5 Tips for Reconnecting with a Long-Lost Loved One

These helpful tips will help prepare you for the initial conversation with a loved one that has drifted away.

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- Posted on Nov 16, 2018

Mixed race woman enjoying a phone call in the subway station.

Thanks to social media, it’s never been easier to locate a loved one with whom you’ve lost touch.  But reconnecting with a long-lost relative or friend can be tricky. I know first-hand. I hadn’t seen my cousin Debbie, my childhood best friend, in nearly 20 years. Not until last Christmas when I spotted a Coca Cola bottle with the name “Debbie” on it and decided to get back in touch, a story I told in Mysterious Ways magazine.

Debbie’s an important part of my life once more. In the journey of reconnecting with her, I learned a thing or two. 

Here are some tips for connecting with a loved-one you’ve lost touch with: 

1. Let go of expectations. Once upon a time, Debbie and I were best friends. But, after college, we lost touch. Life simply got in the way. My parents became terminally ill. I divorced, lost my home and experienced a number of health problems. Would Debbie understand? I wondered every time I contemplated getting back in touch. I just didn’t want to burden her with all I was going through. Last Christmas, though, I felt prompted to find her. I sat down, wrote a heartfelt letter and sent it to the last address I had for her mom. In the letter, I told Debbie I’d recently retired from my nursing career and was thinking about all the folks who helped me to enjoy that career. Debbie was at the top of that list. I enclosed my calling card but didn’t pressure her to make contact. I didn’t think I’d hear from Debbie. I didn’t daydream we’d have some grand reunion or buy matching “best friends” sweaters. I was just happy to have told her how much she’d meant to me. But, alas, this happened at Christmas, the season of miracles. While I hadn’t created any expectations that I would hear from her, Debbie telephoned within days. I was ecstatic.

2. Be prepared for awkward moments.  Several years before, I had telephoned Debbie’s mother – my aunt Bette – and asked if I might drop by while I was in Ohio visiting from West Virginia. She said she was busy.  I let that comment fester into “I don’t want to see you,” and decided to give her some space.  I gave her a lot of space, it turns out.  When Debbie and I reconnected, she told me her mother had passed away. I was devastated. I couldn’t find my voice. In the end, all I could utter was a heartfelt, “I’m so sorry.” Sometimes that’s all you can do – be sincere and honest, knowing that a lot may have transpired in the time you and your loved one were apart. 

3. Take it slowly.  If you’ve lost contact with someone for a considerable amount of time, you can’t establish a rock-solid relationship with just one contact point.  You have to regain trust, and that takes awhile.  Be patient, and if you owe an apology, offer one. Also, make the initial conversation about them, not you.  To get a dialogue started, ask how their family is doing and mention a pleasant memory. And make it clear that your motives are pure, that you’re not suddenly on the scene to request a favor.  For the most part, Debbie and I picked up where we left off all those years ago. But, still, we both were cautious.  We respected each other’s boundaries and privacy. We didn’t ask probing, uncomfortable or emotionally-sensitive questions.  We also established how we preferred to stay in touch – phone calls and e-mail with no pressure to respond immediately to either.  We relived our childhoods and had hearing hearts.  One of the best parts? We traded old photographs neither had ever seen. Ah, the riches of relatives and the power of shared DNA.

4. Don’t wait forever.  I had started that letter to Debbie a thousand times over the years.  The longer it went, the harder it got to go through with it.  Plain and simple, I feared rejection.  It’s good to prepare yourself for the possibility that your loved-one may not desire reconnection. But, at the same time, don’t let that cost you a possible miracle. Even if your long-lost loved one is alive and well, you’ll have to deal with the regret of drifting apart if you don’t make the first move.

5. Pray. Before I reached out to Debbie, I prayed about the situation. I asked God to make a reconnection happen in his perfect timing, not my own.  I often recall author Lisa Wingate’s words about the subject in her novel, Tending Roses: “Six years of drifting apart puts you at opposite ends of the ocean, and it takes something cataclysmic to push you into the same port.”  Debbie and I rediscovered each other after we had both lost our mothers.  We were able to help one another through the many emotions of grief, and beyond.  It was a reconnection made in heaven. Our renewed relationship remains to this day, pure magic. 

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