Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fractured Family

Fractured Family

Every journey into the past is compicated by delusions, false memories, false names of real events.

Adrienne Rich

On Monday, April 11th 2011 my brother, Dennis Evans Riebsomer died. He was 61 years old. No one could make me laugh harder or scare me more. We were estranged and I said goodbye to him a long time ago for my own safety. It's still a loss. I loved him. He was smart, funny and charismatic, but, like our mother, he had a dark side. And as he grew older, it took over.

Seven years ago our mother disowned us, me for telling her doctors about her alcoholism and him for defending me. My family was good at making things look wonderful on the outside, no matter how bad it was on the inside. Truth-telling was not acceptable.

So how do you grieve in a fractured family? How do we help each other? My parents divorced when I was 19, a good thing. Dad moved on, mother is still bitterly stuck in 1964. We all have roles in our families. I was the hero, the good girl; I made our family look good, made my mother look like she was doing a good job. I was determined not to stay stuck with her in that self-poisoning place. I got help; I healed and designed a life that was right for me. It took time, but I got here. Denny's role was scapegoat. He played out what was bad in the family. Mother enabled him in that role. He could take the blame; she could be the victim of a disobedient child. She gave him free rein, no boundaries, no consequences to his actions. She wouldn't allow Dad to discipline him. I was over disciplined; he was under disciplined. She didn't do him any favors.

What do we do with the sadness, the anger and frustration for an ill spent life? My brother let darkness take over his heart. Still there is loss. The loss of what he could have been, which would have outshone us all.

Denny has three daughters, one died at birth, and four grandchildren--his oldest grandson, more like a son, that love was the purest, brightest thing in his life. He could never put his daughters' safety and happiness above his own needs. He let them down the most. And yet, the eldest daughter, the one who got the brunt of his misplaced anger, is the hero now. She has taken on the impossible job of helping his widow (not her mother) with the minutia of what it takes to make funeral arrangements and coordinate a memorial service with a budget of zero dollars in a family with one half of the tribe not speaking to the other half. Yet, she did it quite well because she has managed to keep the lines of communication open with everyone in the family. In that my niece is like my dad. she can keep healthy boundaries and not allow herself to be manipulated by those in our family who have no respect or basic understanding for boundaries.

There are some people who are so toxic that the only way to protect yourself from them spiritually, emotionally, physically and financially is to keep them out of your life. This is what I did with my brother and sister-in-law. It is a double loss. My sister-in-law was my friend before she was my sister-in-law. I introduced them. She let him turn her into his partner in crime. I know she is devastated by his death, but I can't trust her and I can't afford her. She is not in my life. My niece knows and respects this, more fractured family for her to navigate around.

We have always been fractured: exes, step mothers, in-laws and outlaws. People speaking, people not speaking, you needed a score card. When my son turned five years old we had to have so many separate birthday parties, that by the time we had the last party he asked me if he was six now.

Here's what I choose to do with my brother's death. I choose to keep it simple. I believe that matter doesn't ever die, it just transforms. I want to honor Denny's transformation. Last Wednesday night I had the seredipitous opportunity to have a moment alone in a sacred, peaceful space. I said a prayer and released my brother to the light. It felt right. I want peace for all of us, but mostly I want it for him. He deserves it.

Rebekah for Poplar Grove Muse


  1. Very nice, Rebekah. Honest and honorable.
    Thank goodness for soul sisters and brothers and community and for whatever is the opposite of family of origin.

  2. Thank you for this honest piece, Rebekah. My condolences for your loss ~ my admiration for your clarity. Sending light & love!

  3. Yes, thank you for this honesty and bravery!

  4. I am finally reading this piece, having vowed not to read it before Wednesday and then getting wrapped in my days. Rebekah, this is a kind, honest, open telling of the complicated, many-layered experience of loss...my condolences and my gratitude to you for sharing.

  5. Beautiful and simple, sad yet wresting something from a place of hurt. LOVE the photo of little Rebekah! MKP

  6. Thanks for sharing Rebekah. Alwiya