PBS recently released a new documentary by Ken Burns focused on Benjamin Franklin. I hadn’t realized Benjamin Franklin and his son William were on opposite sides of the American Revolutionary War prior to watching the series.
William Franklin was a “loyalist,” meaning he was steadfastly supportive of the British Crown. His father Benjamin, on the other hand, was a “patriot.” It didn’t help matters that William was also one of his father’s most vocal critics. Up until the 1770s, however, Benjamin and his son had been very close.
They were collaborators in science, in debate and in business.
After the Revolutionary War concluded, William sought to repair his relationship with his father. But Benjamin’s hurt ran too deep and he refused. The father and son never spoke again.
The Franklins’ story got me thinking about family fractures. What happens when family members no longer speak? Can something be done about it?
Family rifts occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, the hurt and betrayal run too deep to be repaired, as in the case with the Franklins. Sometimes breaches seem to be beyond repair.
Or are they?
Sadly, many quarrels come down to refusal to accept responsibility. So, the fissure continues to grow, both sides longing for reconciliation, but it is illusive, and sometimes never comes.
Family strife is nothing new.
We sometimes go on as if it doesn’t matter. We are good at pretending we are OK with not talking. We try to bury it. We try to justify and rationalize it. We use many defenses to make ourselves feel better.
But there are those times when, all the sudden, out of the blue, comes an overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness. The precipitant might be a photo, a song or something else. Something happens to remind us of times when the relationship was good.
It’s in those times, our heartache we feel the loss in our deepest center. It’s in those times that we wish we could go back and simply unsay what was said. It’s in those times that we want to reach out to those who we still love but don’t speak to.
But unfortunately, we don’t. Why not?
Sometimes it boils down to fear. Fear that reaching out will be rejected. Or plain stubbornness. Stubbornness to admit that we care, or that we were wrong.
Professor Julie Fitness of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, gives us insight. She wrote, “Interestingly, as long as emotions are involved, there is a chance of repair … Emotions are signals that people still care about the relationship, given the strength of feelings evident on both sides … It is when people stop caring and stop missing the relationship that estrangement may last forever.”
So why attempt to repair the relationship when we chance rejection? I mean, isn’t it better to just not take the chance? I am glad you asked. Attempts to repair relationships are worth the risk. Bitterness is a heavy burden to bear. Guilt and yearning can abrade you.
You may just discover they may be longing for reconciliation, too. Most importantly, reaching out emancipates you from those malignant feelings.
However, you must want to reconcile for you, not to hear anything particular from them. By reconciling for you, you unburden yourself and you take responsibility for your part. Explain to them how you feel without blame. They may not hear you, but leave anger there. Don’t take it back.
After all, you came to relinquish your bitterness and anger. Say to yourself, or to them if you choose, “I can see your too into your hurt, or anger, to hear me, and that’s OK, because as of today, I am releasing myself from being angry with you.”
Going to someone to mend a wrong is as powerful as it is humbling. Tell them you miss them.
Tell them you care. Unburden yourself from the clutches of anger.
You’ll be glad you did, whether they accept or not.
Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.