Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas Into Discoveries – Confronting Old Sibling Rivalries

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Settling an estate opens old sibling rivalries – and presents an opportunity.

Q. My 89-year-old mother died last spring. She was in a nursing home, nearly blind and deaf, but still sharp as a tack. By the time she died she had very little money left – less than $20,000. My only sibling, a brother who lives in the same city as she did, was made sole executor of the estate for simplicity and expediency sake. Well, it’s been nine months and still my brother has not done what needs to be done to settle her very simple estate. I desperately need closure and this is holding me back. When I ask about it he says he’s just been too busy, but I suspect there may be some subconscious obstruction going on since he always felt I was the favoured child. I’m wondering what, if anything, I can do or say to him. Is it worth the trouble and potential fallout?

— Janine, Waterloo, Ont.

A. What you can do is tell him how you feel – and it’s definitely worth the trouble. Your brother says he’ll settle the estate, knows you really want to see it happen, yet he doesn’t do it. That sounds passive aggressive to Dr. Guy Grenier, a London, Ont.-based clinical psychologist and author. What your brother may inadvertently be saying is, ‘I’m annoyed by you and I’m trying to get back at you, but I don’t want to take responsibility for it. I want to create distress in you, but I don’t want to be blamed for it.’

So what to do?

You should call your brother on his behaviour, and yes, even tell him your favoured child theory. Nobody can guarantee there’ll be a positive outcome, but you never know. What we do know, according to Dr. Grenier, “is that lingering resentments are one of the most toxic things in any kind of relationship.”

Avoidance won’t achieve anything, yet Dr. Grenier sees it all the time in his practice. “Somebody is upset about something and they want it resolved, but they don’t want to cause any conflict. Hey, there’s no magic communication technique.”

There’s more. If you’re hoping for closure, forget it. “Closure is a myth. There’s no such thing,” Dr. Grenier says. “Which is not to say we can’t get on with our lives – process, accumulate and reconcile – but the loss of a parent, you don’t get okay with that. You get used to that.”

And the double whammy of expecting closure is it keeps you wondering when it’ll finally happen. “Because people believe it exists they think they’re missing something. They think everyone else is experiencing it,” says Dr. Grenier. “They think they haven’t grieved properly or done their emotional processing properly, when in fact they’re waiting for this moment that doesn’t exist.”

Dr. Grenier suggests you look at this conflict as an opportunity to reinvent your family.  You and your brother are all that’s left of the original family. “To reconnect and use the loss of the mother to re-establish familial ties is as good a reason as any, if not the best reason.”

Send Diane a brief description of your dilemma, along with your first name and where you live, to [email protected]

A professional journalist for more than 25 years, Diane Sewell has written for some of the top newspapers and magazines in Canada and is a baby boomer herself. Her new blog “Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries” is interactive with readers and focuses on life issues – like aging, dating, second marriages, sex, death, family and fashion. Diane will use her expertise to find the right expert to help solve your predicament, unearthing kernels of truth and quickly getting to the heart of the issue.