Welcome to our Blessed Chats series! Each month, we will dedicate an entire week of blog posts to a topic that affects many of us. These conversations often come up in our Facebook groups and in our real life friendships. We want to share a variety of perspectives on the topic at hand, so we’ve asked women to share their stories and how the teachings of the Church have guided and comforted them. In this series, we’re talking more about grief. We’d love for you to join the conversation!
“Ping!” An incoming text from my mama arrived. After an innocuous family update, she extended an invitation to join them for Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities open to anyone who wished to come. And the text that should have been a bright spot in my day simultaneously filled me with a deep sadness.
The text had been directed to all of my siblings.
Including my brother. My little brother, Matt. Matt, who has distanced himself from our family. The one who has claimed a new “tribe,” a family of his own making. His choices and lifestyle have continuously removed him further from communion within our family, and it is a different, but very real grief that I have experienced in this loss. And I especially experience it around the holidays.
You Never Think Your Sibling Will Leave
Growing up in our large, extremely close-knit family, I never imagined this would ever be the case. I foresaw future Thanksgivings where we returned home to my parent’s abode, gathering around their long wooden table, swapping stories of days gone by while favorite dishes from bygone years were made just for the occasion. I dreamt of late-night assembly of thousand-piece puzzles while aunts and uncles bounce the newest members upon their knees. But instead, there’s always a piece missing.
As the oldest, I’ve always felt a strong need to be the protector. To be the one upholding family loyalty. As one of the middle children in our clan, Matt was always the bringer of joy. He tied the older siblings to the younger in an endearing way. Even decades later, I remember rocking his pudgy little baby body, chasing his toddler self around, and laughing at his antics as he imitated various characters. And of us all, I never foresaw him leaving the Faith or denouncing us as his family.
He had drawn especially near to the Eucharist when he first graduated and moved out, but as he delved into his first years of adulthood, his life took a downhill turn. Instead of calling to share what was happening in his life, he started dodging calls. And over the past couple of years, he’s phased himself out of gatherings, updating us on his life, and just being a part of our family.
Trying to Understand Amidst the Pain
Peering in from the outside, I try making sense of it: he’s hurting and broken, he’s wallowing in addiction, or maybe he just feels like he’s lost any connection to us. Maybe he’s scared to reach back out. Perhaps he really does feel intense anger towards us. For all I know, there’s even more that I’m unaware of.
Matt exists on this earth, but his removal from being our brother is tangible. I’ll be conversing with a different sibling and a story will be recalled from our childhood. “Do you remember that time when Matt…” and it trails off into the sadness that we aren’t sure will ever be assuaged. A realization that we don’t know if he’ll ever return. If he’ll ever even want to be present with us again.
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What Can I Do?
The ache is still real. A hole is left by his absence, and I pray daily for it to be filled once again.
And so, in the meantime, I do what I am able. I offer Masses, Holy Hours, and novenas. I live out my Faith as best I can, not bending to fit what Matt might see as acceptable, but in pursuance of the Truth. I’ve had to step back, remember I cannot fix him, but can only bring compassion and charity to whatever contact remains.
I have found great consolation in the Saints who especially are close to families. Saints like Saint Monica who prayed for seventeen years with great faith and perseverance for her husband and son. Or Saints Benedict and Scholastica, twins who remained close their whole life despite both taking holy orders where they only saw one another once a year. Saint Marguerite Bays endured a very difficult family life, being a single woman who took care of a sick sister-in-law who harassed her, a sister who had a failed marriage, a brother who ended up in prison, and a nephew born out of wedlock whom she took in to raise.
The overarching love each of these Saints had for their families speaks of the Grace they were given.
Praying for Our Estranged Siblings
My brother was loved into being by the same One Who created your fathers, mothers, siblings, and children. He has hurt me so much, but even more so, I am heartbroken by his denial of what I know to be good, what will unlock true happiness in his life.
I remain hopeful, though, and keep him close in prayers.
No matter who you’re missing this holiday season, perhaps in spite of the pain they’ve caused you, join me in praying for the return of our loved ones to Christ’s Holy Church.
If you want more help with finding your own story, our popular Write + Pray course offers 9 topics, nearly an hour of guided video, and almost 50 Scripture verses and questions for you featuring Managing Editor Nell O’Leary. Find your story today.
This post was contributed anonymously.