What About the Tough Personalities in My Life?

Thanks Mary V. for your insightful post below.  How would you engage a loved one that you have a strained relationship with?

Having a warm, comforting conversation with someone at the end of life is easier to do if you have fond memories.  Then there are the people with whom you probably really should have a conversation, but it’s very hard to think about doing that, because the first thought or memory is of how difficult or curmudgeonly they were in the past.  I know this; my grandfather was one of these people.

I asked myself, “Would he even participate?  He seems to only want to talk about himself.”  I also asked, “Does he even realize that I think we need to ‘mend’ this relationship?”

When you’re at this point, you have a decision to make.  The next question you might ask yourself is, “Can I have a conversation without needing to focus on past hurts?  Can I have a conversation in which I don’t need to hear ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I was wrong’?”

Choose to have the conversation if you can focus on the here and now,  and your hopes for an enhanced or mended relationship.  Choose to have the conversation if you can focus on remembering what was good in the past, and to use this to co-create the future together.  Choose to have the conversation if you can be happy without the need to “get satisfaction” by airing old hurts.  Sometimes it’s an incremental shift, but that increment nudges you toward a positive future.

Unfortunately, I did not have this conversation with my grandfather.  Mostly due to distance – his being in New York, and my being in California, and the phone was not an option.  I regret that I did not try to be more engaged the last time I saw him.  I believe he did not have a clue about how much some of the things he had said in the past hurt me, and I would not have expected to have a deep, soul-searching conversation.  But had I made the decision earlier, I would have at least had the opportunity to remember some of the fun and hilarious times from my childhood when he was creative and vital.

My grandfather certainly was a difficult person, but was not all bad.  Sometimes it seems that the negative takes center stage so easily; we need to remember that there are times when working a little harder to remember the positive could give everyone the relief we need for a graceful end.  The question I would ask myself now is, “How will I feel if the opportunity passes and I have not made the effort?”  Move past the place of possible regret, and give both of you the gift of connection, peace, acceptance, closure – or whatever is most important for you.

Mary V.

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