Dear June, My son won’t talk to me

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By June O'Connor


Dear June

I am an 84-year-old woman with six children and five grandchildren. One son died five years ago under suspicious conditions (his car was stolen and a check forged), although the cause of death was never determined. Another son attended the funeral Mass but did not come to the cemetery with the rest of the family, and he has never called me or most of his siblings since that time. I miss him and his children. Although I always send him a birthday card, he is like a stranger to me. Once when I made the phone call, he answered and said, “Who is this?” as though he did not even recognize my voice. I pray for him and his family each day. Do you have any suggestions, Doctor?

- Grieving on the West Coast


I am sorry to learn of these deep losses of two sons, one to death, the other to a choice to keep himself distant from you and other family.

Although crises sometimes bring people together, this is not always true and in some cases, tragedies separate and even alienate people for various reasons. We all respond to death and suffering in our own distinctive ways and it is often difficult for us to understand one another’s very different strategies for dealing with these things.

When relationships are not reciprocal, when they are not truly mutual, it is, I think, wise to keep the door open in the ways you have done, namely, with cards and occasional phone calls. Doing so makes it possible for your son to respond at some point in the future.

The current lack of mutuality, however, remains painful and mysterious since you do not know the reason for your son’s apparent indifference.

One of the (many) difficult and challenging features of parenting is losing contact with children who choose to go their own way apart from family connections. I can only affirm your inclination to send birthday cards and to phone occasionally to show your deep and steady love and interest. There is always the hope that your son may turn to you at some point in the future when he is ready or needy. And if not, you at least know that you are not the one to have broken the connection. You are wise to pray for him and all your family and to reach out from time to time, honoring his silence even as you grieve it.  CD

Ph.D June O'Connor

If you have a problem for Dr. June O’Connor, write to: Dear June, Catholic Digest, P.O. Box 6015, New London, CT 06320 or email her.