It all started with a movie. Beautiful Kate. Directed by Rachel Ward, starring Brian Brown. Kate, a beautiful but disturbed girl, dies after seducing her two brothers. One brother kills himself in shame. Kate’s father and remaining brother blame themselves for the deaths. They barely talk or see each for the next twenty or thirty years.
It isn’t until the father is on his death bed that they finally realise they weren’t blaming each other but were blaming themselves. If only they’d spoken honestly sooner, they could have avoided decades wasted on guilt, anger and heart break.
This movie was very unpleasant and I would never watch it again, but the gift of this film was making me think about misconceptions that stop people from having an honest and potentially more loving relationship. I did not want to wait until death bed confessions to find out that I had been wrong about certain relationships in my life.
Inspired by the film, I thought about three relationships that I felt great sadness about and whether simple misunderstandings were behind the deterioration in these relationships. One was with a close friend who had dumped me without explanation. Another was with my step-cousin who was one of my dearest friends and who became distant as I became closer with her mother after moving to the same town. The most painful of the three, though, was the relationship with my mother.
I decided to be brave and write to each woman about my love for them and how sad I was that our relationship had changed. The easy part was writing down how much they meant to me and how sad and hurt I was about the change in our relationship. I shared how I longed to make things better between us.
The hard part was sending these messages, especially to my mother. I was afraid I would not have the courage to post the letter to my mother, so I asked my husband, Nick, to send it for me. The two messages sent via email gained a quick response. One pleasant and one not. I knew that it would take courage to hear their perspective and it did.
I was proud of my friend’s response and we were able to accept that our friendship had changed and we moved on. I was able to let the friendship go as I had said what I needed, I was heard and acknowledged.
My step-cousin was quite angry with me and it was hard to process, and unfortunately, we were not able to resolve our different perspectives on what had happened. Since that series of emails, we have not communicated again. I still think of her often and feel sad about what’s happened. I am glad I had the courage to raise the issues with her but I felt like she didn’t have the self-awareness to own her own stuff.
After my then husband posted the letter, there was no reply from my mother. I would check the mail daily hoping for a response. There were no phone calls, even on my birthday. Just the deafening and heartbreaking sound of silence. Days, weeks, months. We’d always had issues but this was by far the worst time in our relationship.
I cried a lot. I felt broken. My husband felt disempowered and did not know how to help me with my grief. The feeling of rejection was far greater from my mother than it would have been with anyone else in my life. And it is one of the main reasons I wrote my love letter to her in the first place. I was so upset by the whole thing that my health deteriorated, my weight increased, I was miserable.
Then one day, I pulled a letter from the mail box. Immediately, I recognised my mother’s familiar neat handwriting. My heart started to pound. I felt sick in the stomach. The envelope was thick. I wondered if I had the courage to deal with the contents.
With quivering hands and shallow breath, I carefully opened the envelope. Inside was a card and my own letter folded within it. I starred at it in confusion. My mother had returned my heart to me with a brief note saying that this was my issue and I need to deal with it myself. I was shocked and I cried for days.
I shared my letter with a few trusted friends to seek their perspective on the content. They cried at the sentiment of the letter. A daughter reaching out to her mother asking if she was loved, if she was liked, and questioning why they had the relationship they did. If my daughter wrote to me, firstly, I would be heartbroken that she felt so unloved, and secondly, I would tell her, “It’s not true, I love you, I like you. And I’m sorry you didn’t realise it.”
I was even more heartbroken than ever. I regretted having written the letter. If I could have taken it back, I would have. I didn’t have a time machine, so I had to just keep working through my emotions.
When Nick and I got engaged a couple of months later, we were in a quandary. What do we do about my Mum and Step-Dad, who we had not had contact with for nearly eight months, other than the returned letter? I bravely emailed and asked if they would like to come to the wedding. The first time I saw my Mum in nine months was at my wedding. I decided that I would not let it negatively impact my day. For the most part, I managed to do so. It was awkward, but I got through it.
After the wedding, Nick and I would drop in and see my Mum and Step Dad when we went to the city. Gradually, my relationship with my mother improved. A few family tragedies, including two deaths, brought us closer together. I would never have imagined that we could be closer than we had been in our whole lives. We talk more, we see each other often, and I feel like my Mum now likes and loves me.
We have never spoken about The Letter or the eight months of silence. Is our improved relationship worth all the pain and suffering? Yes, but I wouldn’t want to go through it again. And I’ll be honest, sharing this story in a book feels very scary to me and I am afraid my mum will read this and the whole thing will blow up in my face.
I know that it’s hard to speak your truth. I know that there are things inside you that you wish you could say and that speaking up is so scary. So let me share with you what speaking up taught me:
- It takes courage to speak your truth, to say what’s truly in your heart
- Owning your truth means being really honest with yourself about what’s going on in your life
- There are no guarantees about what will happen when you speak your truth
- It takes self-awareness and courage for people to hear your truth and then speak their own
- People will surprise you and you cannot predict how someone will react
- Speaking your truth can be done with loving kindness rather than blame and cruelty
- Speaking your truth gives permission for others to do the same
- The world works in mysterious ways and you never know how things will turn out
If you can’t speak your truth to the person you want to say it to, you can write a letter to them. You need never send it, but writing it is powerful in itself. You can also journal about your feelings and share what you need to express. Writing is a profound tool for healing.
It may seem easier to stay silent because speaking up is risky, but in the long run, it is far more damaging to stay silent.
Who do you want to speak your truth to?
What do you want to say?