Unfinished Business

Unfinished Business

Bryce Canyon National Park. Picture taken by Judith R. Sands

Typically when hearing the phrase “Unfinished Business”, the first thought is that of a work or household task that has not been completed. You may have been called away, distracted, or interrupted and did not have the opportunity to complete the job. Yet there is another meaning to the phrase “Unfinished Business” that goes beyond tending to the outstanding tasks (incomplete personal and work projects) and encompasses the spiritual distress associated with relationships, unresolved matters from the past, and may not be religious in nature.

As an individual’s physical status declines, they have lower energy and concentration levels, and may not be able to focus on managing their outstanding issues. This makes addressing “Unfinished Business” a priority for family and caregivers who work with those in declining health.


An approach to addressing “Unfinished Business” is by asking your loved one:

  • Is your “Unfinished Business” going to be a surprise or a burden to someone you love?
  • If you had an opportunity to say something to your family member, what would it be?
  • How are your spirits holding up through all of this?
  • What is like to be you right now?

Your loved one may ask you for guidance and assistance with some of their concerns.

Depending on the circumstances that have led to the individual’s physical decline, there are various types of questions that people ask themselves and others, as they realize their time is limited. In many cases, there are no real answers, yet these questions drive home the point that opportunities should be provided for the loved one to put closure on their “Unfinished Business.”

Loved Ones Questions

Questions your loved one may ask that provide some insight as to concerns about their current status or legacy:

  • Meaning: How do I explain this to my kids?
  • Purpose: I feel so useless.
  • Suffering: Why is this happening?
  • Connection/Legacy: Will my kids remember me?
  • Permanence: Will I live on in some way?
  • Coping: How am I going to get through this?

As a family member, friend, or caregiver you need to be prepared for such questions and provide the loved one an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings without being judged. Avoid the temptation to dismiss having this emotionally charged conversation; remember that it is not about you, it is about the loved one having the opportunity to put closure on their issues and concerns. Additional support and assistance may be obtained through clergy, hospice staff, social workers, nurses and individuals that the loved one trusts and values.