Last year I wrote two blogs about Family Fog — the perplexing dynamics of being inside a family system. Today I write this blog in celebration of a miracle. My siblings and I have succeeded in accomplishing a goal that has been in our sights for decades.
I remember talking to my brothers and sisters over twenty years ago when the youngest was still in high school about how we wanted to do things differently than our parent’s generation. We made an informal pact. We were not going to fight over assets and become estranged from each other. We were going to work it out.
Ahhh, youthful innocence!
And then we grew up and took our very different paths.
About six years ago, at a time when our father’s dementia was becoming significant, the five of us started meeting together on a semi-regular basis, in anticipation of taking over our parents’ estate (which was a bit complex, comprised of non-liquid assets and a good amount of debt). We realized we needed to learn how to meet with each other, how to communicate about sticky issues and perhaps start to make some ‘grown-up’ decisions.
Boy howdy, you don’t realize what an art meeting together well actually is, until you start meeting together! We did end up having to make some unpleasant decisions. There were rifts between us. We hurt each other. But . . . we didn’t stop talking to each other. We kept meeting, even though we weren’t that good at it, and it more often than not felt like pulling teeth. Time passed. Old wounds surfaced. We created stories about each other, and we broke down stories. In general, it sucked. But we didn’t withdraw, we didn’t stop loving each other. And we kept meeting. Situations shifted. We kept talking, kept trying to make sense of how we five siblings could be fair in dividing the family pie. Year after year after year.
When my father passed at the end of 2014, we were no longer his ‘children.’ It was as if some life-long patterned template had been lifted off of us. We gradually began to settle more into who we really were, and what we each uniquely offer, instead of playing the roles we’d always played in the family, with father as governor. We thought outside the box about what it meant to ‘divide assets.’ We got very clear about where we were united (preserving our ancestral ranch) and where we were not on the same page (who preferred doing business with whom). We also flipped back into our child selves plenty — don’t let me paint some ideal picture here! It was still messy, messy. It mostly felt, in spite of all our efforts, like we were getting nowhere.
Then about a month ago, at the end of June, we all met at the family ranch at Bear Lake for two days. We had hammered out a possible agreement in the preceding six months, a rather creative hybrid asset division agreement proposal, supported with spreadsheets that included some realistic and some made-up numbers. There were places for flexibility in the proposal. There were undefined places that relied on good intentions, and we understood that what was ‘fair’ was more a function of our trust of each other than what the spreadsheets said.
On the first day together up at the ranch, we met together as humans did in tribes for ages. On a sunny Tuesday morning, we gathered in a circle in the living room of our great grandfather’s home (with our ancestors watching, no doubt). Unhurried, we each spoke about the asset division proposal —what we thought and felt about it, while others listened without interuption. After two rounds around the circle, it was clear that we’d all spoken from our hearts all that was in our hearts, and had been really heard by each other. Then we discussed. We acknowledged many of the old uncomfortable issues and places of contention, but we did not wallow in them either. We re-affirmed how different we were, and yet could honor and appreciate those differences. Our few moments of silence and group tears affirmed how much we loved each other. We were splitting assets on paper, but we remained united by land and heritage. I felt my father watching with tears in his eyes, as the late afternoon light dappled in through the west-facing pane glass windows.
That night we sat in the fading light of the day and listened to a piece of classical music together — really loud — on my father’s extremely expensive tube amplifier stereo system, as he used to love doing.
The next day we went down to the turquoise-colored lake we’ve all known all our lives. On the beach together in the late morning sun, we affirmed that we all agreed on this creative hybrid asset division proposal, and would move forward, now working with professionals now to legalize our intentions.
My brothers, two people who are about as opposite as people can be and who had challenged each other greatly throughout this long process, spontaneously and warmly shook hands — a lightening bolt of genuine respect, love and connection between them.
I picked up a large feather on the beach at our feet as a symbol of the moment, and threw my hands up with a cheer of ‘We did it!!’
In a close circle, we did a team hand-throw to the sky in celebration.
* * * *
Something permanently changed in those two days. It was unexpected and profound. I felt then and continue to feel a sense of security and peace that I have never felt with family. How did it happen? It feels a bit like a mystery, though no doubt a lot of hard work and deep caring was involved. Anyway, I am very grateful.
May we all have the faith to keep going through impossible times, knowing that at some point, Grace might step in.