Sibling Estrangement

5 Dec

Dear LetterBalm: I’m the middle child in our family. We’re all reaching retirement age. My brother and I used to be close, but after our mother died 10 years ago, he pulled away from me (he says we’re “on different paths”) but remains in better touch with our older sister and one of my daughters. He’s gay and has suffered the loss of friends from AIDS. He used to be in the arts, but now he’s a realtor. I think he feels – wrongly – that I have been too judgmental over the years. We live in different cities (Philadelphia and New York), and I feel bad about our falling-out. Since it’s Chanukah, I really want to reach out to him, just to make a connection and tell him I love him. What do I do?

–Missing My Brother

Since you and your brother have been estranged for so long, your alienation won’t be solved in one fell swoop. You also may never know the real reason(s) why he pulled away from you. Ms. L.B. suggests a small first step: Since you’re within easy traveling distance, plan to attend an event – an afternoon play or concert or a museum exhibition in his city. Call your brother and tell him you’ll have an hour or so to meet for coffee just to say hello. He won’t feel pressured, and you’ll have an excuse not to linger. Keep your conversation light. Here’s what you might say, first on the phone, then a sampling of topics during your sit-down:

Hi, Simon. It’s Dora. How are you? I’d love to see you just to say hello. I’ll be in New York next Tuesday for a museum exhibition, and I thought we might meet for an hour or so for coffee. Is there a place you’d like to meet?

Simon, I just wanted to catch up with you, find out how you’re doing and tell you where I am now. I’m retired, and I’ve got a couple of interesting ideas about what I want to do. How is your realtor business going? I know there’s an upswing in home buying now. What’s going on in the New York market? Has it ever really slowed down? Have you seen any recent plays? You were always so good about understanding a playwright’s motivation. 

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