Guys, make me feel better.

I generally don’t talk about my family or loved ones out of respect for them because they don’t know about this blog or aren’t allowed to read it if they do. So I’ll be as vague as I can, though I must add some details.

I know estrangements happen in every family. My sister and my mother don’t always get along and over time it has only gotten worse. They’re both right and both wrong on various points. I would not characterize the relationship as a full-blown estrangement, but I fear there is potential for this.

Besides the pain of witnessing discord between ones who ought to love each other, I hate being caught in the middle. Depending on how you look at it, I’m either a peacemaker or a double-agent. My sister will blitz-text me rants about how pissed she is at our mother. I try to say “Weeellll you know how she is,” and tell her to take a deep breath and calm down. When I get home, I usually let loose with both barrels on my mother to stop. Then she’ll show me the texts from my sister.

The reason I give my mother the worst of it, even when my sister is dead wrong, is that I am afraid my sister will pull the whole “You’re never seeing your grandkid” stunt. I just try desperately to keep the peace so as to prevent this.

I know these things happen in families all the time. Yet it’s rarely spoken of, and when it is, it’s usually by an anonymous letter-writer to an advice column.

I’m not sure that I should have said as much as I have in this post, though I don’t think anyone would disagree with my description of the matter. I’m just really bummed about it and had so much agita this past week, resulting in a days-long stomachache and twitching eyelid.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

I try to take an attitude that we can’t help how people are so the best way to stay sane is to simply realize it’s no reflection on yourself (as long as you’ve tried to do the right thing), shrug, and chalk it up to their just being the way they are. But it’s easier when it’s directed at you because you can control your own reactions. When you’re caught in between other people, you have no control over them and can only try to reason, soothe, beg, or threaten. And pray for some sort of enlightenment to come upon them.

Any other poor soul out there suffering in this way?

63 thoughts on “Guys, make me feel better.

  1. Even with a Master’s degree in Psychology, I cannot even deal with my mother and sister beyond being superficial levels. My question to you do they go back to the other and say “Well, you know she said this about you, mom”. I found peace by changing my reaction to their behavior. I can’t change their behavior, however, I can change my reaction to it.

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    1. No, they don’t go back to each other, because that would involve admitting they talked to me. Generally they don’t repeat things I said unless it was something super hurtful, so I’ve learned not to go down that road anymore once relations between them got more difficult. Perhaps it’s because of your MA in Psychology that you don’t deal with them beyond being superficial, because to dwell on it might reveal too many faults on their part. I vaguely remember a quotation by Nietzsche that his great kindness to his loved ones was not to reflect too deeply on them.

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      1. So that is good they don’t do the game of telephone anymore. I think it is because I see through the gas lighting and manipulative behaviors. There comes a time when you know you can’t and you do not want to fix anything. I call to check on my mother once a month in her retirement home. I do not speak to my sister at all. I haven’t for 10 years.

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        1. I know people in those situations and I always feel so bad for them. I wouldn’t really characterize the situation as involving gaslighting or manipulation, it’s really more petty than even that. Just people being selfish, not accepting others for who they are, and not letting things go. I hope you’re okay with your situation.

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  2. All I can say is that I rather play Shogi without knowing the rules with death wagering my life instead of ending up in this situation…

    Which I already have suffered through. And yes, it is suffering.

    Can only offer you virtual hugs.

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  3. Pain within families is the hardest. Alone, most of us can bear the burden, but when the injury comes from those related by blood, then we are stuck with the problem pretty much forever. Even the death of a family member offers little respite. I guess the reason why this is so, is because of our expectations. Somewhere I read that all pain comes by way of comparison. I think that is true and at the heart of why we suffer. Oh well, my back is hurting and I have a loved one to blame. I’ll focus on that for a few hours and then try to sleep. Duke

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    1. Hi Duke, it’s good to see you. I’ve got a couple of things from you bookmarked that I wanted to take the time to read. Yes, sometimes it’s easier to bear our own injuries alone than those of others. Maybe most or even all of the time. We believe things ought to be a certain way and when they’re not, it’s upsetting.

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  4. My sons headed to court, he’s asking for lots of money, husband says at 30 he has to take responsibility for his actions. I agree, but son just keeps whining that he’ll get 40 years and it will all be my fault. I feel like I should take a long walk off a short pier to get away from it.

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    1. Oh boy, the word “court” never portends anything good. I get what you mean by the long walk off the short pier feeling. That really sucks you’re going through all that. I hope some kind of reconciliation will occur before this.

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  5. I get stuck in just the same sort of situation between my brother and sister (religious differences), and my mom and my brother (they live together and he’s a retired therapist). Then it doesn’t help when my elderly mother just dreams-up bizarre stories about each of us and tells it to one of the other siblings – even though we know she’s always been a bit crazy (and deaf, which leads to wild misinterpretations).
    We literally have to make an “effort” to not become estranged to each other because I don’t think we’d be friends if we weren’t related. But the idea of “family” comes with certain expectations and responsibilities and you have to make peace with that and do the best you can without letting them abuse YOUR boundaries.
    An that’s the key I think, boundaries – my family of origin didn’t have any. And I hate confrontation because I was reared in it and it left some scars.

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    1. Certain people in my family believe there should be no boundaries and take mortal offense whenever someone wants to keep their private life private. In reaction to this, others go in the opposite direction and hide things that don’t even make sense to hide. I feel like I’m always walking a tightrope, to share but to live my own life too. I usually teeter towards the side of sharing too much. I guess it’s a good thing you guys at least put in effort to remain civil to each other. Is it wrong I laughed about your mom’s dreaming up stories?

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  6. A problem I see with occupying the role of peacemaker is that it creates a lot of room for potential self-blame for things that aren’t about you.

    When I’m depressed, I go through extended periods of not talking to my parents because they annoy me, but I’m careful not to dump that on my brother, because I don’t think it’s fair to put a family member into that role of trying to be peacemaker.

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    1. Yes, I see what you mean about the self-blame. If only I had said this, or done that, things would be better between them, or I’ve made it worse, that kind of thing. It’s good that you are considerate of your brother. I am sure he appreciates it.

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  7. Blessed be the peacemakers, but I think it is also reasonable to say, to each party, “Your feelings are valid. I love you and I want to support you, but it isn’t good or sustainable for me to keep being in this role of peacemaker between you.” Then put some sort of boundary on that feels appropriate for you. Having a relationship with both your mom and your sister shouldn’t result in days-long stomachaches.

    This is hard. It’s hard to have these fractures within the family you want to think of as the people closest to you and each other. It’s hard to accept how little control you have over whether two people can get along. It’s hard to plan a wedding (Idk how active your planning is – not my business) when you have these family dynamics in the background, although you shouldn’t let that stop you from moving forward and being happy. I don’t have any advice, but I feel for you. ❤️

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    1. Funny you mention the wedding thing–we literally just finally selected a date, which prompted a slew of reactions, good and bad. I think stating a boundary has been hard for me because I feel guilty if I don’t try to smooth things over, and I have that fear of losing control over the situation if I step back (as though I had any real control in the first place). I’m not terribly concerned about the wedding planning, I intend to do what I want, and if people aren’t on board, then I will be a little sad but I have to do what I have to do.

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  8. Pretty much, “Love you both, peacemaker is NOT my role. You do you, imma staying out of it.” That’s my only and best advice. It’s not on you. If your sister drops the “you’ll never see your grandkid” bomb, that would be heart-breaking but would it last a lifetime?

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    1. I sincerely hope it wouldn’t be for a lifetime, and now that you mention it, I do doubt it would be, mainly because she would probably feel guilty and I think the people around her would tell her not to do it.

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  9. Double spy – like that one.
    Bottom line? People are assholes. Why should DNA dictate how you treat others? Blood relative? So what? If they’re gonna be dicks, then fuck’em.
    Maybe that’s what you do. Estrange yourself from the two of them.
    “What’s wrong with Hetty?”
    “I don’t know, she’s become so distant.”
    “I know, right. Did we do something?”
    “Well, I know you did something.”
    “Me? It’s you who should apologize.”
    “Ah, maybe that’s why she’s ghosted us.”
    “What’s ghosting?”

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    1. Oh, come on, Moley, you know me, I will do my duty or die trying. To estrange myself from my mother would be the height of ingratitude, and to estrange myself from my sister would hurt my mother. And I would feel bad even just for myself.

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      1. It’s only a social experiment — to prove how silly they’re both being.
        Are all these arbitrary opinions really that important?
        You’re all going to be dead, some in just a few decades. Those that survive, for a time, will feel like shit if they don’t make amends now. And those that die soon–do you really want the other to lament yours and their behavior?
        Get it together people. You think you have time — you don’t.

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        1. I tell them all the time they’ll regret this someday when we’re all dying! You’d think they wouldn’t want to talk to me anymore with all my talk of the deathbed.

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      2. I read this response and thought “what harm are you doing to yourself by worrying about hurt feelings of others?” Self-care in enmeshed and codependent dynamics such as you have described is very important. You are not responsible for how others take your actions in the name of self-care and self-preservation. Food for thought if nothing else, as I know from experience how difficult these dynamics are to navigate and reconcile within oneself.

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        1. Hi Liz, thank you for reading and commenting. I probably do myself a not-insignificant amount of harm by worrying about what other people think. I can’t help it, it’s just the way I’m wired, I guess. The only way I can make peace with letting it go is doing what I think is the right/charitable thing to do, and then whatever happens after that, I simply can’t control. A lack of harmony among family members is so depressing to me.

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          1. I’ve learned over time with similar dynamics in my family that harmony among family members takes each and every one of them working on it together. I can only do my part. Often my part is setting boundaries so that I can focus on harmony within myself. I am powerless to create it within or between other people in my family. In fact I’d even go as far to say that they are committed to disharmony because within that they are getting some of their needs met.
            All this to say I know how difficult it is and I appreciate this post. It is a reminder to keep healing myself, and keep moving forward. Thank you so much.

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  10. The fact that you try to help is very kind and admirable, and shows how much you care, but this situation sucks. I steer clear of this kind of thing as much as possible, but I also live under a rock and find being alone somewhat delightful, so that helps. 🙂 It also sucks a lot that you are made to feel like you need to take sides and be supportive when only they can sort out their differences. As much as we might wish we can help make people make better decisions, how they treat each other it is their decision to make. All you are truly responsible for is setting your own boundaries on how they both treat you. I would keep giving them all the love and support they need from you, but when it starts to go into how much trouble they have with each other, this is really the domain of a therapist. You could try looking for ways to tactfully disengage, change the subject, and/or wave the proverbial white flag before being recruited to double-agentry. They may not be up for it, but it might not hurt to also tell them how it makes you feel (in the throes of anger and injustice people often don’t think of how it affects others), and ask them if maybe bringing in an actual therapist either together or alone might help. Either way, gold star for you for trying, and try to be content with your individual relationships with them, sayith the hermit. And remember, the infamous they say “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, so maybe they could just use a little space to help keep the peace and the sanity of all involved without draftng you into someone else’s war. Good luck to you!

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    1. What a thoughtful and reasonable comment, livesinstone, thank you. There may well come a time when I must kindly say to both how it affects me. If they both weren’t so rigid in how they believe people should act, they’d be able to let a lot roll off their backs. Wanting someone to be different than they are is only setting yourself up for misery. They gotta loosen up their eye-rolling muscles. I don’t know why I am making myself their therapist.

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  11. Don’t feel bad for sharing, I think you’re entitled to having your own outlet and therapy in whatever form that comes.

    It’s interesting to see this side of it as I’m the one estranged from my parents and two brothers whilst still in touch with my youngest brother with whom I have a great relationship. I’ve often thought it must be horrible for him to witness though I’ve had to stop myself dwelling on that too much whilst I’m still in such a precarious situation myself. Throughout the whole thing though I’ve always insulated him from it and he’s never had to go in the middle or anything. I also never complain about any of them to him as I want him to have his own relationships and opinions and if he can have good ones with the others then that’s good. He’s a lot younger than me though (13 years) so there’s a lot of paternal protective instinct. I can imagine if he was closer in age I would’ve wanted to be able to discuss stuff.

    Anyway for this kind of stuff I find it’s hopeless to put it into text, and ideally your sister could call perhaps which might already help things. Does she have other outlets? Like a partner/therapist/even a blog. It seems like she’s not in a good place personally and thus her mental resilience and impulse control is not that great.

    Before my parents estranged me I had reached an equilibrium for some years by redefining my expectations of them and limiting my interaction with them to an amount that was beneficial but not destructive. That’s easier to do when you live 300 miles away from them 😅, also I was doing much better generally at the time. But I think she needs to do something like that, to lower her expectations of your mum. Perhaps she feels insecure about feeling blamed or seen as the ‘bad one’ though? Which I could totally understand. Maybe she needs reassurance.

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    1. I think you hit upon the issue at the end of your comment–she feels guilty when questioned about her decisions. Like I said, they are both right and wrong on many points. The flip side is that my mother shouldn’t be so overbearing, either. I don’t know that she has many good outlets to complain, it sounds like a lot of her friends agree with her because they don’t speak to their parents either. I commend you for taking such a mature position vis a vis your brother in your difficult situation, recognizing he’s an innocent party to the whole thing. I value your input on this issue.

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  12. Family dynamics are challenging. Best to set a boundary to preserve your present happiness. Offer to be the peacemaker at times but be aware that the middle man often gets hit in the crossfire between two uncommunicative parties. You can tell them not to shoot the messenger but it happens all the time. Often times in businesses, eventually the middle man gets x’d out to their own detriment when one party or the other gets super mad. Too much stress on you, dear. Relax. Tell them both you love them but you need to back out of it to preserve your own happiness.

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    1. It’s funny, but I’ve pretty much escaped being complained about or attacked for some reason. Maybe because to complain about me would be to reveal they talked to me about a particular matter. I generally only get attacked when I get on my soapbox. But there’s too much codependency to cut me out altogether. I guess that’s why we need boundaries!

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  13. You know you are not alone in this particularly human predicament, and you are definitely already smart enough to know your options. But it sucks. You didn’t ask for advice, but my recommendation is to just feel better about the good things in your own life, and do whatever you have or want to do with your family, because it probably won’t matter that much anyway, to be honest.
    And I apologize just on general principles–I don’t want to be in the middle, either, and I don’t even know your family!
    Somewhere you said you have a wedding date. Congratulations! Some day, if you have a little girl, don’t make her be the peacemaker!

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    1. Thanks, Roy. I don’t mind people giving advice–I like reading everything people have to say. Well, most of the time, lol. It’s hard to say that it doesn’t matter what I do, because I have smoothed over various conflicts in the past, which makes the responsibility feel heavier because I’ve gotten results. But yeah it definitely sucks.

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      1. I apologize though–I didn’t mean to infer you would make a bad peace keeper, but that when chronically feuding family members continuously turn to the same person to air their grievances, I think it’s a pattern that can become non-productive.

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  14. This reminds me a bit about the dynamic we’ve had with our neighbours. Neighbours end up feeling like family a bit – you don’t really choose them but you’re certainly stuck with them, and you end up caring about their well-being in spite of yourself.

    These neighbours – an adult and their elderly parent – fight intermittently and for a few years they’d each used us to complain about the other. We’d sometimes get stuck talking to both, while they were doing their bickering thing. We eventually had to draw a line and just tell them – individually and together – that we didn’t want to hear bad-talking about the other party. It pretty much came down to making it known we weren’t interested in getting inserted into their fight, ever.

    It’s a a *kind* of retreating… but not as harsh: you stay available and supportive to each, in every way that you can… BUT, when the topic turns to either of them slamming the other, you put up your hands and basically say, “Sorry, I’m out. I can’t get in the middle of this.”

    I agree with a couple of respondents above who have rightly pointed out they are really in need of a therapist, or neutral, un-invested third-party to mediate. They’re both using you as that, not recognizing what they actually need. The problem is, when they involve you, they’re not just using you as a therapist (and not even paying you $200/hr!), they’re also turning you into a human battleground – one that is being fought over. You’re littered with arrows and chariots! Tell them to take their battle someplace else!

    I hope things work out for them both – others here have also rightly pointed out that life is too damn short, and some day, they won’t have the opportunity to settle any unresolved things between them at all.

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    1. Thank you for this angle, BB. That’s awkward with the neighbors. At least you’re a third-party and can’t be too mortally wounded (though maybe you can–I don’t want to speak for you). I just don’t want to see a rupture. If I didn’t fear that, telling them I don’t want to be involved would be much easier. And life is very short in many respects.

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      1. Yes it would definitely be harder to tap out when it’s your own immediate family. I think the principle still applies though – it’s really not a workable position to be in. Unless you’re willing and able to mediate them through their differences on your own – or find them the third-party help they need – you’re going to be worked over be staying in the middle of it.

        I really don’t have any good advice though – I can somewhat relate but that’s about as far as it goes. I hope you can find your way to the sidelines somehow, relatively intact.

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  15. Ugh that is not a fair situation for you to be put in at all. It sounds very hard and I’m sorry you have had to deal with this. But I disagree with your statement that your only options are to “try to reason, soothe, beg, or threaten.” You have another option of saying please leave me out of this, this is between you and mom/sister. You can also ease the blow of this by reminding them you love them both and you want to maintain a happy and healthy relationship with them both and you wish the same for them two.

    Sending good vibes because I know putting up boundaries is hard and takes perseverance but I also know they are totally worth it! I had to put up a boundary with my mother and it was a slow difficult process. I would tell her to please not talk to me about x. And if she would bring up x I would reiterate that I didn’t want to talk about x and say nothing more. Initially, she fought back about it. And she fought dirty which was hurtful. But I stood my ground and hung up on her a few times. And now we don’t talk about x. She does once in awhile still try to bring it up but I say nope and those times are very far and few between now (maybe 1-2x a year). My suggestion if you go the route of setting boundaries which I hope you do, is to just create a text or a little speech that you use every time that they try to engage in this behavior. Just copy and paste it in there and send it. Being a broken record works! It won’t feed their need for validation from you, it will keep you uninvolved and it won’t take any more of your mental/emotional effort after you write it up the first time.

    Also a few people pointed out that they are in need of someone neutral to mediate, while true, I also want to make sure you know that is not your problem to solve. That is for your mother and sister, TWO ADULTS, to come to that conclusion and initiate. This is not your problem! Remember that and repeat that to yourself. Not your problem, these grown ass adults can handle their own drama. And just because you’re stepping away does not mean you love them any less. In fact, it shows that you love them so much you want them to solve this ongoing problem instead of it continuing and getting worse. And it shows that you love yourself and respect yourself to step out of a situation that does not need you or serve you.

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    1. Howdy. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It’s a tricky thing to do because I’m pretty close with my mother, so to suddenly give a canned response would immediately come off as cold and unusual. I do better with her if I’m gentle and explain why it upsets me (that way I guilt her into not bothering me). They’re never going to solve this problem themselves in a grown-up manner. I think just advancing ages for both of them will mellow the sharp edges. At least, I hope so. You’ve probably heard the expression, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result”? That’s them. Just accept how the other one is, realize they’ll never change, and let it go!

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  16. I’m fortunate enough to not be stuck in such a situation, but I can see how it can be stressful as they’re two of the closest people to you. It’s not like you can just ignore their calls and forget about them. It’s so cool that you’re being honest with your story, and at least you’re letting it out here rather than keeping it in. Here’s to wishing that you find a way!

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  17. What an outpouring from your readers on a subject many families must deal with. Again, you are one among us that we can admire and look up to for your candid honesty. I’m the peacemaker in my family as well. I accept my role and have shown my siblings that love and kindness conquers all. They never see me cry, or regret my involvement, and they truly don’t abuse my love or kindness toward them. They just need assurance against the overwhelming emotions life pulls out of us like a rusty nail in an oak plank. Being the one in the middle does indeed come at a great price financially and emotionally. To be the peacemaker is to suffer quietly and hide one’s tears behind a smile and some carefully spoken, I love yous. My parents and extended family are all gone now. It’s just myself and three siblings; two younger sisters and an older brother. Accepting your role as arbitrator of disharmony is accepting the suffering that comes with it, but no one expresses a greater love or kindness than that one person in the family that cares enough to try to find a path to contentment in the maelstrom of emotional outrage. I believe you are a kind spirit and your reward for you kindness is a heavy burden to carry. The secret is to be the example of how conflict is managed not by overt effort but by being resolute in who you really are, a kind and thoughtful person whose intellect and heart connection is a gift to worthy people. Let every conflict demonstrate its worthiness of your effort and in failing to do so, let it subside of its own accord. Take care of you first because you cannot live your life properly if you never heal from the wounds caring for others can inflict. Thank you, Hetty, for allowing us to take a glimpse at your life and see our own more clearly.

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    1. 🙏🙏🙏 Thanks so much, Hyperion. You’ve really hit upon the core of the situation. You get it completely. I often think the same thing about accepting the suffering that comes with this and hiding the tears. I say to myself that perhaps I was placed here on purpose to help them. I don’t really know what to say except that every word you say here resonates with me. Really, it brought tears to my eyes, thank you.

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      1. Blessed are the Peacemakers. We need a big ole bucket load of them these days. I can see the wonderful and talented person you are all the way over here. I’m glad this resonated with you and hope those were tears of joy and relief. You were given a tough role to play and it speaks a lot of your character that you accepted it and as hard as it is, you do it well. 🤗

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