Oh my son! I’m so sorry for the pain I’ve caused you! I would do anything to take it back! You long for those words when someone dies who has done you wrong, but in fact, this does not happen.
My friend Nancy, who is an oncologist, has sat at the bedside of more deaths than most priests. She says this last moment of regret simply doesn’t happen. If it were to happen, that would assume that death is a transformational event. That people are changed by being near death into being better human beings. This in fact, is apparently untrue. We are our own selves until we die. We don’t become magically transformed into repentant sinners at the end.
But, what amazes me more than people hoping for transformation on the deathbed is people who hope for transformation long before death occurs. Here’s a story you hear all the time. Someone is not on speaking terms with members of his or her family. And they don’t even know why. What happened at some point was a rupture. And someone in the family decided to punish the others by cutting them off,
This can actually work when you do it to your kids. They’ve been bad and you give them the silent treatment. What the silent treatment means is “Bad girl! Bad boy!” and kids often get the point. They try to be as friendly to you as possible to get back into your good graces. They know what they’ve done wrong; they know what they’re being punished for and presumably, even if they think you are unfair, they know the best course of action is to get back in good with you.
The problem with giving the silent treatment to other family members as adults is threefold.
1. It’s a lot easier to know what you’ve done wrong if you live with someone and are their dependant and you know the rules. But if you don’t know the rules, then you don’t know what you’ve done wrong. That’s the first problem. This problem is very quickly followed by this second problem.
2. Before long, you stop caring. Years pass. You want to care. You try to rouse yourself, but you get on with your own life, you make your own friends who tell you that you are just fine, thank you very much. The longer this goes on, the more this family member who is punishing you for crimes you don’t remember fades for you. You think about them less and less and you finally stop worrying about what you’ve done wrong. They were probably right in punishing you but you can’t remember why you wanted so much to be close to them.
3. The longer this goes on, the more you form your own family of friends. Why work hard to figure out what you did wrong to someone who simply doesn’t like you any more? You try to remember good times you had with this person who no longer speaks to you and has convinced other family members not to speak with you as well. It’s all very dim in your memory. Were there good times? There must have been. But the silent years have become everything until your relationship is one long silence. But while all this silence is happening, you are having a good life. So that’s something.