Sharing Sisterhood Across the Globe

Sister to Sister is a place to renew for women of all cultures, faiths and races. Coretta Scott King said, "Women, if the soul of the Nation is to be saved, I believe we must become its soul." I would like to add "Earth" instead of "Nation." We need to widen the borders and challenge the world to become a better place. Join the conversation.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

When family relations turn toxic

It was not meant as an offensive remark, and certainly not intended to hurt my sister's feelings. I simply told the truth. Surely that would not be sufficient reason to never speak to me again... would it?

We were at a rare family reunion (disunion?) which had brought us together over thousands of miles and, it turns out, even greater distances between our lifestyles. I was going around the campground, and I was excited to introduce my son, his fiancee, and her 12 yr old son to members of my family. This was a first for most of them, since we had lived far away when my boys were born nearly 40 years before. I knew my about-to-be daughter-in-law was more than nervous about the fact that this was a second marriage for her, so I was doing my best to put her at ease by letting her know our family had been cobbled together over time as well.

So when we got to my eldest sister, I cheerfully put my foot in my mouth by saying, "And this is my eldest sister, Janet - half-sister, actually - and that's her adopted son, Jerry, over there and his sister Sara over there." (Her kids are now in their 30's.) The look in my sister's eyes could have killed on the spot. She erupted like an overdue geyser with "What gives you the right to say that?! How dare you?! Our father adopted me when I was less than 5 years old, and he treated us as his own! And my children are MY children. Whether or not they're adopted is no body's business!" And on, and on, and on like that.

Well, as you can imagine, I was aghast and humiliated in front of my son and his soon to be bride, and immediately apologized profusely to my sister - whenever I could get a word in edgewise, that is. She ignored my attempts and stormed into her nearby RV. Later, when I was alone, I knocked on her door and sheepishly offered my most profound apologies. Even using my best non-violent communications practices, though, nothing would melt that iceberg. She just started in again with her diatribe of blame and anger. When I later got home, I tried again, this time with a lengthy email message describing my good intentions and sincere concern for her feelings. No response.

That was two and a half years ago. To this day, no Christmas card, newsy email or even innocent question about something totally unrelated has resulted in any response from my sister. I even resorted to asking another sister to intervene on my behalf, but nothing came of that either.

So how does a person who is dedicated to being a peacemaker deal with toxic relations within her own family? I've concluded that the best I can do is to silently send her unconditional love, with total forgiveness and concern for the mindset she has chosen for herself. I can now recognize that, in the long run, the title of a book I once saw is really true - "What You Think of Me Is None of My Business."

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