Estrangement, Loss, and the Holidays

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It’s almost a taboo subject at holiday times, the estrangement someone has from a child, family, spouse, or a friend.

There is more than one reason when it’s not discussed, among them:

  • It’s a sad thing to discuss at what is supposed to be a happy time of year and you don’t want to bring others down
  • It’s too painful to talk about
  • It is an embarrassment
  • Fear about what people might think you have done to cause it
  • While we hold out of hope of a reunion, it seems best not to discuss it
  • If you feel depressed, you don’t like to talk about the subject
  • Behavior such as abuse, theft, threats, drug and/or alcohol use is something you are tired of talking about
  • You just want to get on with you life and don’t want to “give it more energy”

Know that if this is part of your life, you are not alone. In fact, it seems to be increasingly common. That empty chair is a reminder of what once was and what isn’t to be, at least not for now. 

This article from the Atlantic by Joshua Coleman discusses how estrangement often comes about.  He quotes Stephanie Coontz, the director of education and research for the Council on Contemporary Families, who points out that never before has personal growth been tied with expectations of family. The family used to be based on mutual “obligations” rather than the current expectation of “mutual understanding”.

He looks at it from both sides, the estranged and the “estrangor”. Divorce, religion, disapproval of lifestyle, sexual preference, gender issues, gaslighting, abuse, and matters of inheritance are common factors in estrangement. It is acknowledged that sometimes an involved party behaved conscientiously, yet is accused of doing things that warranted the rift.

These survey results written by Dr. Lucy Blake of Cambridge University (U.K.) in collaboration with Stand Alone, of more than 800 parents (807 responded) found that 54% percent agreed that “estrangement or relationship breakdown” is common in our family.

Learning to live again. This blog talks about another year with that empty chair at holiday time. The author, Christine Field offers ways to help yourself through as you work to go on with your life. She gives a link to a FaceBook group for estranged parents and adult children. If you check it out, you will see suggestions for a number of other FaceBook groups around the topic.

If you have experienced or are experiencing this kind of loss, know that you are not alone. Loss is part of life. It may not have been “necessary” in the eyes of some. Yet, it is possible to move on and make the best of your life. My prayers are with you and all involved; may all be able to get on with  life and enjoy it.