By Gloria Hochman
When my cousin Irene and I were little girls, we looked forward to playing together, taking a walk on the main street in Kansas City after holiday dinners and having summer picnics together. We were sure that we would be close friends when we grew up. But when we were teenagers, her mother and mine had a serious disagreement, and each demanded “loyalty” from her children. Because the parents stopped talking to each other, it was expected that the cousins would also. As a result, my sister and I had nothing to do with our cousins (Irene has two sisters and two brothers) for more than 15 years.
A few years after Irene’s mother passed away, my sister and I convinced our mom that it was time for a thaw. Slowly, timidly, we made our reconciliation moves—a telephone call, a note, a suggestion that we meet for coffee. As it turned out, our cousins felt the same losses we did because of the long estrangement. None of us could even remember clearly what our parents’ disagreement was about. We knew only that because we were caught up in it we had been deprived of each other’s companionship and love for too long. All but one of us wanted to change that.
Our situation was not unusual. Every time I go to a party or gather in a group, I am likely to hear about a brother and sister who no longer speak, best friends who had an argument and turned their backs on each other, mothers and daughters whose relationships have gone sour, employer and trusted employee who once saw each other every day and now can’t be in the same room together, brothers struggling over control of the family business.
Often the rupture stems from unresolved sibling rivalry that goes far back in time. An attorney who represented a brother in a prosperous family business that was about to be sold, once told me, “This fight between the brothers has nothing to do with money. There’s plenty of money to go around. It has to do with who didn’t get the red wagon when he was five years old.”