I had not seen my brother in over 25 years. I had not seen him since we buried our father in the summer of 1994. But our disconnection ended in January, 2020, when I traveled back to my hometown of Dallas to see him for a weekend. Forty-eight hours is a minuscule amount of time compared to the loss of 25 years. But for me, it was intimate, it was validating, and it was healing.
My brother and I were extremely close as kids. He is seven years older than me, but we spent considerable time together until he got his real first girlfriend, who turned out to be his future wife. Because of the age difference, my brother was a mixture of older brother and second father. We had great fun together, but he also helped to guide me and teach me. He taught me how to play tennis. He taught me how to play the baritone ukulele. I looked up to him; he was smart and driven and self assured. He was destined to be successful. He was funny and sarcastic. He was unflappable. In contrast, I was this tall, lanky kid who was sensitive and shy and not very confident. So I was naturally drawn to my older brother who was a large figure in my eyes, someone who I could depend on and who looked out for me. I loved him.
My brother was uniquely important to me because my parents did not get along and they had an unhappy marriage. I relied on him to shield me and buffer me from their arguments and ongoing tension. He did that well. He did it despite receiving much of the brunt of our mother’s emptiness and anger, which she projected onto him. My brother was always loving and caring with me. I could never understand why my mother was so overly critical of him. It was unfair. It was extremely hurtful to him.
Our family strife ended with my mother’s death from cancer. My brother was in medical school by then and was about to be married. Our seven-year age difference was much more noticeable then. He was about to embark on adulthood; I was still a kid in junior high school under my father’s wing. I was close to my father for sure, but that was different than having my attentive and protective older brother.
I had a difficult time grappling with my mother’s death. We did not talk about her illness and imminent death in our family. So I was a 13-year-old kid who was sad and confused when she died. And I had “lost” my brother at the same time as he was now independent and busy. Hanging out with his kid brother was not a priority for him anymore. I felt lost and alone. My life had been turned upset down. It took me several years to get my grounding back.
My brother and I grew apart after I left for college and then graduate school and then life. To be totally honest and fair, our disconnection was more my fault than his. I felt the need to distance myself from him and other family members because of the years of tension and nagging uncomfortableness. I wanted to get away and hide. I felt like I was a huge disappointment to my brother. That feeling was especially pronounced because he had been my strongest ally growing up, and I felt that I had let him down. And so I kept myself in a kind of self-imposed purgatory.
I finally decided that I was going to reach out and see him. My wife and my son had been urging me to do so for years. My brother had recently gone through a stressful event, and I felt like he could use my support and encouragement. Plus, it was just time for us to be together. I knew I needed to do it. I wanted to. Neither of us is a spring chicken anymore and time is running out. What a terrible thought — time running out on our relationship. That was simply unacceptable.
Weirdly, I was not at all nervous about seeing him again after all these years. I assumed it would be like old times, and I was right. We both just dived back into our shared history. It seemed natural and comfortable.
Our weekend together was memorable. We talked about people, places, and us. We shared memories and feelings, both sad and happy. We drove around our old neighborhood and hang outs. We reminisced. We talked about our parents and the tension in our growing-up years. We talked about our close relationship as kids. We talked about our mother’s dysfunctional behavior and how it impacted him and me alike and differently. We talked about our frustrated father and how he was our anchor. My brother and I are both mental health professionals and so we talked shop a great deal. More stories. More similar interests and experiences.
My brother and I had lost those 25 years. Much had happened. Too much for us to talk about in just a short weekend. But we ended up talking about the most important stuff: our growing up years and how our shared experiences have shaped us. No matter what our separate journeys have been, we are brothers and each other’s witness. Twenty-five years apart could not destroy our core connection.
Our weekend visit together was life-changing for me. I left our visit feeling less like a confused kid brother and more like an accomplished man. I left our visit feeling like I had not been a huge disappointment to him. And I left our visit feeling emotionally connected to my older brother again. Despite being apart for 25 years, he was still open and funny and warm.
So what’s the moral of this story? It’s simple: it’s never too late to reconnect with an important family member or a past close friend. It can be done; it’s often easier than you think. It was a refreshing and invigorating 48 hours for me. It was meaningful. It was intimate. It was healing. It was the beginning of a renewed relationship with my lost but rediscovered brother.
I’m more than a little embarrassed that it took 25 years for me to reconnect with my brother. After all, I am a clinical psychologist who has spent a whole career trying to help people accept themselves and nurture important relationships. But sometimes the time just has to be right. Sometimes you have to find the courage to conquer a difficult roadblock, especially when it is self-imposed. And sometimes all it takes is a phone call or an email or a text message to climb over a wall that you thought was insurmountable.
I’m so glad we took that giant climb together.