OWN

Woman Seeking Her Family's Forgiveness Gets Advice From Iyanla Vanzant

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Noreen Sumpter, 52, has barely spoken to some of her siblings in five years following a dispute regarding their ailing mother. Now she's ready to make amends -- but has no idea how. Relationship expert and life coach Iyanla Vanzant helps Noreen find a way to get started.
 

The Backstory: In 2010, Noreen's mother was living in Jamaica -- it was her wish to live out her remaining years in the place where she'd grown up. But after she suffered a stroke, she returned to England, where most of her family resides, with the assistance of one of her son's daughters. Noreen, who hadn't been consulted about the move, was furious. She worried about whether her mother , who suffers from dementia, had been capable of making the decision on her own. "I lost it," says Noreen, who lives in New York. "I told one of my brothers he was dead to me. I called his wife a pig in a wig. My tongue became a machete." The fallout from her reaction: She hasn't spoken to three of her siblings since then. "I know I was wrong -- I just want my family back," Noreen says now. We arranged for her to work with Iyanla Vanzant. Listen in as they talk -- the questions Iyanla raises can serve as a launching point for anyone looking for forgiveness.

Iyanla Vanzant: Hi, Noreen -- I'm excited to work with you! Why don't you begin by telling me what your intention is for our time together.

Noreen Sumpter: Healing and renewal with my family. There's been an upset, and I'm going to take 100 percent responsibility for that.

IV: With all the people involved, you take 100 percent responsibility?

NS: Yes. For everything I did, for everything I didn't do, for everything I didn't know. I'm going to take it all.

IV: What's there to heal if you accept full responsibility for everything that everyone is feeling?

NS: We need to establish healthy communication.

IV: And that's solely your responsibility?

NS: Yes. I've been reaching out to my brothers, writing letters, calling. I don't know what else to do.

IV: Let's take a step back. Here's what I know about your story: Your mother has dementia and lives in a nursing home. Where is she now?

NS: In the UK.

IV: But she was initially living in Jamaica, right?

NS: Yes.

IV: And at the time everyone agreed that it would be best for her to stay there?

NS: Yes, as far as I knew, everyone thought it was best for her to remain in Jamaica. That was what she wanted and there were enough of us, between her children and grandchildren, to check on her regularly.

IV: But then you got a call that she was back in the UK.

NS: Yes. And then a division developed between a few of my brothers and the rest of the family as a result. It's ridiculous.

IV: Why?

NS: Because before all this, we were so close; there were no posses or divisions.

IV: Are you sure about that?

NS: I'm absolutely sure.

IV: Then how did this happen?

NS: I have no idea.

IV: So tell me what you think they did wrong.

NS: When it was happening, everything was wrong. It was like, "How could you do that? This is her wish. She wanted to be in Jamaica. She said it; you heard it." But when I look back, all they wanted to do was make sure she was taken care of. Now I just want to move forward while my mother is still alive. Why can't we use this time to build a bridge and be a family, like she expected us to be?

IV: And what are they looking for?

NS: I don't know. When I call one brother, he hangs up on me. Another brother says, "I don't want to talk to you. I don't need you in my life. Why are you calling me?" So he can't hear anything I have to say.

IV: When was the last time you just called and said, "How are you?"

NS: A few weeks ago! In the beginning, when they would tell me to go away, it was really hard to hear, but I've come to realize that it's just a reaction. So now I just leave messages like, "I love you. You're my brother. I'm committed to having this resolved. I want our family back."

IV: So you call with an agenda?

NS: I call to reach out.

IV: You call with an agenda.

NS: Yes, I guess I always have an agenda, which is to heal.

IV: My beloved, may I ask where your mother is in all of this?

NS: Where's my mother?

IV: When you look at the situation now -- with the siblings divided -- in all your speaking I haven't heard you voice your concern for your mother.

NS: I don't have any concerns about my mother because I do know that in spite of what's going on with the rest of us, she is well taken care of.

IV: I'm not speaking from that perspective. Here's a possibility: You don't want your mother to pass on with her children separated.

NS: That's exactly right.

IV: Beloved, what's at stake here?

NS: The future. I don't want to spend my time on this planet not communicating with my people.

IV: I hear the hurt -- you need to communicate with your people. But you need to own the hurt that comes with understanding that your people may be fine not communicating with you.

NS: I know....

IV: So let me ask you a question: If this situation were to stay exactly how it is for the rest of your life, what would you need to do to have peace?

NS: I would accept it even if I didn't like it.

IV: Then why haven't you accepted it?

NS: Well, I've kind of accepted it....

IV: No. You haven't accepted it. You can't be pregnant and not pregnant. Tell me why you haven't accepted it. "What I have not accepted is..."

NS: What comes to mind is disappointment.

IV: Tell me what you mean by that.

NS: I have not accepted my disappointment in myself. That in a moment of upset, I would kill off my brothers. That I didn't have the patience to step back, take a look and then speak. I allowed my emotions to take hold of me and kill off my family.

IV: So would it be accurate to say that you're disappointed in your behavior toward them?

NS: Yes, absolutely.

IV: Let's take a breath and try it again. "What I have not accepted is..."

NS: The disappointment in my behavior toward them.

IV: OJ, now we're getting somewhere.

PART 2: Iyanla and Noreen delve deeper into the family's issues and uncover why Noreen's battle may not really be with her brothers after all.


Iyanla Vanzant is the host of OWN's Iyanla, Fix My Life and author of Peace from Broken Pieces.

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