Listener 1: Estrangement feels like I've lost a limb and I'm learning how to live without it.
Listener 2: I have been estranged from my family since I was 16. I moved out and I just never saw them again.
Listener 3: I responded and told him, "Well, the hubris that it takes to tell somebody how they should think has to be pretty high." [chuckles] It blew it up pretty badly.
Listener 4: I had been reaching out and trying to contact her. She just wanted to tell me that she just wanted me to stop trying to contact her.
Listener 5: Because the estrangement is this thing that there's no public rituals for it. People might see me and I'm high-functioning, and yet I carry all that grief with me.
Kai Wright: It's Notes from America. I'm Kai Wright. Welcome to the show. This week, we're trying something new. Those voices you just heard, those are listeners of one of my favorite shows, Death, Sex & Money. Their host, Anna Sale, is with me this week to invite all of us into an interesting conversation she's been having with her listeners over the past few months. Hey, Anna.
Anna Sale: Hi, Kai. We just put out this series about estrangement on the podcast in December. In the course of making it, we heard from hundreds and hundreds of listeners about the pain, isolation, and really the lack of public vocabulary about estrangement. An estrangement in our meaning is an experience of feeling cut off from a relationship or a community that once felt like home. We heard from people who left relationships that felt they were no longer safe or were serving them and people who were cut off and didn't always understand why.
Kai, one thing that really came through in our series about our listeners' experiences with estrangement of all kinds was that it's not necessarily a good or bad thing. It can be necessary and empowering, it can also be devastating and confounding, and it can be all of that at once. The reason I'm really interested to talk with you and the Notes from America listeners about this is I think one of the primary themes of this show is about estrangement writ large like from each other and from the systems of American democracy.
Every week, you are asking yourselves, "What values do we share and what are our non-negotiables?" When there are deal-breakers, what then? What can you work with and when do you draw a line and give up? I think that's something a lot of us in America have thought about, both in our relationships to institutions and systems and also in our closest relationships where differences of values have flared.
Kai Wright: That is the work here. Sadly, even right now as we speak, there are many places we can look and see the social fabric of this country torn in horrifying ways where there are real questions about whether differences can or even should be reconciled. This would have been the 50th anniversary of the right to an abortion nationally. People marched in cities all over the country to protest new anti-abortion laws today that, to some, seemed unthinkable not too long ago.
Meanwhile, also today in Monterey Park, California, residents are grieving a mass shooting that happened at a ballroom dance venue last night on the eve of Lunar New Year. There have been 33 mass shootings this year in 2023 already, according to the Gun Violence Archive anyway. Monterey Park is famously a majority Asian-American community. It's said to be the first in the country.
Law enforcement officials have not publicly declared a motive for the violence or said that it has anything to do with the holiday. They've only said that the lead suspect is an Asian male, but I'm not sure any of that matters when I think about just the real fear and ostracization and estrangement that so many Asian Americans have expressed over the past few years. People saying they just no longer feel safe or at home in places where they once felt at home.
These kinds of things are the unavoidable backdrop to all of our lives and our relationships and our effort at social cohesion. They are also the backdrop to the conversation we are going to have right now. Listeners, we really intend for this whole show to be driven by you and your experiences. Here is what Anna and I want to hear from you. Are you wrestling with a relationship that is really important to you, but in which there is now such a profound challenge to your values that you're not sure it's worth it anymore?
We want to hear about it, and what, if anything, has helped you. This might be an estrangement that's because of who you are, something about your personal identity, or it could be because of something you or someone else believes like a particular set of ideas about faith or politics or health, or it might be something altogether different. Who knows? Just one more thing to say about this call-out before we really get going here.
It could be that you're feeling this estrangement with a person or family member, but it could be with an institution or a community. Part of what we're doing with this show is following up on a show we did last fall on faith and Christian nationalism. A lot of you called in to talk about feeling increasingly exchanged from your faith communities. Here's one example of that. This is John from Northeast Ohio who called into that show.
John: Hi, I've been a Christian since I was 13 years old. I moved to Toledo, Ohio, lived there for 25 years. Around the time that 2016 came in and the whole Trump nationalism came into the church, every time I would try to say, "Hey, look, we're losing focus. We need to be focusing on the gospel and the love of Christ," I would get shut out. My wife and I were essentially run out of this church. We wound up moving down towards Canton. We've had to church-shop just to find people that aren't preaching Christian nationalism.
Anna Sale: Kai, we heard a lot about religion in our series about estrangement. In fact, the first episode of our three-part series features a person we called Brian. He didn't want to use his first name because he's in it right now. He has felt this profound shift in his bedrock values and now believes what he was taught in his church community growing up, one he is still a part of publicly, he has some questions about.
He thinks it's made him do some cruel things to people he loves, but he's stuck because it doesn't just mean changing his sense of right and wrong. It also is a threat to his marriage, a marriage that took place in this church community. It's a threat to his relationship with his parents. He's experiencing estrangement in that sense of feeling very, very stuck and not being certain what to do.
Kai Wright: It's a really profound story that caught in between. As we take your calls, we're joined by Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald. She's a therapist based in Durham, North Carolina, who specializes in estrangement. She's been leading a group for adults who have decided they need to pull back from their relationships with their parents. Rebecca, welcome to the show.
Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald: Hi, it's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Kai Wright: You specialize in adult children who are estranged from their parents. We will talk to you about that specific dynamic of estrangement of parental relationships. I know you've thought about this topic on many levels. Just what about this broader conversation that we've set up here? Is there any evidence that estrangement is somehow a more common or more acute thing today than it has been in the past in the US?
Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald: Maybe. I'm finding in the zeitgeist, there seems to be a lot of commentary specifically from parents who've been cut off by their adult children that this came out of nowhere. They didn't expect it. There's a lot of stigma around estrangement. I wouldn't be surprised if we're hearing more about it, but I think that it's always existed, especially when you consider a broader definition of estrangement encompassing not only cutoff but just the strained nature of a relationship and deciding to reduce contact, reduce exposure, reduce the amount of time or attention or spread that is spent between folks.
I do think people are discussing mental health and boundaries and generational trauma more consistently these days. There may be more people who are making personal boundaries more explicit between themselves and others, but relational strain has existed as long as people have. I'm quite confident. Unfortunately, there's just not a lot of data to determine it either way.
Anna Sale: Rebecca, do you think that the support systems for people experiencing estrangement-- Well, it may have been maybe a timeless phenomenon as you say. Do you think that our support systems and just way of being able to talk about this phenomenon is improving?
Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald: Ooh, maybe improving in the fact that any of it exists. There are Reddits. There are informal groups out there. Part of what was going on when I started the support group for estranged adults who were considering or experiencing cut-off from a parent was that most of the research that I did indicated that there were lots and lots of communities for parents who have been cut off, and yet, a lot of those virtual communities and even social support groups tended to be more echo chambers around the pain and not a lot of questioning about accountability, role development, and how to potentially foster change or initiate repair in their relationship with their children.
I saw a need with regards to working with adults who are deciding to potentially set boundaries with a parent around how do you deal with the ambivalence you're feeling and how to normalize issues like shame and dealing with stigma and the fact that this is just not an issue that's been talked about, and then getting clear on what you want, what you hope for. Because once estrangement is on the table, it typically memes that a relationship has been strained so far that there isn't an assumption that your feelings or experience matters to the other person. Then you're deciding, "Am I willing to live without them anymore?" That's a pretty extreme place to get to, and yet when I offered it, people came.
Kai Wright: We're going to take a break and then we're going to start hearing what our listeners have to say about this. Anna Sale, host of Death, Sex & Money, has invited us all into a conversation she's been leading with her listeners about estrangement. For the rest of this hour, we are going to have that conversation with you. We'll take your calls and we'll see what kind of solutions we can come up with after a break.
Kai Wright: Welcome back. This is Notes from America. I'm Kai Wright. This week, Anna Sale, host of Death, Sex & Money, has invited us into a conversation she's been having with listeners over on her podcast. We're talking about estrangement or put another way, can't we all just get along? What happens when the answer is absolutely not? Anna and I are joined by Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald, a therapist in Durham, North Carolina. Let's start hearing from you. Let's go to Meg in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Meg, welcome to the show.
Meg: Hi, so this is very interesting timing. I actually live in Idaho and I'm just visiting back here in Sioux Falls with my father. I'm currently being estranged from with my mother and my sister. Back visiting my father, but not my mother really.
Kai Wright: What is the source of your estrangement?
Meg: My father had some strokes and he's in an assisted living. My mom chose to stay in their home. I supported her on that. Recently, she took a boyfriend and moved him into her home, my father's home. There's a man who has his clothes in my dad's closet, his car in my dad's garage. He's sleeping in my dad's bed. Morally, ethically, that's hard for me, but it's a gray area because of my dad's dementia.
However, this man also told my mom when he started pursuing her that he wouldn't move to be with her unless he lived in the house. He's had some bad investments, and so he couldn't afford his own apartment. I'm really concerned about my dad's estate. I've told my mom if she wants to divorce Dad and do whatever she wants with her half of the money, I'd be fully supportive of her, but that doesn't seem to be something she wants to do.
Anna Sale: Oh, Meg, that sounds really painful and difficult. I just have a question as far as talking with your mother or your sibling that you mentioned there. What's that been like when you've said, "Oh, I have some real difficulties ethically and morally with this"? Is that a conversation that you feel like you've been able to have honestly and candidly with one another?
Meg: No, not easily at all. That's not the history of our communication style. My sister, when he first moved in, I was very angry. My conversation with her, she just said, "We're on different pages, so I won't talk to you about him at all." That led to just a discontinuation. We tried and she made some rules about what I could say or how. I just said I'm not willing to have that sort of relationship.
My mom and I have become very superficial and talk about movies, books, TV, food. He also has tried to ingratiate himself into my family. My dad's siblings have also separated and taken a step back from my mom. There's been a dissolution of our grandeur family. Texts he's sent out have been very hurtful trying to make it feel like he's part of our family. I've told my mom I have a boundary that he shouldn't be texting me, but he has still done that.
Kai Wright: Thank you for sharing that story, Meg. Let's take a few and then have Rebecca respond to some of them. Let's go to Mina in Pittsburgh. Mina, welcome to the show.
Mina: Hi, thanks for having me. I'm calling regarding actually abortion and estrangement from my partner of 10 years. Let's see, so I've been an ardent abortion rights advocate, reproductive rights advocate my whole life. I've been going to marches and being involved in the effort to keep reproductive rights available to everyone for as long as I can remember.
I've been with my partner for 10 years. We had an abortion within the first year. This was Pennsylvania, where the stakes were high in the last election. I asked him to vote. He's a non-voter, and he didn't. I found that out around the election. Our relationship has just crumbled since then. I'm actually planning on breaking up with him next week because I can't get over it.
Kai Wright: Oh, my goodness.
Mina: I can't get over that he doesn't have the same values with respect to people's rights and the right that he enjoyed. Neither of us ever wanted children. I don't want to say that he enjoyed the right, but we both benefited from it being available to us. Yet, he didn't fight for it when the stakes were really high and I can't--
Kai Wright: Can I ask you, Mina? What do you think is really at the core of it for you when you say that you've hit a values conflict that makes this relationship now impossible? What is it you think that really is at the core of that?
Mina: I think at the core of it, for me, is a matter of equity that I think that we are not seeing the fact that a partnership that involves the possibility of pregnancy and burdens of all sorts should be shared. That part of the burden that we have in society is fighting for other people and he did not fight for me.
Anna Sale: If I may, that's what I hear. I hear also the sense of betrayal that you asked him to vote that it was important to you and then he didn't. You found out later.
Mina: That's conflicting too because I don't want to influence anybody's vote. That doesn't feel like a good thing to do, which is why I've been struggling with this for now months.
Kai Wright: Rebecca, what would you say to Mina in a situation like this?
Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald: Well, there's a lot of contexts that I think would be helpful to understand. I certainly hear that she's very hurt and surprised. I think Anna hit the nail in the head when she suggested the word "betrayal." It definitely seems like there was a rupture point when Mina's partner didn't end up voting. Then it sounds like the two of them have not been connecting in their conversations about what that decision meant to them.
Whether it's about the choice not to vote or the quality of their connection since he made that decision, it seems like she's feeling really, really hurt. With Mina and Meg both, it seems as though people have set a boundary but not been willing to engage further to strengthen their relationship after that point. It makes sense to want your pain to be seen and validated. I just want to caution folks. You may decide that your relationship is incompatible or there are factors about the two of you that are incompatible.
That may be grounds enough to end it, but it hurts to cut off a relationship like this too. I would just ask folks. Is this the pain that you're willing to live with after you end this relationship? I also want to name for Meg too that you'll lose influence when you step away from a relationship. It sounds like she really wants her mom to hear her, her mom's boyfriend to validate her boundaries, the family to rally around her, but estrangement doesn't get you more influence. In fact, it involves losing it.
Kai Wright: Mina, thank you so much for bringing that story to us and thanks again to Meg for bringing that story to us. Before we take another call, Anna, you want to hop in?
Anna Sale: Well, I just want to say, Mina, good luck next week. I'm curious, the word "estrangement." Something that came up when we were talking with listeners on our series like there are breakups and there are ends of romantic relationships. We have vocabulary for that, but why the word "estrangement"? Does that resonate with you when you think about the end of this 10-year relationship?
Mina: I think that gets some of the broader contexts that is probably missing. This has been probably the defining relationship of my life and it wouldn't be just a breakup. There would have to be, I think, a lot of distance in order to affect a broader change that this revelation has revealed to feel necessary.
Anna Sales: Well, best of luck to you next week.
Mina: It's a longer story.
Anna Sales: Yes, best of luck. We'll be thinking about you.
Kai Wright: Let's go to Jeff in Brooklyn. Jeff, welcome to the show.
Kai Wright: What would you like to tell us about?
Jeff: Okay, so I live in New York, but I'm originally from a city in the Midwest. I left the Midwest in my 20s and I haven't moved back since. Every time I go back to visit my two adult siblings-- They're younger than I am, but they're adults. I'm middle-aged at this point. Things devolve into homophobic. I'm also a gay man. I should have said that. Things always to the point now where I dread going back devolve into homophobic name-calling and threats of violence.
I go back primarily to visit my mother. She's still alive, thank God, but she doesn't approve. There's not the name-calling from her and comments, which I probably couldn't repeat that my siblings make about, "You engage in such and such sexual acts. You're disgusting. You're nasty. We should do this to X, Y, and Z to you," that kind of thing. It's primarily from my siblings, the name-calling, and the threats of violence. From my mother, she doesn't approve, but there's not the name-calling and the threats of violence.
She doesn't want to discuss it, so I've considered severing ties or just going back at all at this point. It's dreadful even to think about going because I know what's going to happen. I want to visit my mother, but I also feel bad. It took a lot of years to work through the internalization of the homophobia. As I said, at this point, I'm a middle-aged man still having to deal with threats of violence and name-calling from my own family members and I'm tired of it.
Kai Wright: I've heard this kind of story over and over and over again. I'm a gay man. I know a lot of people with this kind of relationship with their family. Rebecca, I know you work a lot with LGBT people. What does Jeff's story make you think about?
Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald: It's bringing up a whole lot of compassion, Jeff. It really sounds like you're hurting. I'm hearing you putting yourself out there, making yourself very vulnerable to go back to your hometown every time you do see your mother only to have the fears and the things that you're trying to avoid being thrown in your face. Nobody should have to subject themselves to threats, verbal abuse, degradation. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in all relationships.
It is fully appropriate for you to set boundaries with your siblings around what you'll stand for, and yet you have to make a judgment call over what kind of effort you're willing to put into your connection with your mother. It's got to be so painful to travel all that way and to feel pressure to hide an enormous part of your identity. Now, if that's a relationship that's very important to you, you might consider whether you're going to tolerate seeing your siblings when you're visiting your mom.
If your mom will support your boundaries around keeping distance from them or deciding what you're going to do if they do bring up the name-calling when they're around, maybe it means stepping away. Maybe it means saying, "I'm not going to come back again if you do this to me." You might want to talk that through with your mother or you might decide that the visits are too painful. It's definitely something to think through, and yet I can tell that this relationship with your mom's important to you. I would hate to see you cut it off before you're ready.
Kai Wright: Jeff, I just thank you for sharing that. I know it's hard and it's going to stay hard. I hope others listening to it can get something out of that as well. We're getting tight. We're going to need to take a break, but I'm just going to go ahead and sneak in one more call. Rich in Queens. Rich, welcome to the show.
Kai Wright: Hi, Rich. If you can, in a fairly short time, just give us a synopsis of what you're facing with estrangement. We can come back to you after the break.
Rich: Fair enough. I guess as I was saying to the person screening the calls, I have an intense relationship with my family. I think the main thrust of the stressors and the thoughts about estrangement revolved around mental health and mental illness, which is something that I deal with as well as my mother and my brother. My father, luckily for him, doesn't really, but he's caught in between all these things.
I'm older. I live alone, but I'm still connected to them very much so even financially due to my own issues. I find myself out of work often enough and they financially support me. Even also emotionally, my father definitely helps to emotionally support me. I'm also triggered. I don't think that's the word, but also me and my mother suffer from a similar form of obsessive-compulsive disorder and things. I'm not in a great place myself and she's also not in a great place and that adds a lot of stress.
Kai Wright: Rich, can you hang on? Just stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to come back and hear the rest of your story and see if we can respond to it. I'm Kai Wright. This is Notes from America. We'll be right back.
Kousha Navidar: Hey, everyone, this is Kousha. I'm a producer. For this episode, Kai is teaming up with Anna Sale, host of the podcast Death, Sex & Money. Death, Sex & Money has done a special series about estrangement. If you like this episode, I encourage you to check the whole series out. We'll leave a link to it in our show notes and we want to know, what does this discussion bring up for you? You can email us. The address is email@example.com. You can also visit our website and send us a voice message. Visit notesfromamerica.org and click on the green button that says "Start Recording." All right, thanks. Back to the show.
Kai Wright: It's Notes from America. I'm Kai Wright. This week, I'm with Anna Sale, host of our cousin podcast, Death, Sex & Money. She's invited us all into a conversation that she's been leading with her listeners about estrangement. Anna and I are taking your calls along with Durham-based therapist, Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald. Before the break, we were speaking with Rich in Queens. Rich, you were telling us about the tricky situation that you are facing with your family in navigating mental illness. Can you pick up where you left off?
Rich: Yes. For me, I'm in my 40s now and this has been going on forever. Talking about the idea of estrangement, I think even as a child or as an adolescent, I had this sort of idea that if I was not with my family, I would somehow be doing better whether or not that's true or not because of just understanding the emotional and behavioral issues and that perfect storm which continues.
My family dynamic is still connected. Everyone is caught up in this thing, and I am too. I think in the end, I don't really want estrangement. I think I've tried to set boundaries, which have been helpful enough when I'm able to use them, but I think I find myself in this situation. I'm saying there's all these different elements to it. I don't know.
Anna Sale: Rich, I want to tell you, on Death, Sex & Money, we heard a lot about mental illness in the way that it can be a factor in causing real strain in relationships and can sometimes lead to estrangement. I wonder in your life when you think about the challenges being in relationship with your different family members, do you sometimes blame the mental healthcare system and its shortcomings for putting so much of the strain on those familial relationships?
Rich: I can see that as an issue. I have to say, I feel I've been lucky in my life. I come from a fairly well-to-do family that also, at least from an early level, was seeking out help, to be honest. We went to family therapy as a kid, which I think did not work, so it's hard to say. I do know from my own personal experience being in the more public healthcare thing, having to deal with my own financial situation, it does take a lot more self-advocacy. I think there is also just a lot more advantage you have simply by who you are. It's just true. If you speak well enough and you seem coherent, that helps. People want to help you. I don't personally just blame the health care or the mental health industry in my situation, but I think I can see how that's a factor for other people.
Kai Wright: Rich, thank you so much for sharing that story. I hope you find a way through it. Rebecca, you were nodding along a lot. Similarly to Anna with people who are struggling with mental health and estrangement, do you want to say a word about that?
Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald: Sure. When a mental health issue starts to become a major factor that interrupts things throughout your daily life, whether it affects your relationships, your work, your ability to be comfortable in your own home, it's enormously taxing and incredibly isolating. It can be really difficult when you're interacting with a family system where people either don't understand what's going on or don't know or aren't attuned enough to your experience to be interested in hearing your perspective.
I could tell that that could be very lonely. I'm hearing Rich say that he's tried to implement boundaries. He's already doing a lot of self-advocacy, which is a lot of work, and yet he still finds himself wondering if he would be doing better without his family. It sounds just so difficult. If it's not something he's already talking to someone individually about whether he needs to take more distance from family or not, it seems like that would be a good idea.
Kai Wright: Well, Rich, thank you again for bringing that into the conversation. Let's go to George also here in Manhattan. George, welcome to the show.
George: Thanks so much for having me.
Kai Wright: What are you dealing with in terms of estrangement in a relationship?
George: Well, I'm in an interesting little scenario where I'm trying to broker or help to not have an estrangement happen between my mother and my sister. Both sides are a little stubborn and a little silly. My sister is taking the approach that estrangement is the only way right now. It doesn't seem to me to be a good long-term solution. Looking for any advice you guys might have on how to play a middleman here and help everybody out unless that's too naive.
Kai Wright: To the degree that you're willing to share, what is the source of this ongoing estrangement before we ask Rebecca to chime in with what people do in these broker situations in general?
George: Sure. My mother is a classic--
Kai Wright: Oh, I think we lost George for a moment there. Rebecca, for people who are just in that broker situation where they're trying to say, "Hey, I can get in the middle here. I can figure this out. My family can heal whatever the divide is," is that something you hear a lot and is it a good idea?
Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald: Well, again, not having a lot of the specifics, I want to say I bristled a little bit when I heard him say that his mom and sister were being a little silly because what I'm hearing is that the estrangement is really uncomfortable for him, which makes a lot of sense. Yet, because he wants to help them broker or repair, reconnect their relationship, he is unlikely to be successful if he is adding to the invalidation of the members of his family.
In any parent-child relationship, there's an inherent power dynamic. I would question whether it might be useful sending them to a family therapist to examine whether the mother wants to be right, or does she want to be close? Can she tap into her desire to give care and to hear her daughter's concerns? Can the daughter take that in? Is that a new foundation that can be set? Because until that happens, it's unlikely that a solid repair is going to be put in place.
Kai Wright: This isn't exactly what George was talking about, but I know in Anna's series, Death, Sex & Money, one of the things that really stood out to me were people who were in the process of estranging, that there's this spectrum of behavior that falls underneath this thing we're calling estrangement. That seemed like a particularly confusing place to be. I just wonder how often that comes up and what you say to folks in those situations.
Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald: It comes up all the time. It comes up even in people who aren't intending to create intense distance of a parent. It comes up after hurt feelings at Thanksgiving, and yet the thing about estrangement for what little research exists, it typically tends to be a temporary process and is often cyclical. Very often when a relationship is strained so consistently, and yet somebody is not willing to or when the parties involved are not willing to do a solid, intense repair, or end it altogether, what happens is it starts to get distant and then a reconnection happens, and then it gets distant again, but very rarely does somebody cut off a relationship and have it end. Because very often, especially in these attachment relationships, it's just so painful to live with that decision forever.
Kai Wright: Let's go to Parker in Manchester, New Hampshire. Parker, welcome to the show.
Parker: Hi, can you hear me?
Kai Wright: Yes, we can.
Parker: Well, I lost my partner and she was my dearest love, my best friend, my lover for almost 35 years. I lost her October 2021. Part of her life for all that-- Let me explain that. Our relationship started out improperly. I was married. She was recently divorced. It was irresponsible, but it was also irreplaceable for both of us. We're madly in love from the beginning. She had a core group of friends. She called them her chosen sisters and they were just like family to her.
They loved her. She loved them. She shared an awful lot with them. For all those years, I felt that they were, at the very least, my friends. Mostly, they were my friends because they cared for Lisa so much. I felt that it was reciprocal that I was their friend because I cared for their friend, Lisa, as dearly as I did. The last three years of Lisa's life, I was her constant caregiver. Lisa died from a combination of lymphoma as well as dementia.
When she died, it was very, very abrupt when I did not hear anything from our friends. I think the first couple of weeks after she died, there was some outreach from a couple of them. It was made very clear to me shortly afterwards that they really didn't care to have anything to do with me. To the point where this past October 2022, we finally had Lisa's memorial service and I delivered the eulogy.
In the eulogy, I included a lot about this core group of friends she had. Not one of them, except one that gave me the proverbial, prerequisite, required kiss on the cheek when she walked in. Not one of them approached me during that memorial service and had anything to say to me. I feel very much estranged from them. They are my biggest and maybe my only connection to Lisa other than my own memories.
Anna Sale: Parker, I hear how painful that's been for you. First, I want to say I'm sorry for the loss of your partner. I'm curious. Since that memorial service, have you reached out to any of these women and said, "Can we get a cup of tea?" Then what do you think would happen if you did?
Parker: I don't know what would happen if I did. I don't know. One of them made it clear. She didn't really want anything to do with me. Didn't want to talk to me is the way, I think, she put it. I don't really understand why. There was a significant distancing from me with Lisa's family, her brother and her sister, for years I think going back to the fact that I was married and having an affair with their sister. There was a mistrust, I think, that lingered. It almost feels like the family has chosen to step into the family's camp instead of mine even though they know a lot of the issues that the family presented to me.
Anna Sale: That sounds like the way histories of relationships linger and then what I'm hearing from you is the way it's just compounded the loss of your partner. I'm sorry.
Kai Wright: Thank you, Parker. Rebecca, do you have anything that you would add to Parker's story?
Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald: I'm heartbroken that there was such a lack of support after Lisa's death. It makes sense to honor the boundaries set by the one person who said they didn't want to connect and from Lisa's family. That said, I think Anna's onto something when she suggests to reach out maybe to one of the friends who didn't explicitly name why she was seeking distance. I want to say grief and loss can be really uncomfortable for a lot of people and it can make shifting relationships really difficult to navigate.
If these are relationships that you'd still like to hold onto and they haven't told you that they absolutely do not want you in their lives, it might be worth it to check in with them and see what they think and whether they're willing to stay in touch. It would also be a good idea if you haven't already to seek somebody to give you some support, either bereavement counseling or a loss support group because you really deserve connection at this time.
Kai Wright: I hope that's helpful, Parker. Again, we're just sorry for your loss. I have to say, boy, that everyone is really bringing the truth to this conversation, so I really appreciate it, listeners. You guys are really chiming in with some tough stories. Let's hear from Cindy in Twin Cities. Cindy, welcome to the show.
Cindy: Good evening. I will try to keep it short because I'm looking at the clock.
Kai Wright: Oh, Cindy, don't you worry about that. That's my problem.
Cindy: No, I get it. One of my stepfathers was a broadcaster. I get it.
Kai Wright: Excellent.
Cindy: 2016 election, I voted as I had in 2012, which means I wrote a candidate in. I didn't like anybody on that ticket. My two bestest friends knew that. One of these friends I've known since college, 25 years. Just my bestest friend. I met one of her friends almost 15 years prior. The three of us, we had a year's long group text. These are the girls that got me through my divorce. Just best friends, right? They knew I wasn't going to vote how they voted. I also didn't vote for the other guy, which I got into a fight with my dad about that, but that's a conversation for another time.
They flipped out. One of them sent her husband to verbally attack me online. There was never been an apology. The one friend that I'd known for about 15 years, she's never made an attempt to reach back out. The other friends at the time I was living in Florida sent a text while I was in the middle of a hurricane to say, "Hey, how are you doing? Are you okay? I hear there's a hurricane." Okay, yes. Guess what? Priorities, you're not on it right now. [laughs]
Anna Sale: Cindy, what I want to tell you is what you're describing, these texts and the social media comments and how they are exploding long-term relationships with electronic communication, that's something we heard a lot about in our series on estrangement. It might not be a comfort, but this is not an uncommon experience from what we heard from listeners. Again, just like I said to Parker, the thing that I always wonder is, what would happen if you made call or had some in-person conversation and to see if that would shift some of their dynamics?
Kai Wright: Cindy will understand that we are tight on time, so I'm going to go straight to Rebecca. Just quickly in the few seconds we have here, politics getting in the way of people's relationships. What are your parting thoughts on that?
Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald: Politics and religion and death and sex and money, they all make us feel super reactive. Emotions run high, and yet those high, intense emotions don't build relationships or strengthen relationships. It's really important to slow things down and see if there's any room for connection personally or over a phone call or something that is definitely more personal and validating than social media. If this relationship's important to you, see if they'll meet you on your level in person.
Kai Wright: We got to stop there. An intense hour. Thanks to everybody for participating. Rebecca Martinez Fitzgerald is a therapist based in Durham, North Carolina. She started group therapy series for adults who have become estranged from their parents. Anna Sale, thanks for inviting Notes from America into the conversation you've been having over at Death, Sex & Money. You can find Anna's whole series at deathsexmoney.org/estrangement.
Kai Wright: Notes from America is a production of WNYC Studios. Follow us wherever you get your podcasts or on both Instagram and Twitter @noteswithkai. Hey, if you heard anything you want to chime in about this week, you can leave us a voice message right on our website. Just go to notesfromamerica.org and look for the record button. Our live engineer was Matthew Miranda. Mixing and music by Jared Paul. Our team also includes Karen Frillmann, Regina de Heer, Vanessa Handy, Rahima Nasa, Kousha Navidar, and Lindsay Foster Thomas. I am Kai Wright. Thanks for spending time with us.
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