Hi Cap and Co.
To get right into it: when I was 15, my aunt, who had until that point been a very large figure in my life, cut herself and her nuclear family off from my nuclear family for the foreseeable future. To put into broad terms, my family did something that, while intended to help, had unexpected consequences and was very hurtful to my aunt and her family.
That was eight years ago.
I understand that my aunt had both reasons and the right to make this choice for the sake of her own wellbeing and that of her family members, and we have respected her choice as far as we could. However, on an emotional level, this is something that has been very difficult for me to come to terms with. It follows me around and haunts me; I think about it at least once a week. I’m not sure I will ever fully accept that we are never ever getting back together (ever). The ensuing years were very difficult for my family, and the thought of her still makes me feel angry, rejected, abandoned, and filled with nonspecific regret. I am shaking as I write this.
This is complicated by the fact that my aunt will, on occasion, email us. These emails are not an invitation to renew contact, but rather one time contact points to inform us of things (hope you’re doing well post-hospitalization, I read about this scam that might be dangerous to the girls in the family, I found these pictures in the attic). Every time she does this, I react like a kicked puppy. I feel hurt and angry with her for no articulable reason, but also pathetically, desperately hopeful. It can throw my entire day (or sometimes entire week) for a loop.
I don’t intend to contact my aunt about this, but something needs to change. I can’t spend the rest of my life waiting for her to call, but I can’t bring myself to accept that she is never going to. I’m also scared that at some point she will want to get back into contact and I won’t be able to handle it, and will respond with anger. Seven years of hoping for a reunion have soured in my mouth.
Do you have advice for finding peace and managing hope with this sort of situation? I have begun seeing a counselor, but would love your perspective anyway.
Wow, how painful. Rejection, loss, abandonment are hard to deal with from anyone, not least a close family member. It was her right to go, and it’s your right to feel abandoned, and there isn’t really an answer besides letting time do its work in helping you let go and move on. Which you would do much more easily if she didn’t keep emailing y’all.
You get to leave people forever. You get to have the last word, if you want.
But you don’t get to continually have the last word. You don’t get to cut someone off FOREVER, drop back into their lives whenever you feel like it, and then disappear again whenever you feel like it. It’s cruel. It reopens old wounds. It makes it impossible for the person you left to ever get over things, because you are repeatedly giving them false hope and then rejecting them all over again. I doubt your aunt is being a deliberate shithead about this; she probably thinks that she is doing a caring thing and giving what she can. But that doesn’t help you if you’re powerless until the next time she decides to forward Helpful Hints From The Concerned Mom Internet. Your anger here is a completely reasonable response.
For those of you out there in Readerland who have irrevocably broken things off with someone in your life, think twice before sending that “I was just thinking about you/x thing reminded me of you.” If you don’t intend to open the door to some kind of ongoing communication, it’s a needless reminder.
I suggest talking this over with a trusted counselor. You’re thinking about an eight-year-old hurt once a week to the point that it is paralyzing and physically traumatic, and I don’t like that math. A counselor’s office could be a safe, private place to get all of the feelings out and to learn some strategies for redirecting intrusive thoughts of your aunt when she comes up. A counselor can also help support you if you do decide to reach out to your aunt or cut off all contact in return.
You might feel powerless, but you have some power.
1) Cut it off at the source. Is your aunt emailing you, personally, or is she emailing your mom or dad and then that person is passing the stuff onto you? If the latter, you can request to be left off the communication list. If the former, you can block the emails yourself, or filter them into a folder or separate mailbox that you check only periodically or have a trusted friend check for you. You don’t owe her keeping that line of communication open, and it’s too painful for you to deal with, it’s okay for you to close the connection. She knows how to find you if she ever wants to have a real conversation.
2) Address it head on. Especially if she’s emailing you personally, and especially if you think this is her way of reaching out in a caring way, you can write back. “Hey, Aunt, I’ve been trying to respect your wishes for no contact, but it’s hard to do when you send me things like this. Can we talk sometime? I really miss you and would love to catch up.” Keep whatever you send short, without apology, and without trying to manage everything about her feelings or the future.
You don’t have to develop a collective response with your family, or necessarily consult them. You were a child when everything went down, you are an adult now, and you are entitled to seek your own, adult relationship (or lack of one) with your aunt.
This is where having a trusty counselor on Team You can be helpful, to help you rehearse conversations and manage the fallout. If she says no, she still doesn’t want contact, prepare to feel rejected all over again. It’s gonna suck, no lie. If she says yes, you’ll want to work out the awkwardness of “Eight years, huh? So what have you been up to?”
If she turns down a direct offer of a conversation with you, you will know that you should stop waiting. You will know that it’s unfixable. You will know that you did everything you could, and it’s out of your hands. And with that information, you can grieve, let go, and maybe start to heal. Closure is something you create, not something that someone else gives you. You can unilaterally decide to be done with this chapter, or you can ask directly to re-open the door, come what may.