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Who do we quarrel with most if not those who are closest to us?  It’s true isn’t it?  We are respectful of strangers, we never raise our voices or utter a hurtful word to them, but we can be scathingly sarcastic to our loved ones.

Maybe it is the closeness.  We love them so much and need their love so much that the slightest thing can hurt us a lot, whereas a hurtful word from a stranger or someone who is not at all important in our lives will even go unnoticed at times.

Think about who has hurt you most.  Think about who you have hurt most.  Let’s say over the last month or last week or even the last 24 hours.  Think about the harsh words you’ve uttered.  Think about the harsh words you’ve heard.  Think of the last thing that made you really, really, really angry.  More likely than not it is a close friend or a family member, perhaps a sibling or even a parent.

It doesn’t last though.  One moment you are hurt and the next you are back to being best of friends.  Haven’t we all said at one point or another that we have the worst sister or brother on earth, that we wish we had different siblings or that we didn’t have siblings?  Have we not wondered if our parents were really our own parents or whether we were adopted?

These are not questions we ask ourselves all the time of course, but we do get annoyed with people closest to us and say nasty things or have to listen to nasty things.  If we go far away, though, we remember all these ‘nasty people’ with fondness.  We remember the many acts of kindness, the thoughtfulness and miss the affection.  And yet, if we return to that ‘closeness’, say after a long journey or a long time spent in another country, and it begins again — the harsh words, the annoyance, the questions etc.  Not everyone will respond with a harsh word of course, but there’s no mistaking the bad air hanging between two people when there’s been a dispute.

There are disputes in all families and some are very bitter.  It’s not that one is wrong and the other is right.  Usually, everyone thinks he/she is right.  But there can be bad air and sometimes it refuses to go away.

There was a man who hurt his mother once by a decision he took.  The decision had nothing to do with his mother and there was no intention to hurt her.  And yet, she was hurt.  She refused to talk to him and this way hurt him too.  So they became distant.  They acknowledged each other’s presence, but were very formal in their exchanges.  When she needed to see a doctor she would call him and he would take her.  She was always kind to his wife and his children.  But there was no warmth.

Then one day it was found that she had a weak heart.  A couple of months later, which visiting a friend, she had collapsed and was rushed to hospital.  The friend called her son.  The son rushed to the hospital.

She was on a bed, barely conscious.  He reached out and touched her forehead.  Tenderly.  She turned her eyes towards him for the briefest moment.  He likes to think that there was affection in that gaze but the only thing he can say with certainty is that there was no anger or resentment.  That was the last time she looked at anything.  She lapsed into unconsciousness and passed away a few hours later.

In that moment when gaze met gaze, 14 years of bitterness or let’s say ill-feeling or discomfort-in-presence fell away and she was the mother who was everything to him while growing up and perhaps he was the son she nurtured through all the difficult years of childhood and adolescence.

What if he had not touched her that moment?  What if she had not looked at him? What would have remained?

That’s the problem.  Death and departure can never be predicted.  Death removes the possibility of making up, starting again, being friends and putting the past behind.  The man lost his mother but he has a moment of connectedness that he can keep forever.  What if the last memory was a harsh word?  What if she died after such a word was uttered?

It’s hard, but perhaps hard as is it, there’s something to say for gulping down the harsh word before it is uttered.