Last Thursday in my hometown, an angry, troubled brother poured copious amounts of gasoline on his older brother’s house and barn and then struck a match. He came back to the property a few hours with burns on his arms and face and a scorched esophagus to confess.
What on earth? What would drive a brother to hurt another like this? I can only surmise that a series of horribly sad conditions contributed to this desperate act.
This younger brother, 50, had grown up near my childhood home in a modest, yet decent cape, with at least two siblings and parents. He seemed to be a typical kid—in the scouts, in the halls at elementary school back in the 70s. We didn’t hang out—he was a year ahead of me and we were not in the same circles.
Later after high school, I had heard he’d become a state trooper for a short time, but was dismissed.
Apparently, the unfortunate guy didn’t bounce back. My heart goes out to him and his family.
Who knows what happened? What makes siblings snap like this? Extreme jealousy, perceived or real parental favoritism? Being left out of a will? Sheer mental illness? I don’t know the particulars of these two brothers, but lots of people are adversely affected by these sorts of things. I’ve personally witnessed sibs making questionable choices and later misplacing anguish for their own deeds, taking it out on “more successful” siblings.
There are estranged sibling relationships on every side of my own extended family. Members refuse to talk to each other, have any kind of positive relationship with each other. For real, perceived, deserved or undeserved reasons. Where does it start? When will it end? As one who has been intentional on trying to heal, I’ve done extensive research in effort to try to understand why generations have such ugly issues and some continue to be so estranged. Why some are so unable to function and why some are successful in spite of identical circumstances.
It is complex to be sure.
I see that in some cases it’s the sins of the fathers and mothers (addiction, neglect, abuse) that have spread like poisoned roots into subsequent generations. Unchecked, they take hold in new lives, sprouting and producing more rotten fruit. This produce can seem intoxicating, righteous, even validating, but when consumed it can figuratively and literally makes us sick.
So what can we do to have healthier relationships with our siblings? Try to have some grace, forgive them, ask for forgiveness, pray for the relationship. Try to communicate honestly, but kindly. Try professional family therapy. Some of the hurt is so deep-rooted, so acute, however, that we may never fully get there in this lifetime.
What can we do? At the very least we must keep our own kids from this bad fruit. We must do everything in our power to nurture our own offspring’s relationships with one another, from day one and every day after. Cultivate the soil so they can grow to be true friends. Be painfully fair to each of them. Step in and help them stay on a healthy path. Teach them to love each other, root for each other, to get each others backs. Maybe then, a new, healthier branch can be grafted on the family tree and grow its own new fruit for their offspring.