Is Hope a Dangerous Thing?

I hate movies like The Bucket List, Last Song, or Peace Love and Misunderstanding that promise a happy ending to being disowned. In real life, there is no reconciliation, most of the time anyway. Actually, I’ve only seen the Bucket List, long before my father died, when I was still filled with hope, a hope that survived for more than 20 years. It was that hope that kept my heart open and spirit alive.

But then my father died, with no warning to me and certainly no reconciliation. His sudden death nearly destroyed me and everything I believed about him . . . about love.

There are some that would say that I was wrong to have hoped for a happy ending. If I hadn’t deluded myself about my father, then I would not have been so devastated. Are they right? Sometimes I think they are. I could have hardened myself 20 years ago and been spared a lot of pain. But I think that would have changed me as a person, as a mother.

My father had it in him to love and to forgive. It was his choice to hold a grudge. It was his choice to ignore the patterns of his past and of our family. It would have been difficult for him to reach out to me, and I can understand he would have been afraid of the pain. Would his daughter still love him after all that cruelty? Certainly there would have been consequences with his wife, my stepmother. But these were his choices. He could have chosen differently.

So I think I was right to hope, and I would never tell a person estranged from their family to give up.
I think those Hollywood happy endings are rare, very rare, but I have sometimes seen them. Consider this:

  • My grandfather reconciled with my aunt, who had been disowned for more than 20 years. Pop was dying, and it took a lot of lobbying from another aunt to bring peace.
  • A reader on this blog whose father disowned her brothers has reached out to them after decades. I hope her father will not maker her choose.
  • My nephew sent my daughter a facebook friend request … a nephew through my brother who has not spoken to me in 20 years.

So perhaps the healing happens in the next generation. I will remain forever hopeful. It's dangerous, I know.


9 thoughts on “Is Hope a Dangerous Thing?

  1. Thanks for this blog, it says beautifully what I feel and struggle with.
    It was good to know that not only the parents but your siblings have done this–I could marginally understand my mother cutting me off, but what did I ever do to my sister to deserve this?
    The other thing I struggle with is wondering, if your own family does not value you, who can?
    thanks for putting this all up here so that we disowned ones can know that it has happened to others, and by writing about your struggles you help us feel not so alone.


  2. My husband’s family disowned our family about 15 years ago. My husband’s stepfather is repeating the same cycle of abuse that he himself grew up with, with two brothers being disowned by their father and the remaining family members being threatened with their own disownment if communication amongst family members was discovered.
    Unfortunately, the cycle of abuse hit a crescendo about two weeks ago; my husband’s half brother committed suicide. In keeping with history, we were not notified of the death, simply learned about it
    from friends. My husband is both sad and angry; he is being denied the opportunity to participate in the process and to seek and offer comfort to those he cares about: his mother, half-sister and a remaining half-brother. Yet, his stepfather continues with the fear controlling abuse, without those involved even recognizing what is happening.
    We struggle with what is best, not necessarily with what is right. In ordinary circumstances, we would have traveled and participated in grieving and burial rituals. Now, we debate even sending a card; we do not wish to make the situation more painful for those who remain, nor do we wish to open ourselves up for additional ridicule, rejection, abuse and the unhealing wounds that result. We definitely do not want to expose our children to this extreme abusive behavior. But the injustice of it all and the tragic pain it inflicts is overwhelming.
    I am just not sure how much longer my husband can cope to keep the consuming and destructive bitterness at bay. At this point, he feels his siblings are adults and should be able to make better choices and recognize the abuse – especially as the stepfather is older now and the ramifications of his abuse so apparent. My husband feels they should realize that no matter what crime they perceive he committed that it does not deserve this punishment, but perhaps an arguement at best. He also struggles with figuring out what his crime is that makes him such a bad person undeserving of his families’ love and respect.
    It is all so sad and unnecessary; but at this point, the pain and distrust is so great that I cannot even envision what a better outcome might be. I just know that when my husband’s mother dies, the unfinished business may be near debilitating to him and I just don’t know what to do.
    The saddest word I could even think of simply could not begin to describe the situation, but it is all that and more.


  3. Claudia, I am so sorry you are going through this too. With your sister, usually a sibling will get caught up in maintaining the status quo. Would she lose your mother’s love and approval if she showed you concern, or worse, took sides? Think about the story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – so many want to just keep the family dynamics the same. In terms of if your family doesn’t value you, who can: this is the part of your email made me the saddest, because it is a thought I have struggled with for years, decades even. You should have been able to trust your family’s love. But sometimes that’s not possible. You have to find your strength from within and I believe from your faith. You are deserving of that.
    Good luck,


  4. Susan, what a sad, sad story. I am sorry for the loss of your brother-in-law, particularly to suicide. I too worry I will get that call one day about my sister, just because I fear what happens with the pain and disfunction has been bottled up for so long.
    For your husband, can he talk to a professional that has dealt with family rifts? Understanding the family dynamics is really, really important for acceptance and healing. Sometimes in an abusive situation, choosing a normal relationship or mature dialogue is cause alone to be disowned. Play by the rules, the old rules, or be cast out. I found the book “Healing from a Family Rift” very helpful to understanding.
    It’s dangerous if your husband blames himself, but indeed, I understand that feeling. I get that he thinks his siblings are adults and should see what’s wrong, but I can say that it takes years of NOT hearing a parents voice in your head to get that kind of objectivity. I havent’ heard my father’s real voice in 20+ years but his opinions, ways of behaving, are still very loud in my mind so I know they are even louder in my brother and sister’s minds. Yes, they are adults, but adults shaped by a domineering parent.
    You should respond to that family in whatever way you would want someone to respond. You cannot determine their reaction. Send a sympathy card, but do not expect anything in return. It is the expectation that can build false, painful hope that is a problem, not that you are wishing somebody peace. My priest also helped me realize that the funeral is not for the person who passed away, it is for the people left behind to console each other. You can have your own ceremony for his brother. This helped me pay my respects to my father without all the craziness that is my family.
    I hope you all find peace, and my condolences.


  5. I stumbled upon your blog looking for disownment stories and advice as I have been going through this for almost two years. Both my parents disowned me and yes, i know it is very painful because it has caused me much trauma and emotional damage, including anxiety issues and PTSD. And it all happened for something so petty as them not approving of my relationship, even though i am capable of making my own decisions and am educated and have always tried my best to please them. If my mom calls me it’s to guilt me and make me feel bad and tell me how horrible of a daughter I am.
    I am very sorry that your father passed away while you two were still not speaking, i cannot even imagine the pain that would cause you and myself if such a thing happened.
    I am glad however, to see that you have a loving family of your own and you still hold love and forgiveness in your heart, which is what I keep trying to do when I start feeling very angry at them. I tell myself I have no hope, but deep down i think i do. No one realized how hurtful and traumatic of an experience this is until they go through it; therefore, i respect you for being able to be a loving mother.


  6. I can really understand all that I have read. I never knew what really happened, we had a good family growing up, but after I left to go to college ( which was expected) things changed. A few years after I graduated, my sister ran off with her future husband and did not return home for 16 years. In that time I was told that I was not worthy of being an aunt, so I had to go. It was devastating. What was the reason? When my sister came back she was very abusive, running a hose on me as I waled up 40 stairs to my parents home, and beating me in front of my parents…. so my mom could say I did something to upset her ( keep in mind that she was abusing my parents too) Social Sevices was called, and three weeks later she was put on probation for 3 years. I dont know what happened. A few months later my brother blamed me to for something, refused my gift at a christmas party at my parents home which was so painful, and to this day, 14 years later, there is no contact. There has been no contact at all with either.
    I then learned that these two sibblings stole my family’s trust funds leaving my mother with no money, and we are not talking about 10K, 50K or 100K…. we are talking about 15 times that sum, and I am suppose to understand the illegal conversion of it all.
    Tonight, my boyfriend decided to smack me with the idea that I was all the trouble because I had gone after my brothers 3rd wife for telling my mom that funerals are expensive when my mom wants a nice funeral, and it is her pension that will be paying for it, and the money is being held by my brother and his wife. My mother made the mistake of telling my brother that he can keep what is left over, so he and his wife are cutting corners that I got upset with. My boyfriend is upset because I am not family friendly.
    I take care of my mom as best I can. I take care of my family… I am not worthy of being a girlfriend because I don’t have contact with my siblings who I don’t even know anymore… that is pretty lame.
    I was so outragged, that I told him I got it, and tonight he has lost more than he knows, but do not worry.. he will feel the effects. I am an educated woman who raised a child from the time he was an infant when his father left. I know how to stand on my own, and I don’t need that kind of garbage in my life.
    What I did not realize is how much pain his comments could inflict, and worse….how much pain I had inside for whatever reason they had for disowning me.
    I can not force anyone to want me in their life. I deal with self esteem issues, and things are tough for me.. but I am strong and skilled. I have accomplished a lot, and tonight perhaps I did not lose that much… maybe I gained a new unfound freedom…
    I have cried through all of these reading feeling the intense pain of having NO support system. My son is unhappy where he is right now. While he did help me out for a while and had anger at me for it, I did buy him a plane ticket to come home for Christmas… I think he had a different outlook today.
    The hardest part of being disowned is that when people ( friends) find out they like to throw it in your face. No matter how wealthy, how wise, or how talented a person is, there can be a different side.
    I wish I could tell you why I was disowned. It was not over money, drugs, alcohol, or boys/girls. I am not sure what the reason was. I know when my dad was told he was disowned by my brother that he died hours later… it is a painful event!


  7. Hello. Thank you for this blog. I hate to say this, but it really is comforting to learn that others are also going through the experience of being disowned. I have felt very alone in this experience.
    I was disowned about 10 years ago for falling in love with an African-American man. My mother is from the Deep South, elderly (even then), and very bigoted. More important, though, is that my mother is very controlling. Believe it or not, I was 45 at the time I walked out of her house after being given the choice between my (now) life partner and “the family.” (My dad died long ago; my brother lives on the other coast and doesn’t come home to visit. The “family” is my mother, so I guess I was given a choice between my mother and my life partner.) I chose my life partner and freedom.
    Since then, I’ve completed a doctorate, remained gainfully employed, and grown up quite a bit. I can jump in the car in the middle of the night and drive anywhere I want. I can go away on vacations. I can stay home and sleep. In short, I’m free to live as I should have been able to live a long, long time before my mother’s ultimatum. I am 90% happy. However, folks like me are programmed to feel guilty and responsible for everyone else’s well being. So, I still worry about my mother who is very, very old and on her own. I also miss the part of my relationship with my mother that could be good and happy. I have extended an olive branch or two, but she doesn’t accept them. In fact, one of the last communications I had from her involved a voicemail in which she yelled at me for “sinking to a new level.”
    I do what I can to alert her doctor when a common family friend tells me that my mother is in need of help. I coach my brother on reminding my mother to get at-home grocery delivery, etc. However, after years of therapy (PTSD, depression, and binge eating), I have come to realize that my mom has suffered for a long time from what appears to be borderline personality disorder, something which only she can address and work on. (I’ve tried many times in the past to get her to get help. She doesn’t comply.) I can’t do much more than pray that one day she will recover and embrace my life partner and me. A slim hope, I know.


  8. Hi, Erin,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I am sorry that you too have experienced those kinds of ultimatums and estrangement. Controlling parents seem to disown their adult children for whatever things they disagree with – marrying a different race, religion, being gay, being in the wrong career. And I know what you mean by the missing the good. My father was largely good and mostly loving and he was such a large force in my life that even after 20 years, I miss him. I guess the question or trick is how to manage the controlling part, how to set boundaries that work. Have you read any books on PTSD? I believe my mother has this, which is why she lost custody of us when I was little. My father on the other hand was narcissistic personality disorder but I only understood this after he passed away. I have since read some books on how to understand and interact with people like this. It’s helped me heal to a point and to understand him. I sometimes wonder if I had understood such things earlier on, would it have helped us. Prayer too is really the only thing that has helped me carry on and remain hopeful after all these years. As you mentioned praying too, two comments from a priest that has helped me. One was from Matthew- When Your Brother Sins Against You.
    In the homily, he talked about the three D’s in solving conflict in relationships:
    • Direct – when there is a conflict, deal with the person directly
    • Discuss – talk about the problem, don’t harbor bad feelings and suppress the conflict.
    • Dialog – If the conflict can’t be resolved with the first two Ds, then have a dialog with a 3rd party like a priest, therapist, marriage counselor, a trained professional
    The pastor said God is with us in this process, and if the 3 Ds don’t work, forget it. “Sometimes a person’s heart can harden to the point the conflict cannot be resolved in this life or at this point in time. God does not want us wasting time on relationships that can’t be salvaged. God does not want us pursuing mission impossible.”
    I also went to a healing mass, to pray both for me to heal but also for my sister, who was forced to choose. The priest there said it may be that some things cannot be healed when we ask…. Or in this lifetime.
    Best wishes,


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