It is a few days after Christmas and our home phone rings. I see my mother’s name on the caller ID and answer it right away.
After she says hello and asks how I am, her voice catches and she tells me my grandmother has died. She gives me some details and I listen and respond.
I’m sorry, I say.
And I am sorry.
I am sorry for the loss.
I am sorry for my mother’s loss and the loss of all who loved my grandmother.
I’m sorry for my loss too, for missing out on all the years I should have stayed bonded to this grandmother who loved me.
I am sorry that the traumatic breakup of my parents’ marriage caused such unjustified estrangement from my mother and her family.
I am sorry life is so brutal sometimes.
It is mostly brutal when people are brutal.
Wounded people are brutal. Angry people are brutal.
How can we stop the bleeding? What is the source?
How does it end?
How does parent alienation end?
I am just one person.
I have just one book, one story.
But I can give mine.
And my ending will give hope to others.
I am forty-nine years old. I missed out on my mother, and my grandmother, for most of my life.
But my mother is on the phone now, telling me she loves me.
And I love her back. We will stay in touch. It is a new beginning, however late.
However limited by distance and regret, love is still there.
We have been broken, but love never disappears.
And isn’t that the balm on all hurts, all loss?
My grandmother has passed on, and I believe her spirit is healing. That brings me peace. No matter the past, she is whole now, untouched by loss.
But what of my sister, who would absolutely disagree that she has any love for our mother who is still here, alive and reachable? Or that she ever missed our grandmother?
How do you tell someone that the absence of a feeling may simply mean it is buried?
It is likely buried beneath the denial that kept her feeling sane. Buried beneath the truth.
Buried beneath our father’s programming, so easy for him to do when we were small, scared children.
So incredibly easy.
The alienating parent instills fear in the child. He sends this message: If you betray me by loving the other parent, you will become the object of my rage. With every cell in my body, that is what I felt.
This is what alienated children feel. It is terrifying.
What if my sister’s love is buried? Her five year old self chose survival over the truth. That’s what children do.
You cannot make someone excavate their own heart. You can not force them to get to the truth.
I tell my sister that our grandmother has passed.
Thanks for letting me know, she says. And that is all.
As always, I hold out hope that she will remember, in a flash, the love.
But instead I feel the distance grow wider between us. The more truth I dare to say, the greater the distance.
And yet it can be crossed in an instant, a moment of knowing, a word, a memory.
Or it may never be crossed, and I don’t know if I am ready to accept this between my sister and myself. We shared the same loss and yet she may never know the truth. I want to find a way to show her the truth, somehow.
Maybe this is the year.