In my last blog I wrote about love that can be expressed, sometimes for the first time, from a dying parent. Now I am going to focus on the result when rage, disappointment, and hate are expressed from the grave.
I urge readers who are estranged from, frustrated by, and at continual odds with, their adult sons and daughters to read what I am about to say with an open mind.
Yesterday I saw a client for the first time following the death of her mother three months earlier. Her father died when she was five years old, and she barely remembers him. She described her mother, who never remarried, as "always critical -- nothing I did ever pleased her."
My client explained that she never gave up trying to win her mother's love. However, in her words, "I was never smart, pretty, or successful enough to win one iota of acceptance or praise." When she received the call that her mother had been rushed to the hospital suffering heart failure, my client arrived fifteen minutes before her mother died. The last words that her mother said were: "Where were you when I needed you most?"
My client kept repeating: "I feel as worthless as my mother has always treated me."
Another client, after years of struggle and "always frustrating and angering my parents," was able finally to turn his life around. He found meaningful and sustaining work, as well as a partner with whom there was happiness. He called his parents, reaching out to explain that "things are very different now." However, after years of "being disappointed by everything I tried and failed" they refused to see him, telling him that he had ruined too many years of their lives to ever be forgiven. His parents died in an automobile accident soon after this attempts to meet with them. Their estate was shared by my client's three siblings. My client was left nothing and spent the next two months in a psychiatric hospital, barely functional. He is slowly healing.
A third example involves a married couple in their thirties who treated loving parents in spoiled and thoughtless ways. The parents spoke with them about consistent discourtesies and finally, when an insult truly crossed a line, they expressed an angry, "Enough is enough!" response. The result was that they never saw their daughter and son in law again and were denied access to their only grandchild, a three-year-old granddaughter whom they cherished.
Six years passed. In the seventh year of this estrangement both parents died. However, their estate was equally divided between their son and daughter. What this couple did not know is that their daughter, my client, had been held in psychological hostage by a charming but cruel husband who threatened to leave her and their child if she dared to question the behavior he demanded. Her parents refusal to reject her, even though her actions caused them enormous pain, made it possible, both financially and emotionally, for my to make a new life for her daughter and herself.
A final example involves a couple of limited means who refused to give up hope that their son's addiction to hard drugs would end. They had learned years before I met them that he had to help himself, and that this decision was up to him. In their will, they left beautiful notes of love and devotion to each of their six children, including a special and individual family keepsake. Soon after this, their son went into recovery, and is now, after years of estrangement, exceedingly close to his five siblings and their families.
I am not an estate lawyer, and of course advise all to consult with one in determining assets and creating wills. However, this I do know: regardless of how they have acted, to totally reject a son or daughter as one's last message is a devastating blow that is sometimes next to impossible to recover from. On the other hand -- to rise above one's own disappointment and pain, and to offer care, and kindness, with no reprimand, is a gift of love and hope.