Dear Maria,
My quandary: I am adopted and did a search for my birth family a few years ago. I located my half-brother and half-sister; we share a mother. All were overjoyed to meet me. My “new” sister Susan lives near the east coast and my “new” brother lives not far from me in the Midwest. We went on a two-week family vacation together, and to a family reunion over Christmas. Family members from many states wanted to meet me. Everything was good, and I was excited for this new chapter to my life. My brother and I get along so well it is as if we were together forever. It is my sister that is the problem.

Everything was going well with her until my Mom passed away. Susan flew in to be with me and attend the funeral. The evening of my Mom’s wake, several of my friends and new-found family were at my home. Susan, out loud and with no warning, said to me in front of everyone, “Every time I look at you I see my Mother’s pain.” I was shocked. We exchanged words, and she walked outside and stood for 30 minutes alone until our brother left. Two months later, Susan sent to me what she probably thought of as a letter of apology, but the letter defended her actions more than actually apologizing to me. I called her on the telephone to accept the apology, but because she was walking out the door, our conversation lasted only a couple minutes. I didn’t hear from her again until my Dad passed away one year later and she called me to extend her sympathy. Now, a year and a half has gone by, and I never hear from her. I don’t reach out, either. I pray daily for her and pray that God puts in her heart to want me as her sister.

Unfortunately, this has strained my relationship with our brother. This upcoming Christmas the entire family is getting together again, including family from many states, and I am not invited. Do I let this go on, or reach out to Susan? I don’t want to, as I don’t want that rejection. Yet, I would love to have Susan in my life. My friends tell me to “let it go.” Ugh, I hate hearing that! My brother says, “I wish you two would fix this.” My closest friend tells me I should be the bigger person and reach out to her, but I don’t want to be the bigger person with this problem she created. I don’t understand how we vacationed together and had a wonderful time, shared a room for two weeks and really got to know each other and then BAM. What happened here?

Confused and Angry

Dear Confused,

Grief does funny things to people. We do and say things under the weight of grief that we wouldn’t on a normal day. I have no way of knowing what Susan meant by the words she spoke to you in your home. I do know that they have to do with her own pain, and not something you’ve done. I suspect emotions are particularly charged with the situation you’ve described. Everyone is trying to function as family, yet do not have the shared history of growing up together. Add to the mix the loss of a significant family member, and everyone grieving in their own way, and things get muddy pretty quickly.

You feel wronged by Susan, and I understand your feelings. You had the welcoming embrace of new family, and budding relationships with siblings. In your hour of sorrow, your sister said something confusing and inappropriate. Talk about BAM! The scenario you’ve described is wrought with stress, fatigue, sadness, and all kinds of emotions that cloud a person’s thinking. Sometimes, we just need to put such a scene behind us, and look forward to better times under calmer conditions.
It seems that, in her own way, your sister has tried to reconnect with you. She may not have said the exact words you’d like to hear, but she has reached out. Perhaps you are holding on to some feelings which are preventing you from accepting Susan as she is? You have a right to your feelings, and you’re justified in them. The question now is: Does holding on to those feelings serve you? What feels lighter to you: maintaining your distance from her, or releasing the feelings and moving forward? Forgiving her does not mean you condone her hurtful behavior. Forgiveness means you release any claim you have to be angry at her for doing it.

I, too, hate it when people tell me to “let it go.” Catch your breath, and don’t expect yourself to be any certain way. You need time to sort through what’s happened. Ultimately, though, I think you would like to let it go and move on. Writing this letter, and confiding in trusted friends, are great steps toward doing that. Be patient with yourself. You’ve experienced huge changes over these last few years. As you work through the feelings, they’ll lighten up and you’ll find your way. Welcome the feelings as evidence that you’re alive, and have loved.

The answer you’re working toward is in your letter: “I would love to have Susan in my life.” You might take this statement to prayer. Simply say, “God, I would love to have Susan in my life. Show me the way.” Perhaps you aren’t yet ready for that prayer, so you might start with, “I am willing to be made willing to have Susan in my life.” Grace, it has been said, is that moment when you become aware of new possibilities. Be gentle with your precious, broken heart, and trust that healing will come.