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Three Keys to Peace in Relationships…Before it’s Too Late

Two days ago, I attended the heartbreaking funeral of one of my aunts, who passed away unexpectedly last week. She had a brain aneurysm at the young age of 58. When I got the news of her passing, I was preparing to travel to Massachusetts to attend a celebration of life for another aunt — my grandma’s sister. She also passed away abruptly.

Whenever death happens so suddenly, I travel back in time, to three similar losses that have helped shape my life — my grandma, my grandpa, and my other grandma. The first of those three was the most life-changing.

I was one week into my residential treatment program for addiction when I got the news my grandma had passed. It crushed me. Losing grandma, for many of us, is one of the hardest losses we deal with in life. But more than that, my relationship with my grandma was incomplete.

Incomplete is an understatement.

My grandma hosted an intervention for me at her home 18 months prior to her passing. It didn’t go well. I stormed out of her house spewing words that aren’t appropriate to share. From that moment until she passed, I never went to see her again. I never repaired our relationship. I never got to share my sorry through one of our strong hugs. I never got to show her what I looked like living the right life. So, when the news was delivered, the guilt, shame, and remorse were as bad as I could ever remember.

That day shaped the rest of my life.

I didn’t know how I’d get through the loss of “Grammie”, but I knew I had to continue in her name. From that day forward, I made a commitment to never, ever, let myself or a loved one leave this world without a feeling of completion in our relationship.

Five years later, when my grandpa passed away unexpectedly, I felt a sense of peace knowing I had done all I could to make our relationship right. In fact, at his funeral, I read the eulogy — a compilation of the best memories and stories family could drum up. It was the greatest way to honor him, his life, and our relationship.

I ended the eulogy with my own memory, one in which my grandpa, during one of his typical goodbye handshakes, squeezed a little harder, pulled me in, and whispered “Hey, I thank God every day that you’re doing what you’re doing. You know your grandma would be proud.”

Hearing that brought me what I always longed for — completion with Grammie.

Exactly one year later, my other grandma passed away. She got sick and was in the hospital for several days. Not only did my relationship with her feel complete, but I spent those final days in the hospital with her. I sat on her bed, held her hand, brushed her hair, and enjoyed the best conversation, even when she couldn’t communicate well. That was the most complete I’d ever felt when a relationship physically ended.

No regret. No guilt. No remorse. All peace.

Today, as I reflect on the more recent, unexpected losses, I feel that same sense of completion. My relationships with my aunts were mended and at peace. And in the moments of difficulty, sadness, and sorrow, those feelings are what make the trying moments after loss a little more bearable.

They don’t come without effort, though.

Here are three key lessons I’ve learned in working to maintain complete relationships, no matter how “good” or “bad” the relationship seems:

1. Take the high road. So many of our relationships stay broken and incomplete because we feel wronged, not responsible, or even “in different places in life.” Those things can be true, but let my experience show that those justifications do not help when we lose someone. In fact, they have the power to cripple us when we reflect on our decisions to contribute to the incompletion.

Take the high road. It doesn’t mean spending every day with someone. It doesn’t mean being inauthentically friendly toward someone. It doesn’t mean pretending to love someone.

It simply means being willing to acknowledge and set aside the hard feelings in the name of completion.

2. ̶T̶e̶l̶l̶ Show your people how you’ll support. Don’t mistake my point here — words are great and can be such a powerful way to communicate. It’s how I’m sharing this powerful message with you. But words don’t go as far as actions. When my second grandma was sick, I was very busy with work. I could have easily gone to see her at night and checked in with family via text throughout the day.

Instead, I worked from the hospital and spent many hours by her side. And although she might not have known or remembered those moments, they made a difference. At least for me. And I’m quite certain they made a difference for her, too. As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

3. Find gratitude in, and for, all relationships. When I first found recovery, I was embarking on one of the most difficult exercises of the journey — sharing the details of my life with someone else. One component of that was a list of people I was upset with. My dad was atop the list. His drinking led to cirrhosis of the liver and ultimately, the end of his life. He was 39 and I was 17. I often asked myself why he’d chosen that life over his children. Ironically, I’d been doing the same to my own son for several years.

Regarding the resentment — my confidant addressed my comments about my father with one simple, yet poignant response. “The only reason you are alive, sharing this upset with me, is because your father gave you life. Maybe you ought to be grateful for him, and grateful you have a chance to change the story with your son.” I was speechless. It was then, in that silence, that the healing finally began.

We all lose important people as we navigate this precious life we have. Sadly, most of us experience losses that leave us with some sense of incompletion. The good news is we can learn to take the high road, show people how we’ll support, and find gratitude in every relationship. With this practice, the chances of those broken relationships ending too soon decrease tremendously. And there’s a bonus possibility — great relationships that bring joy we’d have otherwise missed.

As you reflect on your own relationships, I leave you with one question to consider: what relationship can you work to complete today, that will save you heartbreaking regret tomorrow?

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