It’s closing in on Christmas, and estranged families are extra-impacted by the season. Siblings who have made no attempt to contact anyone in ten years, teenage daughters injured by their divorced Dad who had too little to do with them in recent years; daughters who departed their parents in anger and disgust are but a few examples of Hurtin’ Holiday Humans.
If no contact is desired, then likely that’s the way it will be. However, there are those who wish they could undo their behavior. This person was aching for a re-connection, and figured there was nothing she could do, so we tried an experiment. Later, a man came in aching for contact with his soon to be married daughter. We (he) applied the same principle: same result.
Although she had come in for marital problems, when she started talking about her daughter she began to cry. She said her daughter had been seeing a guy who was big trouble, but at 19, her daughter wouldn’t listen. One evening while she was reading in bed, her door flew open and her daughter and her boyfriend stood there with a .38 and shot at her head. She said she actually heard the bullet rocket past her ear into the wall, then they were gone. She didn’t call the police but left the state to move here. When I asked her about her obvious sadness, she told me she had been told her daughter was expecting a child and due in a few months. Between the tears she said “despite what she did, she’s still my girl and (sob) I want to be there to help her and the baby”. I was a little surprised: maternal instinct trumped the worst behavior ever.
I asked her if she wanted to be the first guinea pig in a brand new experiment: postcard therapy. The rules, though few, might not be easy to follow. After the discussion, she agreed to try the experiment. The rules were:
* Buy six postcards – any type. You can get blank ones at the post office.
* Send them with odd frequency. For example, one on Monday then on Thursday. The next week on Friday. The next week on Thursday and Friday.
* No lovey-dovey messages. Only friendly chatter such as “after a year of no rain, two inches fell last night. A blue jay and mocking bird were out back having a heck of a fight”, etc, etc.
* By far, the most difficult part is the last rule: you can’t expect anything in return. That means absolutely nothing. Nada. Zip. You are doing this as a kindness and sacrifice for your child, not to win them back. No running to the mailbox hoping for a letter. This is for them, not for you.
I saw her two weeks later and she had sent three of the six postcards thus far. She said the not running to the mailbox was indeed the toughest part of the experiment. I didn’t see her for another six weeks. When she came in she patted her purse and told me she had something for me to see. She reached in and I expected her to pull out a surprise return letter. Instead, she pulled out an airplane ticket. Voice cracking, she said her daughter had called and begged her to be with her for the labor and delivery.
She arrived two days before the birth of her first grandchild. Later, she called me to thank me and said that she and her husband were moving back to her home state and thanked me for “letting me be your guinea pig for postcard therapy”. A year later it was another homerun with an estranged father and his 23 year old daughter. This time the child asked her father to come back and walk her down the aisle at her wedding. The only failure thus far was a woman who angrily came back in to announce the therapy had failed. She bitterly complained, “The little ingrate never bothered to write me back!” Whoops, obviously she forgot the final and toughest step.
This therapy is born out of kindness and sacrifice for someone. We also inadvertently lead the way by providing a powerful example about loving behavior. The worst thing that could happen is that nothing happens. You’re out the cost of six postcards and stamps and maybe thirty minutes of writing for your efforts. The best that could happen is that you change their lives and yours.
Post cards: they’re not just for vacations anymore…