By Carolyn Hax
Friday, December 3, 2010; 12:00 AM
My 50th birthday is on Sunday. For better or for worse, my family (parents, sibs, the entire extended family) and I are estranged. I've been disowned; actually, it's been more of a mutual disownment and my trust in the family is blown to bits.
Weirdly enough, my brain knows it's for the best, like a bra that never quite fits right - it's annoying and irritating, you're better off ditching it and buying one the right size. I'm a much happier person without the constant judgment.
And yet it's times like this - you know, a big day or event in one's life - when the 10-year-old in me feels like crying.
It's like I'm mourning the loss of a family that never existed except in my head. There's a part of me that can't stop hoping. So, how does one finally quit hoping and really get on with life?
Happy birthday to me
If you really are much happier now, and the grief really does strike mostly at milestones, then I'd argue you have gotten on with your life.
Given the breadth and finality of your estrangement, there's little to distinguish it, emotionally, from a death. And while survivors do eventually emerge from the pool of tears, they still get caught off-guard sometimes, miss the person so much it aches sometimes, relive the pain as if it were yesterday sometimes.
But you grieve for the living, so hope lives, too.
Your vulnerability to grief and hope comes in part from memory; your past lives in you. And, too, the ability to feel deeply comes into play, since an acute sense of loss comes from knowing how transformative love can be when it's present, and how debilitating its absence can be.
Your memories and depth of feeling are the foundation of empathy, and empathy is your gift to the people you do welcome into your life. If the 10-year-old in you wants to cry sometimes, then let her cry. I'd be more concerned if she never spoke up at all.
My cousins and I do a Christmas gift exchange where all the names are thrown into a hat (there are 10 of us, ages 18 to 35). I have a major gripe with the system, though it's petty. My uncle married "Jill" a couple of years ago. "Jill" has a thirtysomething daughter whom I absolutely can't stand and don't see as my cousin. Jill is very insistent we include her daughter in all family things and now her awful daughter is in our cousin gift exchange.
I've enjoyed the exchange in the past, but I'm not sure I'm mature enough to buy Evil, Adult Daughter a gift. Am I being too bratty if I opt out?
Bratty or brave?
If I were Jill's daughter, I'd be embarrassed and opting out myself.
You're all free to opt out, even if the reasons are childish. Which yours are.
As long as you keep them to yourself, though, they're not the issue here; being self-defeating is. You really want to quit something you enjoy, just because you might have to buy this woman a gift or two every 10 years? Wouldn't inclusion - even if it's grudging - trump exclusion, and feel better than stalking off in a huff?
Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or firstname.lastname@example.org.