Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Forgiveness









When we lose someone close, we experience many conflicting emotions. Among them is deciding if we are going to forgive those who may have caused, or did not prevent, the death. 

My wife Evelyn died of a heart attack in a doctor’s office, with paramedics who came from across the street. Someone had to have made a mistake because dying in your 40s is wrong. I really wanted to blame one of them. And yet, even though they were unsuccessful in restarting her heart, I had to let go of blaming them, because they tried. 

During the first year of grief, one of the thousands of thoughts that kept circling in my head was that if one person had done one thing a little differently, including myself, then Evelyn might still be alive. These “if onlys” didn’t get me anywhere because Ev was still going to be dead. And if I was going to trust people again, as well as the world and Life, then I had to accept what had happened and forgive everyone involved, otherwise my life would get locked in a stone box of Bitterness.

One weekend when I ran out of people to blame, I tried to hold the forces of the Universe accountable, which was like spitting in the wind. I didn’t get any satisfaction.

Those who are involved when someone dies may feel guilty, even if there was nothing more they could have done. Maybe they made a wrong choice among the dozens of split-second decisions. Maybe they did something without thinking about how it would affect others. Or maybe it was a freak accident. Whatever. If they feel even slightly guilty, they will keep their distance from us, and our relationship will be on hold, until we let them know that we’re okay with them. This will stop guilt from eating them up inside.

“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.” John Green

Forgiving is part of living because we’re human. We make mistakes and we hurt other people, most of the time unintentionally. When we do, we apologize and ask forgiveness. When they forgive us, the bonds of community are restored.

But what if someone hurts us and doesn’t want to apologize? We need to forgive them anyway and let go of our anger, otherwise we will carry this shadow with us, this hurt, like a painful bruise. This, however, doesn’t mean that we will blindly trust them going forward. They’re back to being neutral.

A common complaint among grievers is how often their friends say dumb things to them in an effort to make them feel better. While their intentions are nice, what they say too often denies the impact of death as well as ignores the day-by-day suffering that is going on. We have to forgive them, too, and one day we will have to educate them on the reality of grief because they are obviously clueless about how devastating death is. At least they are trying to help in their bumbling way.

Perhaps the hardest person to forgive is ourselves, because we think that if there was one person our loved one trusted to take care of them, it was us, and obviously we failed.

And yet, if we HAD seen something, if we HAD thought of something, if we HAD known that something serious was going on, we WOULD have done whatever was needed. We know this, because we loved them that much. 

Bartender, a round of forgiveness for everyone.

3 comments:

  1. I think you should write something of a parent passing and adult child had conflicted feelings unresolved things that happened in life what were no faced.. i think may have happened more often that we think but yet its not talked about

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    Replies
    1. That's a great idea, Timothy! I'll start compiling notes. Both of my parents died a little over a year ago and I'm still processing what our relationships were, and what I had wanted.

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  2. After the shooting of children at an Amish school in 2006, one father said of the shooters that they must have been suffering terribly to do something this horrific. That’s forgiveness.

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