Dealing with communication breakdowns in your family

What a treat to spend a vacation visiting Hawaii, where our adult daughter, son-in-law and beautiful 6-year-old granddaughter live. Communication breakdown and dysfunction is an understatement. Our daughter is bi-polar and we have been through three breakdowns.

The first occurred when she returned from college and trained to become a model. Upon moving to New York, it was recommended that she lose 10 pounds from her slim body. She became delusional, paranoid and suicidal. For 30 days, she was in the hospital, where she became so unstable that she did not even recognize us. She was legally committed. It took a full year and a half for her to regain some stability. We helped her buy a house and get a job.

Her second breakdown came three years later, on her honey moon. Her husband, who worked in the medical field, made the decision to not hospitalize her, but instead gave her heavy doses of medication and kept her confined in a motel room. This was a temporary fix as her husband, upon dropping her off at our front door, said it was our turn. We nurtured her back to stability. Our granddaughter was born a year later and, when she was 6 months old, they made the decision to move to Hawaii.

The third breakdown happened at Thanksgiving. Our daughter was intent on getting pregnant and no longer on her stabilizing medicine but on a fertility medication that was disastrous to her bi-polar condition. She was not sleeping well. She became agitated, angry or upset over very small things.

I gently asked her about the Thanksgiving meal. She became angry and screamed at both of us, saying that we were toxic parents and she did not want either of us in her house again. We left two days later without saying goodbye. Our son-in-law promised he would keep us informed on her progress but we did not hear anything for four months.

As we settled in for our 13-day visit, we found ourselves on the horns of a very difficult dilemma. We desperately wanted to share time with the daughter we remembered as caring with an open heart. However, at our first meeting, both our daughter and husband were aloof, almost robotic, with very stern demeanors. Our son-in-law later became friendly and amiable, but our daughter continued her aloofness.

So, the fundamental question became: What is the solution to this very dysfunctional relationship? Our answer came as a result of Oprah's and Eckhart Tolle discussing his new book, "A New Earth." What resulted was a wonderful, harmonious visit.

Granted, the first two days were a struggle, with our daughter's stern demeanor. But Oprah and Tolle suggested that you can not reason with the active ego or pain body. It thrives on drama and conflict. Rather, the solution was and is to be totally present here and now as we interact with our daughter and son-in-law — in short, let go or surrender all negative judgments from the past or even her present stern demeanor. Instead, be present, watch, look, and listen with total unconditional or formless love.

We prepared ourselves in the morning or before we were going to see our daughter with a shared meditation. When we met, we kept beaming her this always-present love, warmth. Giving this totally accepting, loving enthusiasm and energy, our daughter began to open up. In fact, the very next day we met our transformed daughter.

Bubbling with joy, enthusiasm and energy, we had the best visit or vacation in eight years. We are calling each other and actually writing letters. This visit happened two years ago and our daughter has continued blooming into more independence. She and our granddaughter have just completed a fantastic, 14-day visit.

Instead of our phone chats being short, strained and affected, we now truly share ourselves. She made our year by inviting us to visit and stay in their home rather than a rented condo. Indeed, the presence is always here guiding and instructing us when we remember unconditional love is all we want.

Jim Hawes, retired teacher, writer and spiritual practioner, lives in Medford.

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