25 years have gone and past, but is reconnecting with a distant loved one still possible?
My brother and I had not seen each other in over 25 years. We had not been together since 1994, when we gathered to bury our father. Those days are chiseled in my mind because it was the time when OJ Simpson had his infamous Bronco chase live on national television. Watching that drama unfold helped to distract us from the sadness of the moment.
But my separation from my brother ended in January 2020, when I traveled back to Dallas to see him for a weekend. Forty-eight hours is a small amount of time compared to the loss of 25 years. But for me, it was intimate and validating. It was relaxing and fun as well.
My brother and I were extremely close as kids. He is 7 years older than me, but we spent huge amounts of 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 and how to play the baritone ukulele. I looked up to him; he was smart and driven and self-assured. He was funny, sarcastic, unflappable, and destined to be successful. In contrast, I was a tall, lanky, sensitive, shy kid who was not very confident.
My brother was uniquely important to me because my parents had an unhappy marriage. I relied on him to shield me from their ongoing arguments. He did that very well. And he did it despite receiving much of the brunt of our mother’s unhappiness and anger. My brother was always loving and caring with me, so I could never understand why she was so critical of him. It was unfair and it was hurtful—to both of us.
Our family strife ended with my mother’s death from cancer. We did not talk much about her illness and imminent death in our family, and I had a difficult time grappling with it. I was a 13-year-old kid who was sad and confused, and, in a real way, I was losing my brother at the same time. He was in medical school by then and was about to be married. Hanging out with his kid brother was not a priority for him anymore. He was about to embark on adulthood; I was still a kid in junior high school under my father’s roof. I felt alone. It took me several years to get my grounding back.
My brother and I grew apart after I left for college, then graduate school, and then adult life. To be frank, our disconnection was much more my fault than his. I felt the need to distance myself from my family. My homelife had created intense feelings of anxiety and self-doubt in me. I wanted to get away and focus on new beginnings, but I was also wrestling with my weaknesses and mistakes. I judged myself harshly and felt like I was a big disappointment. I was my own worst enemy—a cliché that was true.
Twenty-five years passed, an inexplicably long time. I got lost in making life work for me. Being a husband—twice—and being a father to a son and 2 stepsons occupied my time and energy. I put reconnecting with my brother on the back burner, with the idea that I would tackle it sooner rather than later. Decades passed instead.
I finally decided that I was going to reach out and see him, as my wife and my son had been urging me to do for years. It was time for us to be together. Not only did I know I needed to do it, I wanted to. Time was running out. What a terrible thought—time running out on our relationship. That was simply unacceptable.
I emailed my brother to let him know that I wanted to come visit. I was excited; I was going home to Dallas to see my brother. It was right. I was ready to see him.
Weirdly, I was not at all nervous about seeing him again after all these years. I knew 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 visit together was memorable. We talked about individuals, 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 trials we faced in our growing-up years. We talked about our close relationship as kids. We talked about our mother’s dysfunctional behavior and how it affected 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 also talked shop. We talked about our similar professional interests and our forensic work. Both of our professional lives are devoted to helping others. But this weekend, we were focused on helping each other as we reconnected.
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 early 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 together was life-altering for me. Leaving our visit, I felt less like a confused kid brother and more like an accomplished man. I no longer felt like I had been a big disappointment.
What is the moral of this story? It is simple: it is never too late to reconnect with an important family member or a past close friend. It can be done, and it is often easier than you think. For me, it was intimate, the opening of a renewed relationship with my lost brother, and an opportunity to understand parts of myself that I had buried away.
I am 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 must find the courage to conquer a difficult roadblock, especially when it is self-imposed. All it takes is a phone call, or an email, or a text message to climb over a wall that you thought was insurmountable.
This is the first anniversary of our reconnection. During the past year, we have been texting each other because the coronavirus pandemic has prevented us from seeing each other in person. We are back in each other’s lives, and that will not change.
Dr Blotcky is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, Alabama. He is also Clinical Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.