New readers, welcome to Dear Wendy, a relationship advice blog. Read some of the most popular Dear Wendy posts here. If you don’t find the info you need in this column, please visit the Dear Wendy archives or the forums (you can even start your own thread), do a search in the search bar, or submit a question for advice at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.
My older brother is estranged from the family. To sum up a long story, he moved to Portland, Oregon with his then-fiancée in the fall of 2008 (our family is from, and still lives on the east coast). My parents were never too fond of his fiancée and I think that was partly to do with the fact that she didn’t get a job after they moved and my brother was stuck working long hours to support both of them. However, they were never cruel to her and had tried their best to be supportive. In the summer of 2009, they got married in Portland. My parents and her parents flew out for the wedding. I, unfortunately, couldn’t go due to financial reasons since I had spent a good deal of money to visit them in March, and my brother had been very understanding of this.
Anyway, on the day of the wedding, a series of events went down that ended with my dad and brother arguing at the end of the night. My dad said some unkind things about my brother’s bride and her family in the heat of the moment that he apologized for the next day. Two days after the wedding, after my parents thought the fight had blown over, my brother kicked them out of his house telling them he didn’t want to see them again before they left. So they had to find a hotel and flew back to PA the next day.
Within the week following this incident, my brother and his wife had their cell phone numbers changed, they did not respond to email, they unfriended family members on Facebook, etc, etc. They basically ceased contact with our entire family (not her family) and any of my brother’s friends still living on the east coast. We found out that a few months later, her parents and sister moved out to Portland to be with them. We have received an occasional Christmas or birthday card from them, but no responses to the longer letters we’ve written. But at least we do know he still lives in the same place because he has been cashing the checks my parents send him for birthdays and holidays.
The estrangement came as a complete shock to my parents and me. My parents were not perfect parents — often strict, overprotective, and very Catholic — but they were certainly not bad parents (never abusive or anything). My brother and I used to be fairly close, talking on the phone a few times a month, and often confiding in each other. So obviously, I was devastated that he cut me out of his life over something I wasn’t even involved in. Regardless, over the last 2 1/2 years, I have moved on and accepted the fact that he does not want us in his life and the situation is out of our hands. My parents, however, are still heartbroken and I wish there was something more I could do for them.
I am angry with my brother for the hell he has put my parents through. My dad believes that the best course of action is to fly out to Portland and meet him either at his home or work and plead forgiveness. I believe that “ambushing” him like this cannot end well, but I can’t think of a better plan. Is there a better way to help my parents reconcile with my brother? Is there a way to help my parents cope with the loss of their child? — Suddenly an only child
This is asking the obvious, but have you reached out to your brother? You say he cut off his family, including you, which I can’t even imagine how hurtful must have been, but at any point — especially in recent months — have you, personally, tried to connect with your brother? It seems since you two were once fairly close and since you weren’t even involved in the fall-out between him and your parents, that you would stand a better chance forming a bridge back to your family than your dad would. And maybe this also goes without saying, but have you ever expressed regret that you weren’t at the wedding and couldn’t be a mediator between your brother and your parents? I know you say he “understood” that you couldn’t afford to attend his wedding, but maybe he didn’t. Maybe he was already hurt about that or hurt that your parents didn’t/couldn’t offer to pay your way so you could be at your only brother’s wedding that their behavior pushed him over an edge he was already flirting with.
If you haven’t yet, it would certainly be worth trying to communicate with your brother and let him know how much you miss him and how sorry you are that you were MIA during such an important event in his life. (Even if you’ve already expressed regret about this and even if he truly doesn’t care, it never hurts to be overly apologetic, especially in the case of estrangement). Ask him how he’s doing now. Tell him what’s new with you. Don’t push anything. Don’t suggest he call your parents or come visit or anything like that. Just gently open the door to a possible reconciliation with you and then slowly see where that leads.
If you’ve already tried in vain to reach out to your brother — and to his in-laws — with no success and so have your parents, then after 2 1/2 years, I sort of side with your dad. The best course of action — or, at least the next course of action — may be flying out to Portland. But I would absolutely NOT ambush him at work. That’s just begging for trouble. I wouldn’t ambush him at home either. I’d get a hotel room and call from there. Leave a message saying, “I/we’re here in Portland in hopes of seeing or talking to you. We’re staying at the Blank Hotel and will be here all week. You can reach us at this number. If we don’t hear from you, we’ll try you again tomorrow. We miss and love you very much and it would mean the world to us if you’d agree to see us.” And keep making that call every day. If, on the last day of your/your dad’s visit, you still haven’t heard back from your brother, then go to his house. Knock on the door, but be prepared to leave a note if he doesn’t answer. In the note, tell him how regretful you are about not seeing him and how the door is always open for him at home should he choose to reach out.
If/ when your brother decides to let you all back into his life, it will have to be in his own time. He can’t be pushed into making a decision, but it will help if he sees effort made to make him feel welcome. Good luck!
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow me on Twitter.