Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Unfinished Business? When Is It Finished?

"I feel I have some unfinished business with you," I said upon re-meeting a one-time love interest.
"I hope we always have unfinished business," he replied.
That could be a good way to look at the unfinished business issue.  
(Although with relationships, it might be best to cut your tethers and set off down the forest path towards your next adventure.)
Distance, timing, urgent priorities, and the endless complications of sustaining a creative, independent life can lead to much unfinished business:  apologies unsaid, affection unaffirmed, debts unpaid, courses and degrees pending, library books unreturned.  Every six months or so, I push notes, scraps, ideas, and projects off my desk into a laundry basket: unfinished business.
But my thoughts today are on unfinished business with the dead:  the knot of sadness buried in our being never to be untied.
Sometimes, we untie it.

In December 1968, my father, Sid Blum, was dying of cancer.  Except for one trip we took together when I was 10, we weren't normally very close.  He was a busy man, totally engaged with fighting for human rights and social justice in everything he did.  I was more likely to feel his anger, than to feel his love.  I so wanted his praise or approval, but had little direct experience of it.
School was out for winter vacation and I was sent to NYC to visit relatives.  My mother spent her time rushing from work, to home, to the hospital.  The other four siblings were banging about, doing what they do.  My older sister was in university, studying sociology, following father's footsteps.  My older brother was playing in a band, and the two younger brothers were little boys.  For some reason, I was the lucky one -- or maybe I was seen as the troubled, moody one.
The trip was transformative.  I stayed with my father's first cousins -- the ones who knew him best, who grew up with him.  They gave me directions from Brooklyn to Manhattan and let me explore.  They took me to the old neighbourhoods and told stories.  I began to understand my father's childhood:  who he had been, and where he wandered before the war.

I couldn't wait to tell my father about all my discoveries, about my new understanding; but by the time I returned, he had fallen into a coma and did not revive.  He died in the early hours of the new year.  He was 42.  And I was left with my revelations unshared.

I finished another year of high school and went to university in a province far away. Ten years passed, and once again I was living in my mother's house, in my old room.  By then, I was in graduate school studying literature.  My father had loved literature and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled the house.  His books were still there and many were useful in my graduate courses.  It was fall, and every day I walked through the red and golden forest to the university.
One Monday night, I dreamed my father visited me and wanted to talk.  I woke up thrilled and unsteady, and rushed to class where I was lost in a wistful lightness.  He returned the next night, and the next -- every night that week.  We talked and talked.  I finally told him about my trip to New York, my understanding of his childhood, the news from his relatives, my studies, my worries.

It took ten years, but I finished my unfinished business with the dead.  The knot was untied in my subconscious.

What about you?  Have you any unfinished business with the living or the dead?


  1. Comments posted via hubski. Blogger only shows them if you come to this specific post. The comments will come up if you click comments - as perhaps you just did.

  2. from Bill E on Denman Island

    Unfinished business is what I think drives me as a writer. Every day I notice a little bit of time getting away, no matter what I want to do or say to the people in my life, my family, the ones I love, the ones I don't love but have a connection to, the opportunity is ...unfulfilled.

    And likely will remain. None of my bits of unfinished business are as poignant as your conversations with your father. I had countless opportunities to speak with my father before he died of old age. I took some of his memories and created a bank of poems to capture some of those tales. And, I filmed my parents in the early 1990's...got them a little drunk in one of my living rooms and interviewed them. Penetrating questions about their lives, how they grew up, their loves and jobs. They both kept on saying, "you know all that,Willy." At least my mother said that. The point of documenting their lives seemed lost on them. I suppose the rye and water didn't help. Anyway, a couple of years ago, I gave dvd's of that interview to my nephew and nieces and sister for a memento, I suppose.

    I loved the url to your brother's band.

  3. I like Bill's comment about unfinished business is what drives you as a writer -- I think I feel the same way; often, unfinished business with the living or the dead draws me into a story or poem, and working on these relationships and "business" in a way that perhaps can never happen in real life. And this may then intersect with "real life" in interesting ways. I recently wrote a poem about my father, who was a cardiologist -- saying that if he had written poems, he would have written about the heart in its medical, scientific terms, a subject he loved and knew intimately. In the poem, I recalled him writing medical papers, "cutting and pasting on the floor before computers." For over 6 years -- since my mother went into assisted living, or even before -- I have had a box of these very papers in my house, dating from the 1930's to the 1981. My dad, along with colleagues at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, did break-through research and studies with patients into the treatment of heart disease, and helped develop the stress test. After writing the poem -- and perhaps realising that 2013 is the 20th anniversary of his death -- I decided to contact Mount Sinai and see if they wanted these papers (something I had "meant to do" for a few years). within a day I received a letter from the librarian saying she was interested, send details; I looked through the papers -- mainly journal reprints -- and within a week we had confirmed the donation. Among the papers was a hand-written draft (written in pencil 40 years ago) which i decided to type, both to make the paper clearer for the hospital library and for my own needs. Somehow, I felt typing my father's words would be important. I could decipher almost everything, even the medical terms -- and typing them, I could hear his voice, his attitudes, his way of looking at the world. His voice. I felt sad about not having had more discussions with him, before he lost his language through strokes, and then died. But I felt -- like Lil -- that I had made contact with him in this way, that we had reached out to each other, and that there was another piece of connection between us.