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Sunday Late Night: Estranged

One of my earliest memories of my mother speaking candidly about her own mother was when she said how sad she thought it was for her mom to be so easily estranged from her long-time friends. Apparently, my mom saw her mother fail to return calls, blow slights up into major hurts, and put the initiative for contact on her friends. This happened to a greater and greater extent through the years as people moved away, or stepped back, or died, or became estranged.

It was a lesson to me, at an early age, that one mustn’t let friends slip away without a fight. And that sometimes one had to accept responsibility for something that went wrong, even if it wasn’t all your own fault.

Nowadays, speaking with my mom I sometimes mention long-time friends of hers. I hear that — in too many cases — estrangement rules the day for her. I wonder if this is a function of genes or of age. I used to ask her about this, but now it seems too much to hear about. In many cases, these are long-time friends whose latest slights or omissions are reason enough for her to let what was once an important friendship slide. I too often hear her say, “Well, they know where I am.” And it disturbs me.

I worry that, since my mom once seemed perfectly able to recognize it in her mother and now practices it herself, it might be my genetic/emotional inheritance too. Is it simply a function of aging, this capability to estrange? Or is it something I’ll grow into very easily myself?

Why, as natural processes take some friends from us, do we find it easier to let others fall away, through imagined or real slights? Or even for incidents more easily patched up in the past, but now grown large and hurtful in retrospect?

Is it easier to be in control of the process in some odd way? Rather than let death or old age’s toll take our friends from us, do we gain power over the friendship by ending it before nature can?

How do you find yourself in this regard? Are you the one among your friends who keeps the contacts with others in the group alive and robust? Or do you tend to let communication fall to the side? Is this something you saw a parent do, too? Or is estrangement something we all face as we age? Maybe it’s just easy to become less tolerant of things that bother us, under the rubric that “life’s too short.” Or maybe the same justification can be used to be more tolerant of others’ foibles!

Life, it seems to me, might stretch on quite emptily if there are no others in it with us. And I’ve learned that making new friends is harder with age. So the old friends I might cast aside easily are not too easily replaced. What’s your experience with estrangement, among friends and among family? Is there a cure? Is there a way to undo estrangement? Is it a natural process?

I await your comments.

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