Kansas church window... look into the window, and out the "other side" (These two photographs by Marylin Warner)

Kansas church window… look into the window, and out the “other side” (These two photographs by Marylin Warner)






Stone bridge in winter, Brown's Park, Abilene, KS. The journey is not finished.

Stone bridge in winter, Brown’s Park, Abilene, KS.
The road may be less traveled, but the journey is not finished.


Unfinished Business is more than just the title of numerous published fiction and nonfiction books.  It’s also more than what actress Elizabeth Taylor left behind when she died before learning how to cook a hard-boiled egg. (Supposedly, that’s one of the things she wanted to learn to do but never did.)

Here are some other examples of unfinished business:

~ the one thing you always planned to do but never did;

~ the “last words” a person wanted to say before someone died…but waited too long to say them;

~ decades-old unsolved crimes that still gnaw at law enforcement;

~ something you deserved and expected an apology for but didn’t receive…or something you should have apologized or made restitution for, but didn’t;

~ a painful event you never learned the truth about or the reason why it happened: the business that failed; the betrayal by a spouse or a friend; the person who died too young or who took his/her own life;

~ a crime you committed or a wrong you did against someone else…that has never been revealed.

Writer, poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote: “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night…”  She was writing about a person who is gone, but if you replace the “you” with trust, resolution, justice, or whatever your unfinished business is, her description is still valid.  Unfinished business has a way of continuing to gnaw at us for a very long time.

When I was in junior high school, a man in our town died suddenly in a compromised situation. I heard the expression “he left a lot of unfinished business” and asked my mother what that meant. She said (paraphrased but true to context) that when you die you want to have lived your life without leaving unfinished business, so the people who love and trust you will be left with happy, loving memories instead of bad or hurtful memories.

This post is not about the unfinished business of politicians, countries, world leaders, or missing airplanes in unknown waters.  It’s about us, people who haven’t kept all the promises we’ve made to ourselves and others.  It’s about misplaced dreams and hopes and plans.

The good news is that Tuesday, March 25th, is “Old New Year’s Day” based on the old Orthodox new year. Anyone who missed a chance to make (or keep) a New Year’s Resolution that might finish some unfinished business has a do-over, a second chance.

And if that’s too heavy to consider, Wednesday, March 26th is “Make Up Your Own Holiday.”  It’s up to you how you use it.  As American songwriter and actor Eminem said, “The truth is, you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.”


Norman Rockwell's "Secrets"--if you decide to write about your unfinished business, don't leave it where your brother might find it.  Just saying...

Norman Rockwell’s “Secrets”–if you decide to write about your unfinished business, don’t leave it where your brother might find it. Just saying…

Norman Rockwell's "Feeding Time"--unfinished business can sneak up on you if you're not paying attention.

Norman Rockwell’s “Feeding Time”–unfinished business can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention.




Filed under Abilene Kansas, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations

78 responses to “UNFINISHED BUSINESS

  1. Thank you for the nostalgia, useful sayings, and hopeful “do-over” holidays just on the horizon. Favorite photos: The Kansas church window + Rockwell’s “Secrets.” I’m old enough to remember vanity tables with flouncy skirts like that. . . sweet.

    Turning my blog into a book, I’ve have to say, it my un-finished business. Your blog posts are an endless feast, Marylin.

    • Good for you, Marian! Unfinished business with a plan and a goal is the best kind of unfinished business. When all is said and done, we plan to put together all the posts on this blog–and all pictures and comments–in books for my grandchildren, my mother’s great-grandchildren who didn’t get to know and appreciate the real Mary Shepherd because of the dementia.

  2. I suspect this resonated with many of us. It certainly does with me. When my brother died we had not spoken in almost 13 years. I often think ‘what if….”. But seriously, Liz Taylor didn’t know how to hard boil an egg? That is staggering. I would happily have taught her. How can you not know how to hard boil an egg? The mind boggles 😦

    • Andrew, you can always write him a letter now. At least get off your chest what you would’ve said. You may find some relief in that. I did, when my father died unexpectedly, and there was more I wanted to say to him. It helped some. We all have unfinished business. It’s part of life. It’s also what keeps us going.

    • All I know is what I read, Andrew, and this Liz Taylor fact came from one of the articles about her. When I moved from Kansas to Colorado, it took a while to learn how to boil an egg–just right, not over or under–because of the effects of altitude. But in her case, my bet is that it really wasn’t that important. She had “White Diamonds” perfume named for her; the idea of the smell of eggs was probably not on her radar.
      I’m sorry about your brother, Andrew. Gone but not forgotten; as long as he lives in your mind and heart, a part of him still lives.

  3. Don

    Your post has moved me in to a time of reflection Marylin. I’ve got quite a bit of unfinished stuff in my life. Some of it I have to say will always remain unfinished with only a level of closure to it. One has got to learn to live with that.

    • I think many of us have issues that can’t be finished, Don, only dealt with and put away. And you’re right, we just have to learn to live with it.
      I’m glad if this post triggered something for you.

  4. HI Marylin,
    What an interesting topic to write about! For sure I have some unfinished business to attend to and little by little, I have knocked a few things off my list this year. Not working full time makes it easier!
    I really like the “Make your own Holiday” day! I think there should be a “Family Dinner Day” where you get together with family and have a good meal. I am thinking about family dinner being the topic of my next (or soon!) blog post!
    xo Joanne

    • I like the idea of a Family Dinner Day. When I was growing up, even if we had to wait until late when my dad came home from work, we waited and ate together. It was how we stayed connected. But for some families, having a special Family Dinner Day would require police intervention. Some families haven’t gotten together in many years because of the anger and hard feelings.

  5. your posts are always a tonic for the soul, and it’s my loss that i’ve been off the gird for the past 9 or so months. the good part is that i have a lot of great reading here, like a pile of unwrapped presents waiting to open!

    thank YOU for opening your heart and sharing your thoughts, dreams and memories with all of us, and making us richer in spirit.


  6. I love the pictures Marylin and the Rockwell pieces. You write here about something everyone should read. Unfinished business can haunt you, and the longer it’s left, the harder it gets to do something about it.
    Time for me to reflect on whether I’m likely to leave any unfinished business and get down to finishing it while I can.
    What I don’t want to leave unfinished today are my hugs so I send to you Unlimited Hugs to do with as you will.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    • Y-E-S, David. Thank you for those unlimited hugs!
      Now that you have darling baby Reuben and you’ve put together a book of poem/stories for him just as you did for your daughter, you’re wrapping a lifetime of hugs for your grandson between the covers of his own book.
      Finishing other bits of business is harder, but we can try.
      Many hugs back to you!

  7. Gwen Stephens

    What an uplifting post. I’m sure everyone walking the earth has a bit of unfinished business. I think it helps to start small and heed the old adage of never going to bed angry.

  8. Marilyn … I love the idea of an “Old New Year’s Day.” There is much I have yet to complete – or even start – that I want to do. Just this morning, I began going thru my journals. Some things are better left unsaid. 😉

    • Some things are better left unsaid, and unwritten, Judy!
      I loved the “Old New Year’s Day” second chance, too, and already I’ve chosen the one thing I want to do.
      I love the concept of do-overs.

  9. Amy

    It can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention– Thank you for sharing your wisdom! Always learn something about life from your post, Marilyn

  10. Marylin, you are a gem. Again, I hope you pull all your wonderful posts into a book. This post is another one that gets the reader thinking. Ah, life, huh? Full of challenges, surprises, and beauty. Now, I have to get back to my desk. Lots of unfinished business there. Hugs.

  11. Out there in the backwaters of my village, there are many scouring the moonscape ruing their unfinished businesses, or at least that is what they say. I am sure I can see some of them with my mind’s eyes, and all I can say is that I don’t want to leave any unfinished stuff of my own when I leave. Heck, who does?

    An engrossing post as ever.

    • How wonderfully you worded that: scouring the moonscape ruing their unfinished business. Very eloquent and powerful! And it really makes the point abut leaving no unfinished business. Thank you for sharing this!

  12. juliabarrett

    I suspect we all leave this world with unfinished business. If it’s really important unfinished business we get another chance. Saw that when I was dead. 🙂
    Maybe the most important thing we can do is forgive ourselves, at least when it comes to the little things. In Judaism the big things require forgiveness from the person we have wronged, even if they precede us in death. We have to ask it when we see them in the next world.
    In the meantime I do need to get busy and make those plans to see Mongolia.

    • You shared a powerful lesson, Julia. Big things require forgiveness from the person we have wronged, even if they precede us in death.
      It makes me think of SHINDLER’S LIST, of those who would be thanked in the next life, and those who would have much seeking of forgiveness to do. You’ve added a new level of unfinished business to consider, Julia.

  13. JIm

    Raising a child is ‘unfinished business’ of a different kind. It is an ongoing opportunity to make a difference. It is a joy to be needed and included in the daily ups-and-downs of our daughter Molly’s life, now to include Trevor, Grace and Gannon. Oh, and not to forget Munchkin and Duchess too!

  14. That’s so sweet, JIm, so caring and honest, involved and connected in the lives of those closest to us. Marriage is a good kind of unfinished business, too, ongoing and growing.
    Unfinished business can be the best kind of business, meaning “the best is yet to come.”

  15. Unfinished business. Something I had not given much thought to. Wonderful post Marylin. So attentively composed to mean something to everyone who reads it. Thought provoking and inspiring. Blessings, Robyn

    • Thank you, Robyn. At first I had a narrow view of unfinished business–always a negative thing or something you’d regret–and then I read my own husband’s positive slant on it. The ongoing, learning and enjoying every challenge perspective of unfinished lives.
      I need to consult him on more of the things I see as either black or white.

  16. I think it would be impossible to finish everything. That’s the point, isn’t it? I suppose it’s the choosing what to finish: that’s the big dilemma. What we leave undone is what keeps us going and what is left, for others to remember us by maybe.

    • You and my husband Jim are on the same page of ‘unfinished business’ Jenny. It is what keeps us going, and sometimes it isn’t something that HAS to be finished.
      I’m the one learning new things from this post, and I thought I already had it figured out! 😉

  17. I strive to live my life with no unfinished business when it comes to my relationships with loved ones. I don’t go to bed angry. I never end a phone conversation angry, nor do I leave someone’s house angry. I’m always aware of the fact that this could be the last time I see or talk to this person.
    Oh, how I love the Norman Rockwell’s “Secrets”, he’s having a grand time.

    • I wish I could say the same thing about the angry things I ‘never’ do, Jill.
      Isn’t there ever a time when you just leave or hang up or turn off the light and go to bed because you have to give the anger some time to settle? Or maybe if you’re angry the other person is also angry; isn’t there ever a time when the other person slams the door or hangs up on you? What do you do then?

      • Maybe when I was younger. I do remember once throwing a plate of mashed potatoes at an old boyfriend, but I didn’t wallk out mad…I broke up with him and then walked out. 🙂
        Seriously, like my father, I have a calm temperament. I don’t allow people or situations to make me angry. I’ve never had anyone hang up on me, but I have been known to hang up on telephone solicitors, after I tell them I’m not interested.

      • Good for you, Jill. You live a charmed life.
        I’ve always fought the temptation to stand up, push back, confront…even when it would only make things worse. Probably the best thing I did in h.s. and, for awhile, college, was debate. CrossX formal debate, where facts, ideas and presentation won or lost the round. I think it helped me confront without attacking.

  18. This is a great topic, Marylin. I’m wondering now if I get hit by that proverbial bus tomorrow if I would have any unfinished business. I don’t think so, but I’ll be thinking about this all day now.
    I just love that Norman Rockwell’s “Secrets” picture and quote 😀

    • The “Secrets” makes me laugh because I have a red-head grandson who I can just see doing the very same thing with his older, red-head sister’s diary. I would not want to be there if she caught him!
      Please, Dianne, don’t think so hard about unfinished business you might have that your step out in front of the proverbial bus!

  19. Once again Marylin you make your visitors consider the BiG Questions of Life. Of course unfinished business seems never to be that important an issue in most peoples lives until they suddenly realise time is running out , not something I need to worry about as I have plenty of time to sort out all my unfinished business xxxx

    • You know, Tom, many years ago I had a writer friend who learned she had pancreatic cancer, and her answer was similar to yours.
      She knew how long the doctors predicted, and she didn’t ‘waste’ any time lolling around. She wanted the time she had left to be a life well lived.

      She focused on what was most important, spent time with friends and family, did special things she could still do, and in general she got all the loose ends in her life pretty much taken care of. She lived a few months longer than the prediction, and she said that every morning she greeted the sunrise with true gratitude and the sunset with calm.

      And candles, Tom. Remember there are candles glowing for you.

  20. I suppose it should be like my numbers lists…if I get one little thing off my chest, I should feel good. Thanks for a good reminder.

  21. I love the quote Marylin and your suggestion for replacing the ‘you’ with whatever haunts us. What a great idea to pull the blog posts into a book to hand down – there are so many great lessons here that your family will get the benefit of – as well as us. 🙂

    • Thanks, Andrea. Mom’s great-grandchildren might have to “grow into” the readiness. On the other hand, they’ve each done a guest post on the blog, so I think they’re realizing the importance of the stories.
      When I read Millay’s quote–about stepping around the –fill in the blank– hole in the world during the day but falling in at night, I knew it was a huge truth about unfinished business.

  22. dianabletter

    Thought-provoking post, Marylin. I try to put my pride aside and make sure I’ve made amends to everyone I feel I have wronged. Sometimes, we don’t get that chance so we can choose a different behavior from now on. Thank you for sharing the Millay quotes and the reminder to carpe diem!
    Diana Bletter

    • And now I look at “unfinished business” with fresh eyes, Diana. It can also be something to enjoy, to look forward to, to savor instead of finish or complete. It can be a good part of life’s journey!

  23. What a reflective topic, Marylin! I feel that at some point in our lives we will have unfinished business simply because we are humans. One of my goals in life is to strive to have positive interactions with everyone with whom I come in contact, be it in person, on the the telephone, in an e-mail, and here in the world of blogging. Would it always happen? No. Whenever I am aware that my communication left a frown instead of a smile (to put it simply), I try my best to rectify the situation, clearing up the unfinished business, so to speak. Am I always successful? No. However, I do know that I’ve given it my best shot.

    Here’s a light moment of unfinished business: Many afternoons I get so caught up in my work that I lose track of time and then I just do a quick tidying up of my desk and grab my things and leave. I will tell my colleague that if I die during the night I’m charging him with the responsibility to take care of things 🙂 We laugh about it, but it’s good to know that I have a friend who will take care of my unfinished business!

    • What a great example! I’m glad your colleague can laugh with you, but it is also a responsibility, something to consider.
      One of my college friends had promised her sister–who had MS–that when the time came she would destroy certain journals and diaries and letters without reading them or sharing them with her sister’s husband and children. She lived with dread of doing that, of losing her sister AND then being responsible to destroy certain things.

  24. Your list highlighted much unfinished business for me.
    I had better get started as time is running out 🙂

  25. Hi Marylin, Just a note later in the day to say I love what you captured in your photo of the Kansas church window. Reflecting on your post too.

  26. Millay quote is extraordinary. Love Rockwells…always a favorite with me…would like to live in a Rockwell world again!

    • He did capture what we remember as a calmer, kinder time of close-knit families and helpful communities, didn’t he? But we also hid under desks during air raid practices and lost friends and neighbors who today would have survived their illnesses because of new drugs and treatments. There’s always something, but Rockwell drew and painted the lighter, happier messages most of the time.
      I love Millay’s quote, too, Claudia.

  27. A very profound post Marylin… lots to think about. “Unfinished business” can be good if it gives you something to live for (working to realize an unfinished dream). But, it can be bad if the “unfinished business” is an apology never received from a loved one. That’s a wonderful Edna St. Vincent Millay quote, and your photos are beautiful.

  28. I agree with you on all counts, Theresa, especially about unfinished business being like so many concepts and having both good and bad interpretations. When I first wrote this post, I saw it as something to be regretted if left undone, so I’m still learning.
    You’re an excellent photographer, so your comments about my photos are much appreciated!

  29. Pingback: Tool For Tuesday: How Do You Apologize To Someone Who’s Dead? | THE BEST CHAPTER

  30. Oh Marylin, there’s so much I love about this post – the first two photos of the church window-through-another-window and the stone bridge which I just adore. Yes, the journey still goes on indeed. Then the Edna St. Vincent Millay quote, so powerful that.

    I just read a post on FB about the five biggest regrets that people have based on a palliative nurse’s conversations with her terminally ill patients over a period of 28 years. She has written a book about it and the first biggest regret, mostly by men, is that they wished they hadn’t worked so hard and missed out on their children’s lives when they were young. Very sobering stuff.

    Also the Norman Rockwell pictures and your accompanying comments, so apt and very funny and of course love the Eminem quote and the special days in March! This is a packed full treasure post and very though-provoking.

    Not to mention the fact that La Liz didn’t know how to hard-boil an egg! Who knew? Then again, somehow I’m not surprised… 😉

    Your mom had it right about making sure that those we leave behind have good, happy memories and no nasty, ‘unfinished business’ for which they bear the consequences. It is the way to live but so many people don’t and that is when there is so much damage done.

    After my ex’s father died, quite suddenly of a brain tumour at the age of 68 we were in for further shocks. We discovered that he had been married before, had a family in Mexico with three grown children and that he and my ex’s mother (crazy Grandma!) hadn’t actually got married until the 80’s (me ex was born in 1959 while they were living together and not married as we thought as his father was still married, we think, to his Mexican wife).

    The worst was that CG knew and hadn’t thought to mention it. I talked to her a lot about it in her final years but my ex wanted nothing to do with it. She died without ever discussing it with her sons. To this day the hurt binds him terribly and I’m not sure he will ever overcome what, to him, is the ultimate betrayal by his own father (there is more but it wouldn’t be appropriate to share here on a public forum).

    Anyway, not to leave on a downer, I absolutely love this post my friend and I hope that I won’t leave any unfinished business behind – not least of all getting my book written, which I really need to get on with right now!!!! 🙂

    • Sherri, your connections to the post and your comments are always appreciated. The palliative nurse comments are especially interesting to me right now, as I sit for hours each day in my mother’s hospital room (see next post). Your ex-mother-in-law–with the secrets and not discussing the details–is a perfect example of unfinished business that hangs like a heavy cloud over an entire family. Life is hard enough without wondering if you have family you’ve never met off in another country. It’s a bad soap opera of nagging thoughts, isn’t it?

      • You hit it on the head Marylin, as you always do – ‘it’s a bad soap opera of nagging thoughts, isn’t it?’ That is the worst of it, knowing that the truth will never be revealed as it’s too late and there’s nobody left to tell it.

        As expressed in my reply to your next post, my love, prayers and thoughts are very much with you as sit and ponder quietly by your mom’s side…

  31. PS Gosh – sorry for the essay I left behind… !

  32. I hate unfinished business — (are you familiar with the Myer’s Briggs Personality Indicator? I’m a “J” all the way!) I like things all tied up and concluded.

    But I’ve had to learn to let go of that. My life is FULL of unfinished business. I used to drive myself crazy trying to finish everything. I count on my husband to help me prioritize, and I finish things in the order of what’s most important.

    But all those straggling fringy ends annoy me as much as a tilted picture on the wall annoys him. I haven’t figured out how to get rid of that feeling, that I ought to finish what I can’t possibly finish.

    Any words of wisdom on that, oh sage friend?

    • Tracy, if you’re a “J” yet have learned to live with unfinished business and prioritize, you don’t need help from anyone. “Js” everywhere will want you to explain how your do it! (Ah! Do you feel another book topic coming on?) Actually, I say you and your husband are a very good blend and balance for each other!

  33. Pingback: Beginning Again, Again | freethoughtandmetaphor

  34. I like your post and have referred to it with a link on my own blog today. I see it has resonated with a lot of people.. Good work.

  35. Jane Thorne

    Good post Marylin, sending you a big hug before I get back to my unfinished business. Xx

  36. Marylin, Iife has been crazy hectic. I had and have unfinished business to take of care of. And thank you for another amazing post. 🙂

    • Tracy, I think most of us have unfinished business of some kind or another; the best we can do is, well, do the best we can do. It’s not a good answer, but that really is how it is.

  37. jakesprinter

    I always admire your post Marilyn …Thanks for sharing my friend 🙂

  38. Daniela

    Every time I come around to yours, which of late has not been as often as I would have liked, there is a wonderful new post written with warmth and sincerity. And this one is no exception. Unfinished business or businesses plague many of us who who found themselves ‘re-planted’ in soils far away from our original patches of dirt … I guess the ‘trick’ is to finish it in our hearts and minds.

    Take Care,

    • Daniela, what a wonderful way to say it: for those of us who have found ourselves re-planted in soils far away from our original patches of dirt…
      I think your “trick” is right, to finish it in our hearts and mind. Thank you.

  39. Admiring the commitment you put into your site and detailed information you provide.
    It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed information. Fantastic read!
    I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

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