Love, Hate, Death, and Family


Nothing in life is more precious, valuable, fulfilling, cherished, frustrating, complex, and heartbreaking than family. Nothing brings out the negative sides of family more than illness and death. 

Only four people comprised my nuclear family—mom, dad, two daughters.  Four years older than my sister, Peggy, I lived with our parents four years before she entered the picture, and she lived with them four years after I left home. My only-child status in the home occurred as a preschooler, but Peggy’s occurred as a full-fledged teenager.

My husband’s family–larger and more complex than mine—had two parents with four children with a nine-year span from oldest to youngest. My husband Mike was the oldest and only son. 

After burying the last of our four parents February 5, Mike and I have thought a great deal about familial relationships and roles within each family. I have many fond memories that juxtapose some not-so-fond ones as I assume most people do.

As Mike and I have dealt with the aging, infirmities, and deaths of our parents, we have faced varying circumstances. All four parents lived in Abilene where Mike and I live; thus, we became primary caregivers by default. 

Although our siblings visited when they could, their experiences with our parents differed greatly from ours. Not only our siblings’ relationships with their parents, but also their relationships with us were unique.

Fellow contributor to Spirit of Abilene Jim Nichols recently wrote about the importance of perspective. His topic relates perfectly to the different perspectives within families.

In Mike’s family, he knew his parents for three years before the first of the next two sisters came into the family and nine years before the youngest entered the fold. Mike’s parents did not become church people until Mike was ten; however, by the time his youngest sister was four, his parents had adopted a new way of life as Christian missionaries.

I give this background to illustrate the main point I hope to make in this article. That point relates to each relationship we have in life as uniquely ours. Even though siblings may grow up simultaneously in a home, each one has a separate interaction with the parents.

The complexity of familial relationships has occupied much of my thought and study during my life. Even as a literature teacher, I chose to teach much literature that illustrated this subject. 

I began delving into complex familial relationships when I went to a therapist many years ago. As I shared my experiences with my therapist, she quickly recommended that I read a book explaining a dysfunctional triangle that exists in many families. That book opened my eyes to the psychological mechanism that operated within my family.

I learned reasons for some perpetual conflicts between family members. Recognizing the reasons does not necessarily solve the conflicts, but it does help give perspective to an important issue that arises in the times of crisis.

These times include the difficult circumstances surrounding aging parents such as physical illnesses and dementia. It also includes decisions regarding parents’ care and estate settlement. Siblings do not always agree on care for their parents. Because of this, sometimes people suffer anger, hurt feelings, and bitterness.

I recently attended a meeting during which the gifted oboist and music instructor Susie Rockett played a selection she based on Sara Teasdale’s poem “Wind Song.” Following is the text of that poem: 

I heard a wood thrush in the dusk
Twirl three notes and make a star —

My heart that walked with bitterness
Came back from very far.
Three shining notes were all he had,
And yet they made a starry call —
I caught life back against my breast
And kissed it, scars and all.

As much as it pains me to admit this, I have allowed bitterness to enter my heart many times. I disappoint myself when I realize that I have admitted such an ugly emotion to enter and fester in my life. 

Although I often have difficulty choosing love, forgiveness, patience, and long-suffering over anger, selfishness, and petulance, I know the dangers of failing to let go of bitterness. Writers throughout history have cautioned against the poison of bitterness. 

One of my favorite novels is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. One of the main characters, Roger Chillingworth, harbors an anger and jealousy that transforms into a demonic hatred. Deceit brings to light one of the worst elements of bitterness—pretense. The hypocrisy eventually kills the soul of its host. 

As I deal with feelings unbecoming of me, I seek God’s forgiveness. I ask Him to remind me of the knowledge I already have of relationships and family. I ask that the information and knowledge transform into wisdom, kindness, forgiveness, patience, and love. 

Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing

One comment

  • Sandy Parish-Tompkins

    Very good article Nancy and I believe that it probably applies to most of us when it comes to the bitterness and letting go of it. Sometimes we feel trapped in our obligations but we do them anyway because we know it’s expected and there’s really no one else to do them. Thank you again for another wonderful article and I know it was from your heart.


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