Separation is a kind of death

Mediation for Families Who Have Lost a Loved One

An all too common story

Recently I heard a story that touched me and pained me, particularly having lost my mother earlier this year. A mother dies leaving the majority of her estate to her two children. The son is the executor of the estate and seeks legal representation to “renegotiate” the terms of the will after the daughter disagrees to his proposed terms. Basically, he wants more money, justifying his position that since he has children and his sister doesn’t, he deserves more. The sister feels she has no choice but to hire her own lawyer, as the situation has become quite adversarial. Legal fees mount. The dispute gets more heated. And the worst part: the disbelief and deep sadness of the sister and frustration and anger of the brother distract each of them from what should be a period of family uniting in mourning;

Remembering and celebrating the life of their mom.

The focus had turned to one thing:


Who will get more? Who will win? Who will lose?

But is it really about the money?

The Pain of Separation

Similar to many divorce scenarios, this situation highlights the highly emotional, pain-ridden, and conflicted state people often find themselves in during a separation and life transitions. Whether it is over the death of a loved one and the subsequent execution of that person’s estate, or the “death” of a relationship and subsequent dissolution of the jointly held property and more importantly, the ultimate physical dissolution of a family unit, these situations are often like finding your way through a minefield blindfolded.

Transformative Mediation

In the transformative mediation process, a voice is given to both the details and circumstances that surround the dispute, as well as the hurts, wounds and stories that may span years or decades, so that people can see their current situation more clearly and begin the process of looking forward to finding a solution that can work for everyone. In so doing, the mediator finds herself in a unique role to help clients reflect on past events leading up to the present. And herein lies an opportunity for healing.

Back to the Beginning

When did the hurt and the conflicted emotions begin?

In the scenario described earlier, I imagined that relations between the brother and sister were strained long before their mother died and their fight over her estate ensued. Similarly when couples begin their separation process, if they are willing to be honest and accountable, they usually know exactly when things started “going wrong,” and the hurt and pain started to accumulate – often years or decades earlier.

Envisioning the Future

While we can’t turn back the clock (and would we really want to if we could?), we can look forward, plan for and envision our future. If we could have anticipated the dispute over a parent’s estate, or the divorce, would we have done things differently? Maybe, maybe not. But once we find ourselves here, mediation can support us in some key ways:

  • By reflecting on the past and how it brought us to the current results, we can better understand the pain under the surface of the conflict.
  • By speaking our truths, and hearing each other, we can begin to heal old wounds and release resentments in the moment.
  • By understanding that forgiveness of each other and even more so, forgiveness of ourselves, magical things can happen.
  • By helping set positive intentions for co-creating a bright future.
  • By supporting us to become better role models for our children by being willing to learn from and work through our conflicts.

I believe that there’s always hope, and I hold a place in my heart that one day this sister and brother will find each other again. But I can’t help but wonder, if they had known that there was a different way, without suffering and the intervention of an expenses legal process, if they would have taken that path instead? My guess is: yes they would have.


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