Last summer, my 5-year-old and 3-year-old granddaughters were watching the Disney movie “Encanto” repeatedly. As a result, long after the show was over, they were still singing the lyrics to the music.
One of their favorite songs was “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.”
If you’ve seen the Disney animated feature-length film, you know why the Family Madrigal didn’t speak about a brother who had fallen out of favor with his siblings. In all likelihood, there is a Bruno in your extended family who you rarely talk about (or talk to) because of issues that remain unresolved. Branches of a family tree that are no longer attached to the limbs that nourished their growth and development are all too common.
As a chaplain in a retirement community, I officiate at more than a few funerals and memorial services annually. On our campus, we lose about 10 percent of our residents each year who leave us through the doorway of death.
Most of these bittersweet celebrations of life fill my heart with gratitude and joy. It is very meaningful to witness family members publicly paying homage to their spouses, grandparents, parents or siblings.
But I must confess, there are far too many occasions where estrangement within a family finds adult siblings sitting at a memorial service on opposite sides of the church. These family members avoid each other and refuse to speak. Once, when I was a pastor, one of the adult children chose not to attend his mother’s memorial even though his father was expecting him to sit beside him. The program indicated that he would be one of the speakers. As it turned out, the son didn’t want to be in proximity of his sister, and so he chose to stay at home. It broke my heart.
However, it’s not just at a parent’s funeral when broken relationships within a clan are most apparent.
Empty places at the family dinner table over Christmas and Hanukkah leave a bitter taste that can’t be ameliorated by simply passing the sugar bowl. Weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties and anniversary celebrations are occasions when those “missing in action” rob the room of potential joy.
And it may not be a family member at all. Perhaps the person you intentionally refuse to talk about or include in your social life is a colleague at work or a neighbor. Once you considered them a friend or a trusted ally, but no longer. The fact that alienation exists suggests that either that person or you are aliens to one another.
At the start of this new year, we are given an opportunity to do more than make resolutions. We can actually make reparations. We can take steps toward repairing what has been broken. A new year for me means a new day planner. Even though much of what I do at work is chronicled through Outlook on my smartphone and laptop, I am still part of a generation that relies on a paper calendar. And the acquisition of my new planner provides me with a tangible joy I can’t quite explain.
That blank calendar, like the new year, signifies new beginnings. It is unblemished and unstained. Blank squares invite new appointments and commitments. That new calendar, as well as this new year, provides new opportunities to revisit old wounds and to consider new ways of treating those wounds. A new year invites us to take baby steps toward the realization of a dream in which estranged family members or friends walk back into our lives.
In the case of Bruno, the estranged brother in “Encanto,” responsibility for alienation was owned by the appropriate parties. Forgiveness was offered. Relationship was restored. A branch was restored to the limb to which it belonged.
But that’s Hollywood. When it comes to the Brunos in our lives, there’s no guarantee that reconciliation will occur. But then again, there’s no hope without trying. Here’s to hoping!
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.