This is rather beautiful! And, it has the potential to foster healing and a lived experience of more loving, fulfilling and meaningful relationships-impacting the generations that follow. However, such heartfelt longings in such moments become mere platitudes if the space in which the grief is encountered, along with the family dynamics, is not held in gentleness and awareness of the cognitive and emotional context of what preceded it, and what could follow if some within the system may resist change-even when well-intentioned- clinging to subtle forms of power and subsystem alliances, which change may dismantle.
It may be helpful to consider how years or decades of fraught relations may not be healed overnight. An apology may be fine for some situations and/or difficulties with some family members-and clearly an apology that goes beyond the “sorry if I hurt you,” and acknowledges what one is sorry for and the awareness of the actions that were hurtful is helpful and begins to restore relational trust. For others, it may take time.
To ease the hurt and condition the heart to love as freely and generously as possible while striving to create stability and acceptance, honoring individuality and difference within the “tribe”-especially in culturally, religiously, and politically diverse families-is essential.
Some things that families might consider include the following:
Forgiveness: Understanding it may be a process, and that it may take time to build trust again. Lean into that sense that a steadier relationship is being cultivated. Allow time to speak to the steadiness and trust and believe that with no quick fixes something more steady, real and honorable might emerge. Avoid, recognize and correct interactional patterns of denial, invalidation, minimizing, attack. If one is eager to “just forgive and move on,” try to understand that the other person(s) is forgiving and moving on in their own way. Trust them. There is learning and unlearning happening here, and the brain is also re-orienting and wiring itself to new experiences that perhaps responded to past emotional threats with fight/flight/freeze responses and/or the person has a sense of caution due to former hopes for family relationships being met with disappointment.
Family Diversity: Engage in political, cultural and religious differences honoring the goodness of the other and the intention to not impose one’s own beliefs; rather, as much as possible, suspend judgment and listen openly. If certain topics foment disconnection, find other things to connect on and perhaps have less of such discussions. Be mindful of language, exclusion and totalizing statements made about individuals or groups. Minimize personal reactivity by recognizing that while relatives are family, they are not you. They are responsible for their own choices and beliefs and while you may be embarrassed or saddened by some beliefs that feel out of alignment with your sense of self and vision of the world, try to recognize that they came to orient themselves out of their own personal influences and understandings.
Personality Differences and Values: What is said? How is someone described? What is valued in how individuals are described? The introvert has a place and can offer their uniqueness and generativity as much as the “bubbly extrovert.” The athlete, artist, laborer, academic, entrepreneur has an equal seat at the table that is valuable; and the one who gives from their heart a gift that may not speak to an extravagance and/or monetary value that others may provide is just as valuable and worthy of acknowledgment. What sort of gifts of mind, heart, personality and materiality are accepted, which are rejected and devalued? Awareness of the subtle and not so subtle forms of communication create experiences that can “unite” or lead others to rightfully retreat.
The 5:1 Ratio: Relationship theorist Jon Gottman demonstrates we need five positive associations for every one negative interaction. Condition the heart in a daily practice of noting the good qualities in the family members that are the most difficult to connect with and try to recall memories of pleasant times. Creating new pleasant memories is wonderful and can connect and assist in the healing of past hurts. Pleasant times needn’t mean “fun” times-although such times are good, too. It could be moments of heartfelt conversation in which each is heard, affirmed and feels seen and loved for who they are.
Be gentle with yourself and each other through this. Commit to being a friend to yourself through it all, and, as much as possible, greeting the challenges along the way with a friendly curiosity of what's emerging.
Death can bring a keen sense of life and birth family life anew. In a desire for openness, acceptance and LOVE, may triumphs of the heart be experienced for those that seek her gifts.