Mending Torn Relationships

by David Tillman

Many years ago, I took a class about how we relate to each other. Our teacher challenged us to take the lead in mending torn relationships. She said to find a way in your heart to reconnect. Letting go of resentments, judgments, and words said, or not said, just enough to reach out to this person. To open the door between both of you which had been shut and maybe nailed closed.

As a chaplain, I am among so many family members whose loved ones are ill or dying. At times, estranged daughters or sons would show up at the hospital after not talking to their mother or father for ten, twenty, or thirty years. I have seen whatever was between them and their dying parent evaporate for the moment, often replaced by weeping and words of regret, other times numbness. My thoughts are how did their years of anger, resentment, and estrangement serve them? How would their life be different if they had held out an olive branch years before?

It takes two people to make a relationship. All your best efforts may end up in vain. I have seen that when one person changes it affects others around them. I let go of blaming my father for my shortcomings at the time I was dealing with a big loss in my life. I invited him to have dinner together, father and son alone time. My brother joined us at times. We meet most Tuesdays for dinner for about two years. I heard stories of his life that helped me put some of the pieces together of the snippets I had heard growing up. He had gone through a tough childhood, his mother died when he was twelve, time in the Army during WWII, marriage, getting polio in the early 1950s, raising children, working, and so much more.

Looking back, I could have distanced myself from my father and continued to blame him for things that were my responsibility to own and deal with. Our relationship grew from our dinners together. I learned to accept him for who he was, not for who I thought he should be. Later in his life, he developed Alzheimer’s. On the day he died, he taught me one final lesson; how to die in peace and to be surrounded by the family he loved.

© 2018, David Tillman, all rights reserved,

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