Do We Have Unfinished Business?


NOT in the slow lane, YET

The blog is about living life after 70 with joy, resilience, and purpose. NOT in the slow lane, YET is a source of positive, helpful advice encouraging people to set and achieve goals and find joy in life. The blog will cover personal experiences and thoughts and concerns. Topics of blogs will be health, retirement, fashion, travel, and living in continuing care retirement communities. The blogs will be short and appear at least once a month on my website or by email if you choose. Come walk with me.

Do we have unfinished business?

Asking “Do we have unfinished business?” can be a  way to mend relationships. It may be an old friend whose relationship disappeared after a disagreement or to rekindle a withered-away friendship with a  relative,   or to an adult child who hasn’t spoken to you in years. 

 It can bring resolution and forgiveness. It can also end in disaster.    I don’t recommend it without a great deal of self-reflection:  Why do I want to do his?  How will I do it and what will I do if I don’t like the answers I get?  Here’s my experience.

My time to ask.

Two of my three sons died of cancer within the last four years. The latest son’s death is still raw.  The sight of browning,  dry white rose petals falling from funeral arrangements  on  my table  puts me in  tears.  Before they died, I wanted my sons to know how much I loved them.   I told them I will remember them every day I am breathing.  I will remember how they enriched my life.  

 For over three years, I’ve greeted my deceased youngest son in the clouds on my walk at dawn.  I look up to see his beautiful face and outstretched hand waving “Hi Mom.”  I tell him I love him.   His angel puts her arm around him and turns him into a cloud.  A month ago, I told him that his brother would be coming soon and asked him to find a nice angel for him.  Now a new face appears, my beloved oldest son smiling and waving, “Hi Mom.”  He is backlit by the morning sun coming up on the horizon. It’s a glorious vision.   I give my greetings and say, “Take care of one another. I love you.”  Their angels guide them into the clouds. I  start my day  with loving thoughts of my departed sons.  

There were eleven continuous years  of their battles with cancer.  We had many conversations by phone , zoom and visits.  Some were deep conversations:  death, regrets, and hopes.  We had laughs and shared memories.  I wondered if they had any lingering pain or resentments from childhood.  I wanted to resolve  parenting  issues unknown to me or forgotten.. not apologized for.  I wanted to listen, reflect on their responses, and give them sincere apologies.   How would I know unless I asked? I wanted closure. For each of us.  Their father died of cancer in his 60’s. He was out of the conversation.

 I questioned my motives.  Why did I need to do this?  Was it self-serving like curiosity, getting praise, or getting guilt off my back? 

As the oldest child of five in a Wisconsin farm family, I grew up with a lot of responsibility, a desire to please and a strong work ethic. I wanted to be a good mother.  All of us make mistakes in family and friend relationships.    Sometimes I  have been too hard on myself.   I made parenting errors  and mistakes in other relationships,  but I try not to dwell on them.  If I can, I try to fix relationship problems.  

Sometimes I was a mother who was tired, preoccupied, worried and not able to be in the present when she needed to be.  The three boys were born within the first six years of our marriage. We were young parents.  They were all born in our twenties.    I am a pretty calm person but  sometimes emotions, on both sides,  run high and we make poor choices as parents and children. I am sure I  upset them in unintended ways that led to  pain, and unfulfilled needs.   I needed to ask.     

Because sometimes I think back on times that made me weep.

I remember the youngest son, a pre-teen,  lying on the floor with his head on the back of King, our German Shepherd,  staring through the window of the patio door into the back yard abutting  a large parkland.  He seemed so deeply and sadly  in thought that I cringed and didn’t ask.  Why didn’t I ask?   I didn’t fully commiserate with the older boys when girls dumped them, or they got in trouble at school.  One of the boys was being bullied and slammed his  locker door into the bully.  He was suspended for two days.  I took time off work to sit home with him for the suspension.  We  worked at the kitchen table, he did his homework, and I wrote  reports.   Did I sermonize or did I discuss it with him and try to help him come to better solutions?    Doesn’t everyone hate bullies and want to get even?   If we  talked openly,  I don’t remember.  It  could have been  a sermon and silence from Mom, not a discussion.  

I hoped I wouldn’t act defensively to their responses to “Do we have unfinished business?   If I wanted them to be at peace from the hurt, I had to practice a peaceful reception to their pain, their anger, and their longing for better parents.  I warned  myself to listen and use “I” statements like “I felt hurt when …” and tried to get them to do the same, to talk about feelings.   I wanted to reflect on their experiences and respond in a way that they could let it go.  

If I were shocked or hurt, I would ask for time to think about it and get back to them.   

In individual conversations,  I asked the question.  

Both sons answered “no” to “ Do we have unfinished business?”

One said so joyfully.  It seemed heartfelt. 

The other son said “no” hesitantly.

I waited to see if he wanted to go on.  He didn’t offer additional comments.  I didn’t push.  His cancer treatments were becoming more invasive, and he had lots of things on his mind. 

I didn’t entirely achieve what I was seeking, closure and forgiveness.  I had asked for forgiveness by my question.  It is never too late to ask for forgiveness for causing unintentional pain or not fulfilling the needs of close family members and friends.   I felt better for making the effort. 

 I didn’t get to have a “do over.”

 They  died of cancer.  One was 54 and one was 62: too young. I am so glad they were part of my life.    

I am glad I asked the question, “Do we have unfinished business?”

Are you facing your own end of life or that of a loved one?  Or an estranged friend?  A family member?

Is it time to ask,” Do we have unfinished business?”

 Are you ready for an answer that may trouble you?  How will you react?  What is your plan?

Want to know More?


National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) resources on family support and healing from childhood trauma.

The American Psychological Association’s guide to understanding childhood emotional neglect.  

Psychology Today’s directory of therapists specializing in childhood trauma and attachment issues. 


The Body Keeps the Score:  Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk, MD.

Note:  Gemini editing tools used 5-20, 5-24-24