Songs of Nature

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Unfinished Relationships

Day 10

Written By Eyleen Farmer

Image courtesy of Rebecca Webb Wilson, Hawkeye Nature Photography


Hear my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my petition.
Listen to me and answer me...—
Psalm 55: 1-2

Image courtesy of Rebecca Webb Wilson; copyright 2010Jesse’s life revolved around caring for her bed-bound mother who could not move or speak. Every day she bathed her mother, administered her medicines, and massaged her withered limbs. Twice a day she fed her through a tube that went directly into the stomach. This endless and unvarying cycle of care-giving meant that Jesse rarely left home.

Such stories of devotion and self-sacrifice were not uncommon in my work as a hospice chaplain. What made this one unusual was that in all her sixty-something years, Jesse had never once heard her mother say, “I love you.” Other siblings had received their mother’s affection, but for reasons unknown to her, Jesse never had. Jesse took care of her mother for more than eight years, and then her mother died.

How do we grieve when our relationship with the deceased was disappointing or hurtful? When the last conversation was an argument. When the needed apology never came. When all or most of our interactions were defined by mistrust, anger, and betrayal. What then?

It can feel like we are lost in a deep wood. Now there is no way—ever—to patch things up, to untangle the misunderstandings, to offer or receive forgiveness.  

The tendency is to bury our feelings along with the person. But if the hurt can be acknowledged, first to ourselves, then to a compassionate listener, healing is possible. Find someone—a friend, therapist, or pastor—to whom you can tell the whole truth and who will listen to your story as many times as you need to tell it. Maybe only God can hear the depth of your hurt. Either way, as we bring our experience to speech, the pain of our unfinished relationship will gradually lose its power over us.

The loss of a conflicted relationship is still a deeply felt loss. Jesse told her story many times, sometimes with anguished intensity, but just as often with humor and salty language. Her prayers were salty too and filled with the expectation that God would listen and answer.

Hey, God! What you gonna’ do with this mess? Amen.