I tend to not bother my immediate family with issues that crop up if I can handle them myself. Plenty has occurred that they have no earthly idea. I fashion myself as the noble, white knight for sparing them unnecessary worry or effort (I seemingly have quite the fantasy life). Such is the case with what I’m about to share with you. I’ve sat on this for a year-and-a-half and you will be the first to hear it.
Weird. I suddenly have an urge to ride off into the sunset on a majestic steed.
It happened during the summer of 2016. I didn’t see this email right away because it was automatically filtered by the email system and moved to the “Junk” folder. I checked this folder from time-to-time — probably every two or three months — but I doubt the timing of my reading it would have changed my response to it. I’m not that sure one was even expected.
My response? Well, I didn’t write back… or reply in any other way. It was, in fact, the last communication between us. Perhaps it will be the last ever. More accurately, it probably will be… given the ultimatum and the ominous statement “We will not bother you again”. I don’t even need to be a psychologist to know that is a passive-aggressive way to really say “Don’t bother us again”. Turns out, that EXACT statement is used as an example of this type of behavior. For goodness sake!
Before I get to the specific email itself, you should know that I have a long and loving history with the senders. Keep that in your mind as you read it, but don’t let this be your focus. Without giving away who the following email came from, imagine it coming to you from a close relative; like a sibling or grandparent. Okay?
Here it is.
In my June 9th email I said [Name] and I would come to your house Monday
morning on June 20th so we could finally see you and your family. […] When we got
to the house Monday morning the only one(s) to acknowledge we were there were
the dogs. We waited outside for a long time hoping you would come out to see
us, but that never happened.
It’s very clear you don’t want to see [us], so we will not bother you
again. If you ever want to move on from what happened to Ryan remember we will
always be here for you. Just let us know.
Normally I don’t parse emails and simply accept them at face value. But, not always. Every once in a while it requires more attention, like when it is extremely serious, confusing, or veiled. This was the latter, hands down. There was a distinct undertone to it that I didn’t much care for. I wonder if you got the same feeling? To me, the email’s context was the very epitome of passive-aggressive. The content was written to subtly shame, guilt, and blame me… in that order.
It’s the last paragraph that initially really bothered me… and still does to this day. As for the first paragraph, at first blush, I felt bad for being considered such a scalawag. Although as is often the case when writing, the last sentence (or two) in a paragraph is the true meaning. What comes before is simply to guide the reader along.
This might be a good time to make it absolutely clear that I completely understand my role in all this. My life changed, literally in a heartbeat, and I’ve sucked miserably at adjusting to accommodate others. In fact, therein lies a problem… I’m not who I use to be. Sometimes people don’t realize just how much I’ve changed. Worse yet, I actually resent those who believe that I shouldn’t have changed. My circumstances now dictate (much of) my life and for those who think I have a choice about this are utterly oblivious.
I’d go so far as to say it really irks me!
Think about it, you see it more than you might realize. Circumstances change everybody’s lives and it’s not always from the unexpected either (i.e., parenthood would be an example of this). Turns out, sometimes you’re not responsible for your own happiness…
Now back to the point.
The couple who wrote the email are wonderful. I have a deep and everlasting love for them. That must never be doubted. Never! I’m also certain they are getting flat-out awful advice, but there’s no way to convince them otherwise. So, you see, it’s not them I’m directly criticizing, it’s the message’s content and context… it’s meaning. Don’t get me wrong, there is criticism to be had for them but it’s indirect.
Here’s a comparison between what they wrote and how I read it:
- “…the only one(s) to acknowledge us were the dogs.” ⇒ Unlike you, at least the dogs like us enough to say hi.
- “We waited outside for a long time…” ⇒ We went to extraordinary lengths only to be greatly disappointed.
- “…hoping you would come out and see us…” ⇒ We know you were home (i.e., I wasn’t) and were purposely ignoring us.
- “It’s very clear you don’t want to see us.” ⇒ You are to blame. It’s not us, it’s you.
- “If you ever want to move on from what happened to Ryan…” ⇒ You have issues, but they are easily remedied… if only for want.
- ” Just let us know” ⇒ We’re done trying, but will graciously forgive you if you come to your senses.
Okay, so, I know that was fairly blunt (even though it could have been worse, trust me on that one). Albeit harsh, I believe it was accurately translated. Sure it hurts, but I (mostly) try to be honest — well, at least as much as possible— and this is especially true for myself since there are no delicate feelings to spare.
Speaking of feelings, what hurts more than the words they used is that they were used to describe their attitude about and toward me. Yikes! Nevertheless, they gave a shocking degree of insight as to how others might perceive me. Damn, some are even true and made me do some serious self-reflection. That email had two profound effects on me: 1) How I must come across to others and is there anything I can do about it, and 2) How despicable I am believed to be by its authors. This actually affected me so profusely that I started closing off the outside world. You might have noticed that it was at this time that my blog posts began to trickle and run dry.
As a matter of practice, I always try to put myself in the other’s place. Relate, rationalize, and emphasize to capture their situation, logic, and emotion. Before anyone starts patting me on the back for being this way, it’s only fair to tell you I sometimes do it solely for my benefit. It’s effective in helping me react and respond… to serve my interests. In this case, however, it was important to me to imagine exactly as they felt while writing that email. Here’s what I came up with, in summary: “We miss you so much. Oh, how we wish things were like they use to be… like you use to be. We would wait forever to make it so. We don’t know how to make it right again and perhaps you can show us the way. Please let us know you care enough to try.”
By doing this, I believe I found neutral ground.
Over the past eighteen months, since receiving this email, I’ve struggled with the abolishment of our relationship. I wondered how I’d feel if something happened to one of us and it was left unresolved. This is what I now know… I’d be heartbroken. Here’s what else I know… I’m not accepting shame, guilt, or blame… at least as how it relates to this anyhow.
Nor am I imposing it on them for feeling the way they do. If it were me on the other side of this relationship then I wouldn’t understand either. Despite the hurtful stuff said in the email, I remain committed to making it right… when the time is right… if it’s not too late that is. Still, by them saying those things to me it just makes it so much harder.
It’ll be damned hard to return to where we left it eighteen months ago when I said: “I need to keep my focus on Ryan’s needs. As much as I want, this isn’t a time when I can do things together like we use to do. Sadly, I simply can not shift my attention to our relationship now. I hope for the time when all that is possible. In the meantime, please know that I love you very much.”
I’m not sure how this will all turn out… and that greatly concerns me. Still, I’m going to continue to look for any opportunity to reverse — or at least stop — the discord. Perhaps a weekend will open when we can visit? Of course, everything must fall into line perfectly, but if it were to then I’m thinking of inviting them to our cabin either in the late-spring or early summer since it might offer a relaxing atmosphere. It’s impossible to plan in any more detail because I really can not nail anything like this until the morning it would actually happen. Even the day before only gives me a 50/50 shot, at best.
I’ll try my damned best.
Update from my last post, Caregiver’s Anguish: Despite my reservations, I ordered a new television (that was on sale for Cyber Monday Week… funny how a week is named after a day). As anticipated, I was immediately remorseful (but excited as hell). As some sort of cosmic payback, within hours the upstairs bathroom plumbing supply line burst — in the middle of the night, of course — causing significant water damage to the ceiling on the main level and a little on the basement level. Then, just for giggles, my wife’s car’s transmission died the next day. I’M KEEPING THAT DAMNED TELEVISION!