Mindfully Connecting With Loved Ones When Standing on Opposite Sides
The morning after the election, I woke up to see a celebratory email from my father in my inbox with the subject: “HOT DIGGITY DAMN!!!!” (Yes, it was all in caps). There wasn’t anything in the body of the email, but it was clear why he was so happy. And, despite knowing I wouldn’t share his sentiment, he chose to send it to me anyway…
Indignant disbelief looped through my mind as I slammed my laptop shut and started pacing back and forth—my heart racing. Body clenching.
A CELEBRATORY email – is he SERIOUS?!…
How COULD he?!…
I can’t believe how insensitive he is!!!…
Prior to this moment, I’d always been able to dismiss—and sometimes even laugh off—my father’s politically-charged emails… But, for a variety of reasons, this particular one felt, literally, like a punch to my gut….
Collapsing back into my chair, doing my best to let go of my anger…. Sadness began bubbling up.
And then came the tears.
The next few hours were spent balancing between wallowing in and pushing away the pain—eventually culminating in my writing a short email back to my dad—respectfully explaining why I felt so hurt and upset by his exuberant declaration. I also let him know that I needed some serious space for a while…
For the next several weeks, a day didn’t go by in which I didn’t labor over how I was going to find a way to talk with him—and what the hell I was going to say when I did… I knew I needed to find a way to communicate with him from a place of love. But, I hadn’t been able to reach any definitive conclusions about HOW to do that, exactly—nor had I figured out the specifics of what to say…
Fast forward to:
November 30th—what would have been my mom’s 74th birthday (she passed away in 2001). I’d been contemplating how I could honor her in some way. And, despite not yet knowing what to say to my dad—reaching out to him felt like a meaningful way to do so…
So, I decided to put my fear aside and call him.
We hadn’t connected since his post-election email, and I felt nervous extending myself. Not knowing what to expect, I procrastinated for several hours—nervously pacing back and forth in my living room before finally finding the resolve to take action.
Plopping down on my couch, I proceeded to scrawl “SPEAK FROM THE HEART” in giant block letters on an 8×10 piece of printer paper and place it in front of me. Then I took a deep breath. And hit speed dial….
“Hi, Dad. It’s me….”
“Oh, hi – Hello. I’m so glad you called… How are you?…”
“…I’m sad, dad…. Sad about the results of the election. And sad that I don’t know how to talk with you about it…”
After my initial email response to my father after the election, I had sent him another brief email on Thanksgiving day to let him know that I loved him and that I’d been able to forgive him for sending me his post-election “celebratory” email—but that I wasn’t yet clear how to talk with him about how I was feeling and still needed more time and space to contemplate this.
And then, at some point right before mom’s birthday, I recognized that my trying to “figure out” how to have the conversation with my dad—without actually having it—was just a delay tactic… Which lead me to the conclusion that it was time I find a way to call him…. The fact that all this occurred a few days before my mom’s birthday felt significant—giving me a motivating, “ticking clock” deadline to make the call happen.
But it didn’t take away the fear of going through with it….
Sitting there. Phone up to my ear. Dad on the line. Staring down at my “SPEAK FROM THE HEART” reminder…. I took a deep breath, continued to let go of my need to know what to say—and just kept talking.
My voice trembled. I felt hella vulnerable. And I cried.
But, instead of him arguing with me or trying to invalidate my feelings (which I had been afraid might happen)….
He actually listened.
And when it was time for him to speak—he spoke from HIS heart.
And I listened.
We ended up talking for an hour and a half—with a depth of connection we hadn’t touched since right after mom passed. It’s interesting to look back on that time and see how she had had an invisible hand in bringing him and I closer together back then. And then again, on her birthday this year…. It’s strange yet beautiful to see how there are some things in death that we can accomplish that maybe we just can’t while we’re alive…
Moving forward, dad and I still have more difficult conversations ahead of us—the work has only just begun…. I will need to continually muster up the courage to allow myself to feel vulnerable—while still finding a way to take action. But, by taking the time I need to center myself, by setting firm boundaries and mindfully communicating from my heart—while also firmly standing for what I value—I have faith that our relationship will continue to heal and evolve.
For those of you reading this right now who might be going through something similar with family and/or friends post-election… May you find the courage to speak mindfully from your heart—while also standing firmly for what you value. You are not alone.
(Happy Birthday, Mom)