When my 99 year old grandfather, Henry, passed away two weeks ago, I had no idea that my post on his life and forgiveness was going to set off a chain reaction. I guess that’s what they mean by the butterfly effect. We really aren’t separate little beings living in our own bubbles. It’s more like we are all beads on the same string.
Back to that Can…
When I phoned my mom during the funeral weekend to check in on her, I asked her to ask her sisters what they thought about forgiveness. Between the group of them, I was hoping to get some insight on when, why, how, and if they had forgiven their father, Henry, for leaving them when they were so young.
One of my mom’s sisters, we’ll call her Bess, told her that, actually, she was still having trouble forgiving my mom for something she’d done three years ago. This concept hit my mom like a MAC truck. She had no idea.
All of a sudden that snuggly blanket of bonding that had enveloped them got ripped right off.
Things got tense. But first a little back-story on Bess. Their father, Henry, had actually sort of rescued Bess during a traumatic time in her early teenage years. When Bess was 13, she left her home in Washington, DC and went to live in St. Louis where Henry took her in. So Bess probably knew Henry better than the others. Bess was the only one of his six daughters that really lived with him during their childhood.
So here was the issue. Bess and my mom both currently live within walking distance of each other in Florida. For two years in a row, Bess had flown their dad Henry down to stay the winter with her. This took some load off of the people that normally looked after him in St. Louis.
The trouble occurred when Bess mentioned to my mom that she wanted to host their father for the third time.
My mom was aloof and just tossed the idea aside. She had tolerated seeing him the past two winters, and she was nice to him – even helpful, but she still held a virtual wall up towards him. She didn’t like being confronted into dealing with him. She didn’t like all the issues it seemed to bring up. She told Bess she would prefer it if he didn’t come.
In my mom’s own words:
“I remembered giving “Bess” a lot of grief about not bringing Henry down to Florida. I DO remember it now. I was very intent that he not be around me because in my mind he didn’t deserve me, or us. I made a bible quote to support it. ‘Do not cast your pearls before swine.’ That was my mindset at the time. Anger. Indignation.”
Bess didn’t push the issue with my mom, but internally she felt like she had to choose between her father or her sister. Bess decided not to bring Henry down that winter.
I can only imagine, that at Henry’s funeral, for Bess, this decision probably felt like a huge regret.
Bess lost out on that extra time with him… because of my mom.
This all came out Sunday night of the funeral weekend. The viewing had been the day before, but the sisters still had to get through the actual funeral and burial the next day on Monday. And, as I mentioned in my last post, the sisters were all sharing a condo together.
My mom defensively apologized and they quickly tried to smooth the issue over and brush it aside… but it just didn’t go away. The air became tenser, the jokes and support and warmth everyone held felt together was replaced by an icky feeling.
You know – we’ve all been there – it feels like the air has been sucked out of the room.
My mom went to bed that night and slept restlessly. She woke up very early and everyone appeared to still be sleeping. Suddenly one of her other sisters rushed to her and delivered the exact right words, something like: You have to let this hurt stop, don’t let these hurts go on, Bess and you love each other. Try to get beyond this.
My mom suddenly saw it clearly. She was so right. She couldn’t hold on to this hurt she was feeling. She stood up, went to Bess’s bedside and said teary-eyed and in complete earnest, “Bess, please forgive me for hurting you. I love you too much, I want us to get beyond this.”
She pleaded with her.
And Bess forgave her.
And it felt like an amazing gift.
It felt like a miracle had occurred, like a prisoner really had been set free. My mom was not going to be a prisoner to her own mistakes, pride, regret, overly sensitive self or the impending gloom she was starting to feel. And Bess wasn’t going to be a prisoner to her resentment anymore.
But … there’s more, really
Maybe this seems pretty pedestrian to you, but to my mom it was a miracle, it was so emotional. But the impact rippled out even further.
Previously on Saturday when my mom went to the viewing of her father, she felt very unemotional. She chalked it up to the fact that looking at someone’s deceased body isn’t really like looking at them, after all, their spirit is gone.
But Monday, after her reconciliation with her sister, she got a chance to view him again before the burial service, and it was sooo different.
She could finally see him as a human, just like her.
She could see herself in him, all the pride, aloofness, wrong decisions, and flaws. She put her hand on his chest and forgave him completely and asked him to forgive her. She had complete compassion for him and was very emotional.
That wall cracked and came down.
She realized she needed to stop being a prisoner to her own sensitive self. Stop hiding from, getting frozen, or turning away from pain.
So how long can it take someone to truly forgive?
It took 60+ years.
Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.
Lewis B. Smedes