is "guilty". We did the best we could based on the knowledge we had at the time. I'm sorry that my younger brother is gone and the door is now closed. His wife, with whom I've talked fairly often since he became seriously ill, tells me that many friends--including people he had known for years, some he had sponsored and mentored--were waiting outside his room to say goodbye. She and their 2 adult sons have received too many emails and letters to answer. Apparently, he was a much loved and highly respected member of the community; I wasn't aware of the extent. I'm glad he had a good life. I wish I had known the person he became.

How untimely, for you, when you need supportive people, and to have an old one pop back up with more problems to drop in your lap...yuk! I'd give just one tool I learned as a counselor, when I wanted to help folks drop a toxic relationship that was bothering them. (Obviously nobody can change any one else, just themselves.) I have used this myself.
I have an estranged family member as well. I wrote down a letter to that person, sharing my own thoughts and feelings...and didn't mail it. It was to find peace in myself, to get to a place where I set my own protection from the poisonous relationship, and to let myself have the feelings of grief over losing hopes.
There is still love between family members, but it doesn't mean being open to abuse. I just came from a workshop at our Senior Center on Advance Directives and Living Wills in NC, and was very glad to see a place on the form for special instructions, where I stated that my sibling is not to have any say in decisions about my care. In a crowded room, many of the other elders had similar family situations.
As always this is an important post to many of us. And may our loving comments be a small part of your recovery. You are loved.

Thank you for sharing. I am sorry for your pain. I'm a family therapist and I have heard many similar stories. My siblings and I live miles apart and express love to each however, there is a distance that is not just about the miles. Many times it is not just siblings that have "cut-off" relationships it can also be relationships with parents and with one's adult children. I think talking about your emotional pain helps and may be the healing ointment. I send you prayers and healing light. Thank you for all the sharing you've done over the years.

Coming to this post late in the day, it has taken me some time to work through everything here. Such emotion and some pretty raw honesty, which can be rare even among friends and siblings is not taken in lightly.

It's interesting how many people here can relate to your estrangement, having similar stories of our own, and yet it still comes as something of a surprise when someone makes a revelation like this. As with so many things, it seems very difficult to open ourselves to being seen as "troubled," and to feel, perhaps, judged for it. I suspect that we are our own harshest critics at such times.

When I first read Brene Brown and listened to her TED talks on vulnerability and shame a few years ago (here's something revealing -- I first typed "a few tears ago" -- Freudian slip?) a very bright light bulb went over my head. It's a little surprising that, in these times that we tend to think of as so enlightened, we can still find it so hard to show vulnerability and to accept compassion.

Bravo for you Ronni Bennett, for being able to share your pain and vulnerability with the world, or at least this little part of it. We are all on your side, although if we knew your brother and his story, we might be on his side, as well. I think you've found, or created, a pretty empathetic community here, and it's full of thoughtful, caring and well-spoken people. People just like you. Most of us have lived long enough to have experienced the best and the worst of family life, and we're just trying to make sense of it all and to keep on doing the best we can, day by day.

May you stay strong and continue to fight the good fight!

Seems like the wife of your brother is behind a lot of this. Too bad. They have missed out on a great relationship with you. Once in awhile, it's good or the soul to go back. But keep going forward Ronni, that will be the best for your health and you are doing so good!!
Keeping you in my thoughts.

Like some of the other members of your online family, it has taken me a while to be able to respond to your third-person post. Wish I could say it was a hard-to-believe story, but almost all families I know have painful stories woven into their history.
We have trouble figuring out what's in our own minds, much less what's in the minds of others.
I'd noticed an Alex Bennett comment on one of your recent posts and wondered, but even now, I know far too little to be able to say more than I've already said but I, like others here, empathize with your pain and with the "blindsiding".
And I, too, hope you can concentrate on taking care of your very precious self.
You are in my thoughts and heart, always.

Wow. I have no family. I used to have a small family, but they are all gone, with the exception of several cousins (mostly second cousins) far flung. Some I've never met, one I've not seen for decades, one since childhood.

Being 67 and having many friends "our age" I hear dysfunctional family stories all the time. I've also heard many horror stories in my work in senior services.

All I can figure is that our shallow, self centered individualistic culture, rife with reality TV and worse sets the stage for all this horrible behavior and drama.

I'm reading TRIBE by Sebastian Junger. His theory is that our culture (see above) is exactly the opposite of how we are genetically programmed to live. That is a simplistic phrase for his thesis - he makes the case that we are so far from tribal society it is basically no wonder we are all crazy (my words not his).

Sad that this happened when you were so vulnerable. I'd keep it in perspective. I used to think mental illness ran in *my* family, but as I age and hear more stories like this, I realize mental illness runs in everybody's family. I use the term "mental illness" loosely here, to mean dysfunctional and crappy behavior that serves no one.

I also would anticipate this is not the end of this story. Suggest setting all this aside until much later. Focus on your healing. What has happened says a lot more about HIM and probably his wife, than it does about you. Some people love drama. But you don't have to react.

Blessings Ronni and a virtual hug.

Families. And relationships. Complex things, for sure. There are six siblings from my household. One brother is totally estranged from most of us. The 50 yr old baby of the family rarely communicates and even then it is to complain about his life. I am VERY close to my sister (we think we are the only normal ones) and pretty close to my brother next to me on the family tree. My sister and I live out of state yet we were the ones who researched assisted living, paid most of their bills and could ask a brother for something specific (can you buy Mom some Depends when you next go to Sam's Club). Otherwise, they did nothing. I think it is a gender deficiency.

I think you should send him an edible bouquet and a thank you for keeping in touch. Ask for another day of the week and time that you can have a 30 minute talk ... that his gal pal will approve of. And sign YOURS "love" also!

I'm so sorry, Ronnie. Your brother comes across as hostile and kind of miserly. He had to get the last word in. His life was ruined and you had better survive. What kind words to send a person off with to life threatening surgery. I hope he reads your blog posts & comments. He needs to get over it.

Ronni, we don't know each other, but I've been reading your blog for a couple of years, and I believe... that when you feel stronger (and you will), you will be able to hear "only sister" and "survive" and, most especially, "love," and that they came from an anguished soul awake at quarter to three, and you will open your heart and muster the courage and kindness to reach out to your Only Brother, all the way to where he is, and open that door to whatever grace awaits you both in the remainder of your lives.

I was terribly moved by your story, because I experience also a dysfunctional family. Your message and all the comments are a very good help and give courage; Hauts les Coeurs ! as we say in french.

Estrangement, from the wonderful comments here, literature, and I noticed this morning with a wry smile as I listened to the lyrics of a mournful song, is far too common. My first thought was that he picked a rotten time to state his festering grievance and the awkward statement at the end hardly offset that.

As many have stated before me you need to be your first priority right now and seeing him to talk out some of the sorrows (surely he must know you have plenty too!) might not be helpful for you. It sounds like you are surrounded by helpful caring people who have no axe to grind, so soak up that love and keep getting better.

As many have already said, families are a complicated thing. I'm blessed to have two younger sisters. I think we have a good relationship although they might have a slightly different take on that! Over the years we all have had our moments but we managed thru all the BS of life to hold it together. Your brother needs to put his big boy pants on especially at this time. He did sign off with love so I guess there is still a small opening in that door, but for now Ronni you have to concentrate your energy on your recovery and the fight ahead. Your doing good.

Sending warm hugs with healing light your way. Having my own painful story, I am grateful for your honesty in sharing your story. May you be filled with the peace of your reaching out and may you be surrounded by a bubble that protects you from the arrows of misdirected negativity. I will light two candles. One for your continued healing and one for your brother that he may be released from his meanness and be filled with compassion.

I love my brother. We are poles apart in most every aspect of our lives - totally different value sets. We speak on the phone occasionally, but there is no connection anymore. We live nearby, but our lives seldom cross since the death or our last parent.

We have attempted some social gatherings with each other, no actual animosity, but I can feel the gulf of distance each time.

I don't fight it anymore. If we have the rare time of being together without our spouses, then I have hope. Then, it's back to the usual uncomfortable interactions.

Just weary of trying to measure up to someone else's absurd standards.

As my husband loves to say, "F**k 'em and feed 'em fish." He is kin to Yoda.

Thanks for the share, and keep at it girlfriend - one day at a time. All any of us can do.

I love my brother, but we are estranged in a way that seems similar to your situation, Ronni. I'm so impressed that you can sort out your story and share it so simply. Families. I'm sure there are happy ones. I hope so for my kids' sake.

Sibling relationships are among the most fraught. It made sense to me when I read in biology that baby birds will push each other out of the nest and tiger cubs claw each other aside to starve in their life-and-death competition for "parental resources." It can last a lifetime.

I need more than one hand to count the people I know who suffer lifelong estrangement from one or more siblings who are their only remaining living family. Spouses are often competitive with the family of origin and craftily exacerbate the preexistent tensions to cause a final alienation.

It is heartbreaking when the one first-degree relative left to you in the world is cruel and/or indifferent. And unfortunately, it is not uncommon. I don't know if it helps to know you have a lot of company. Maybe there should be a League of Abandoned Siblings who would pledge to become each other's siblings.

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