I cut off my brother a few months ago. Easter Sunday, to be exact.
It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but it was a choice I had to make for my sanity, for my family, for our peace. If I’m being honest, it was something I should have done long ago, but I’ve never been one to rock the boat. I typically avoid confrontation at all costs, but that particular day was the straw that broke the camel’s back and forced me to take action.
I was prepared for the anger. I was prepared to feel uncomfortable. I was even prepared for comments from people who didn’t agree with my decision.
What I was not prepared for, and what hit me out of nowhere, was the grief.
Nobody talks about the grief that comes with cutting someone out of your life, even if—especially if—you are the one making that choice.
I come from a very close, very enmeshed, Italian family. As long as I’ve been alive, we’ve had dinner together every Sunday, gotten together to celebrate every birthday, and vacationed together in the summer. My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings all together. Cutting my brother off meant not seeing them often anymore, either. I’ll never make my parents choose between my brother and me, so my husband and I decided not to attend functions where my brother will be . . . which is every family function. I’ve gone from seeing my entire family at least once a week for 38 years to not seeing them at all unless one of us makes a special trip.
No one told me about the grief of losing out on time with my extended family.
I’ve had to let go of the vision I once saw for my children’s lives, and that sounds dramatic, but hear me out. Growing up, I used to love spending time with my aunts and uncles. As a young kid, they would goof around with my brother, my sister, and me. I remember so many Sundays together where my uncles would play wrestle with us, watch us put on ridiculous Barney-themed shows, and throw us around in my grandparents’ pool. My dad and my uncle coached all my middle school sports teams. They all quite literally helped me survive middle school when I was being horribly bullied. As I got older, they listened to my stories from high school.
I don’t have a single memory from my early years that doesn’t include my extended family. I had the best childhood surrounded by all of them. It was exactly what I’d hoped for when I started my own family. I pictured my brother goofing around with my kids the way my uncles did with us when we were younger. I pictured the play wrestling, the fun on vacations, the Sunday dinners where they’d all joke around and be silly. My kids didn’t get that. Instead, they got the uncle who is annoyed by them often, who doesn’t understand or have the patience for the behavior that comes along with their neurodivergence, who complains about them, who thinks they’re “bad” kids, and that I’m a bad parent.
No one told me about the grief of losing out on that picture of what could have been.
My brother and I are five years apart, but we were close for as long as I can remember. He used to tag along on dates with my boyfriend (now husband) and me, we had inside jokes and similar interests, we often texted each other memes and pictures and opinions on things that we both liked. I can’t tell you how many times in the last few months, I’ve seen something that would crack my brother up and would start to text him before remembering I can’t anymore. Almost daily, I’ll come across something that reminds me of him or something I want to talk to him about and I have to hold myself back from doing just that. No one told me that cutting off a loved one (even to protect my own family) would feel like a death. I wasn’t prepared for the grief that comes with losing that person.
To an outsider, my decision looks like a simple one. Like a choice I made without much thought, and one I don’t think about often.
In reality, I’m grieving.
I know this was the right decision for my family, that my kids deserve better, that we all deserve the peace that comes with not having to worry about being around someone who doesn’t value us. But that doesn’t make the reality of no longer having my brother in my life any easier to navigate. Despite the circumstances, and even though the choice was mine to make, I’m grieving. At the very core of it, I lost my brother, and I’m not sure the grief of that will ever get easier.