04/22/2016 02:50 EDT | Updated 04/23/2017 05:12 EDT

Accepting Unfinished Business Is One Of The Hardest Lessons In Life

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Making the puzzle pieces against the sky

I need to talk to these people but I can't. Unfinished business. That's what it is when people in your life leave unexpectedly. You may feel that tug at the moment of change or feel it years later. For me, it threads in and out of my thoughts -- those questions. Some practical, some philosophical.

"It's a lesson too late for the learnin'"

-- Tom Paxton

My brother died five years ago.

He died very suddenly. Not that he didn't want to die. He talked about it every day for years. He was what one might call a prickly character. Can you hear my siblings laughing with that comment? Others in the family might call him something else. For 62 years he was my older brother. I knew him as well as you think you know a sibling.

That feeling of knowing him shifted when I was handed a bag containing his journals after his home was cleaned out. I sat down and began reading these chronicles of his personal thoughts and feelings. Here was a depth of the man I really did not know. They are a window to all those insecurities he hid so well. After reading his journals, I feel there is unfinished business.

His journals sit in my closet as a reminder that, so often in life, things are never what they seem.

His private thoughts are laid bare on the pages. I want to talk to him about this layer of his personality that was so well hidden by his bold, brash behaviour. Some of the entries were so painful I couldn't read them completely. There was this raw openness on the page that was never seen in real life.

And yet I know if he were still alive he would push me away with a "whatever." Over the years he only gave rare glimpses of his tender side. He was far more inclined to be the very loud, very opinionated and very smart person holding forth at the dinner table. He would deliberately reduce anyone to rubble who disagreed with him. He could be harsh.

Now I know some of the personal demons that ravaged him and made him angry. I wish I knew then what I know now. His journals sit in my closet as a reminder that, so often in life, things are never what they seem.

Then I read that an old friend died last week.

An old friend I'd lost touch with, but to whom I owe my life, really. A strong but true statement.

Twenty five years ago I was in the throes of the final five years of marriage. To say they were brutal would be an understatement. Have you ever noticed -- if you are lucky -- the right people enter your life at just the right moment? So it was with this friend.

She was about 10 years older than me and had just gone through a very traumatic divorce herself. Seasoned, pragmatic, forthright, her mission was to put me shipshape.

She was the one that first identified I was being emotionally abused. There are no visible scars or bruises with emotional abuse. There is an isolation that destroys self-esteem. You are locked in a world too embarrassing to disclose. She saw it, recognized the symptoms of abuse and connected me with a very gifted counsellor.

It took that very skilled counsellor about three years to put me back together emotionally, and she did. I don't know where I'd be today had my friend not been brave enough to say what, up till then, had been the unsay-able.

She also connected me with the right divorce lawyer. Hers by no coincidence. He was a gruff, straight shooter who also saw through my former spouse. The relief I felt having someone strong and understanding in my court was life changing for me.

I ended up moving abroad for a year and things were never quite the same when I returned. Something had shifted. Life moves on and goes on. Maybe I'd simply worn her out. I certainly know I did it to other friends and acquaintances. Divorce can do that.

I miss both of them.

I wish I could have one more conversation with each one. I could say things that never got said. Unfinished business.

I think we are all a work in progress as we move through the years. There really is no "all grown up" in grownup. Unfinished business with people, who have been close to you, can be one of those hard lessons in life.

In addition to unfinished business, some ghosts haunt so that they will be remembered.

Donna Lynn Hope

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