Family disputes, though complicated, are not uncharted territory where those mired in them must navigate blindly. Advice on the subject is abundant. Ultimately whether a dispute is resolved depends on the intentions of those involved: do you strive for harmony, or do you deliberately cause division? For us as Christians, there should be no choice except resolving disputes, as per the path laid out by the Bible.
However, folks in my maternal family shun this path and walk their own. Circa 1998, Son 2 emailed my mom, asking for her understanding as his wife wanted him to “cut off” ties with her. Why? No explanation was offered. Just that DIL 2 didn’t want them to be on the close terms they previously were. Like a modern-day Adam, he too blindly followed his Eve.
Mom was devastated. But having been taught to forgive, she believed it was just DIL 2’s immaturity, which she’d outgrow with time. She could not have envisioned then, the depths of the deceit that was brewing. To avoid making things difficult for her brother, or anyone else in the family, she deleted that mail and didn’t mention it to anyone for many years. Big mistake.
Meanwhile, Son 2 with his wife and twins visited Mumbai twice, once when the kids were toddlers and once when they were about seven. The second visit occurred a year after my grandfather’s death in 2004. Despite the unkindness DIL 2 had shown my grandparents when they’d stayed at her house, on both those visits, they behaved as though nothing was wrong. Mom too, overlooked their faults and treated them with love. They shared their time among all the family in Mumbai. They stayed under our roof, availed of mom’s fabulous cooking and generous hospitality, used our car and driver to run errands and shopping trips, and laughed and celebrated as though we were one big, happy family.
It was only after we relocated to Abu Dhabi in 2006 and my grandmother reluctantly went to live with her sons, that mom first told us about that email. The traumatic events of the past year, along with organising an international move took a toll on her health. Through her suffering, she realised she could no longer stress out and keep silent on matters of such gravity.
For my part, I was shocked when I first found out. I couldn’t understand how a woman, especially a Christian coming from a family of counsellors could make such a demand of her husband. And I couldn’t believe that this beloved uncle who had been such a vibrant part of my upbringing actually agreed to it.
What had any of us done wrong? Had we hurt them or offended them in any way? As you can see, the Bible’s way forward in such a situation is through communication, first privately, then with witnesses and then the church. So how could they directly jump to cutting us off without going through any of these steps? And further, if they were serious about cutting off ties, why then come and stay in our house? Twice?
Over the years, my parents have repeatedly written not only to mom’s siblings and their spouses, but also their extended families, especially the counsellors of Family A, trying to facilitate communication and share the reason they cut off ties. Only to be met with silence. Shouldn’t counsellors of the church know better? None of us has intentionally hurt any of them. Nevertheless, in the interest of keeping the family together, my parents, my sister and myself, have all repeatedly apologised if we have hurt them in any way. Still nothing.
Now, if they don’t want to remain in contact, my family can handle it. We don’t condone it, but we can bear it. However, my old grandmother Mercy can’t. Which mother could bear to see her children this way? I certainly couldn’t. She still sheds bitter tears over the lack of unity among her children. It is the single greatest cause of her constant illnesses. So our question now is, can’t they communicate just for the sake of her well-being and happiness, to make sure she’s looked after with dignity and compassion? Shockingly, the answer is still no.
So the picture that emerges is that this cutting off doesn’t have anything to do with anything any one of us did or didn’t do. It boils down to basic, unbridled greed. Both DILs 1 and 2 and their families were carried away by the American lifestyle and the influx of dollars brought in by Sons 1 and 2. Knowing well that my parents are people of strong principles, that they can’t be bought, the first step in this saga of exploitation was to eliminate them. We were used when we were convenient and discarded when we were not.
On realising this, Son 1, being devoted to all his family members, fought against it to the end of his life. Son 2 prizes his peace of mind above everything else and so goes along with his wife’s diktats. His money is used to lavish her parents and sisters with gifts and such. Now there’s nothing wrong with that in itself. Nor do we expect any material consideration from them for ourselves; we’re happy with what we can honestly afford. But when this care is showed only to one set of parents and comes at the expense of an old lady who is financially dependant on her children, then it is wrong on every level. Then it is no longer just a family matter, but the grave issue of elder abuse.