Monday, December 17, 2007

After Parents Die Relationships With Siblings Change ... And So Do Holidays

Many adults are often surprised at how their relationship with siblings changes after parents die. Family traditions stop or change and many siblings find that they feel less connection to their brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. Parents are often the glue that hold family traditions, communication and the memories of childhood together and when they are gone, so often go the opportunities for gathering. You can never “go home” for holidays.

Add to this the fact that there are so often disappointments, hurts and misunderstandings as family members divide up the parents’ estate and it is no wonder that the family that once was, changes into something very different. The recognition of this often brings about a new phase of grieving for adults and can come as quite a surprise for many.

Many adults are surprised by how hard it is to lose a parent and some even report feeling like an orphan. Finding a way through new relationships with their extended family, often trying to let go of some of the childhood roles and feelings and developing new adult relationships and rituals requires patience, persistence, forgiveness, love and a desire to continue with the family’s legacy.

Changes In The Holidays

So … how can you accept the changes, maintain some of the old rituals and develop new ones? One of the first questions to ponder is … Are you the only one interested? Sometimes that is the case, especially after a few years and both parents have been gone for a while, and children and grandchildren have grown and moved away.

Some people do not desire to continue with old patterns and are glad to interrupt the connection with sisters and brothers with whom they had a great deal of conflict or generally poor relationship or for whom the visits home provided more stress than happiness.

Some families maintain close ties and find the connection very comforting. Traditions carry on in many of the same ways and the family finds ways to honor their parents even after they are gone. One family that I know makes sure to have some of the same foods that their mother made, making sure to have her red velvet cake and a special country ham shipped in from their mother’s home town, even if they celebrate the holiday a few days before or after the actual date of the holiday. They continue to vacation together in some of the same places and the group just grows to incorporate the new members.

Other families, ones who are not as emotionally connected or live out of town and no longer have a “home base’, find that it is more difficult to stay connected and may only have occasional phone or email contacts … and irregular family reunions. Many express a feeling of loss and sadness at the changes and are often disappointed not to be able to share their family traditions with their own children.

However your family’s pattern develops, it is important to be prepared for changes, anticipate feelings of loss … and possibly even some relief. Have conversations with those in your family that want to be connected and talk with them about how to plan family connection and tradition with the new generation at the head.

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