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A family estrangement is foolishly prolonged

An empty table.

An empty table. Photo Credit: iStock

The day before Thanksgiving 2013, I flew from Queens to Palm Beach, Florida, to reunite with family members I'd last seen 17 years earlier.

I'd broken away from almost everyone on my father's side -- my aunts, my uncles, my cousins. Just stopped all communications -- no letters or phone calls or emails.

It was like quitting a job. I resigned from my respective roles as nephew and cousin.

Why I chose to do so is complicated. My father had died 17 years earlier and some wrangling over his estate ensued. I had money problems and career issues.

I also believed my family had largely neglected me, my wife and our children. Bailing out seemed a simple solution. But I often questioned my strategy of retreat. My commitment felt at once deeply right and deeply wrong, almost equally so.

Then, a few years ago, I realized I'd gone missing in action for too long. I'd grieved for my father and nursed my ego and pulled together my career and finances. I came to see that I might be a little too sensitive for my own good.

Besides, going through your life often feeling wronged is no life at all. How much, I figured, does it really matter anymore? Enough was enough.

Suddenly, I stopped believing I could go without seeing my family again. Why leave unfinished business? If we family were ever to come to terms, it had better be sooner rather than later. We're all running out of runway.

And so, hastened by a newfound sense of urgency, I accepted an invitation to join my family for Thanksgiving. And there, more than 1,000 miles from home, I reconnected with my aunt Zelda, then 85 and widowed; her sister, my aunt Gayle, 79; and my first cousins Neil, Hilary, Link and Duffy.

Someone could have asked me, "Why did you abandon us?" Or, "What wrong did we ever do to you?"

But no. I resumed my standing in the family with no questions asked. No one staged an intervention and cross-examined me or expressed any bitterness.

I hugged everyone and said I was glad to be there.

"You're family," aunt Zelda said.

"You'll always be family," aunt Gayle said.

We each took turns at the dinner table citing our causes for gratitude in 2013. What would I say?

"I'm just grateful to be welcomed back into the fold," I said.

"Well," my cousin Link responded, "nobody ever kicked you out."

No campaign to make amends with family after falling out of touch is ever easy. Skepticism and suspicion might abound.

And try though we do to catch up, we never will. All the moments missed will never be regained. However hard we try, nothing will be the same again.

But together is better than apart, at least for me, even if -- especially if -- it comes late in the game.

At the table, with all of us tucking in to our turkey and cranberry sauce, I remembered a song we sang as schoolchildren whenever we went on a field trip and our bus finally arrived somewhere. "We're here because we're here because we're here because we're here," we would sing. And so on, stanza after stanza the same.

If life is both a letting go and a hanging on -- and make no mistake, that's exactly what it turns out to be -- then sometimes we have to do one to do the other. Hang on to what's right so you can let go of what's wrong. Start fresh.

After all, we're here because we're here because we're here because we're here.

Bob Brody, an executive and essayist in Forest Hills, is author of the upcoming memoir, "Playing Catch With Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes Of Age."


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