In 1990 my son, Kris, attempted suicide. It wasn’t completely unexpected…I had been concerned enough about his somewhat erratic behavior for a few months. Yet, when he did, it threw me for a loop. So much so that in the ensuing weeks, I returned to my therapist for help in overcoming the debilitating guilt I felt. The one thing I could not get over, was the guilt and recriminations I heaped upon myself. She told me I needed to forgive myself. I, who thought of myself as fair and just, wondered how I could grant myself something I refused to give to others…my mother and father.
The guilt was physically painful. It hurt to think of all the mistakes I had made, the bad choices that my son, as a child, also had to endure. I tried to remember the boy, who at six, had said with a surety most adults never feel, “the person I love best, is me.” And I had thought, how wonderful to have raised a child who understood that you needed to love yourself first and best. What had happened between the ages of six and 24. The only answer I had, was me. I had happened.
So, in an attempt to stop the pain of guilt, and to learn how to forgive myself, I embarked on what became a two year odyssey of learning to forgive others, in the hope that I could then forgive myself.
I began reading all I could on forgiveness; how it is done, what must be done to let go of past grievances. I can tell you, once you decide on a course of action and learning, the universe brings it to you in numerous ways. Movies I watched, The Edgar Meyers story, where his widow 20 years later is finally seeing his murderers brought to justice, answers her daughter who asks, “how can you not hate them, mama?”
She answers, “ oh honey, hate doesn’t hurt them. It only hurts me. I have to forgive them so I can be okay.”
The song by Don Henley, The Heart of the Matter…I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter. But I think it’s about forgiveness…
Articles that just seemed to come my way. And I learned, it IS about forgiveness. It’s a decision, a choice. It doesn’t just happen. It is defined as “the action or process of forgiving.” A conscious and deliberate attempt to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward another person, regardless of whether they ask for it, or deserve it. This can then lead to understanding, empathy, and compassion.
The steps are:
- Uncover your hurt and anger
- Decide to forgive
- Work on forgiveness
- Release yourself from the emotional prison
I worked hard for two years to forgive and release myself. I found that once I had made it, I no longer was angry with myself, or my parents for mistakes we made. After two years, I was finally able to stop living in fear for my son, in anger toward my parents. My perception of life changed and I was able to live more fully, and experience joy, and was able to recognize the good things in my life, and stop dwelling on the bad. I began to understand that my life was a journey with wrong roads taken, and the ability to get back on the path. I understood that all those things had shaped me and made me the person I was. I finally knew, that though I wouldn’t wish my childhood on others, it was what had given me some of the strengths I now had. And I knew that I would not change those things now, because I wouldn’t know who I was…..and I finally liked and admired who I was, and how far I had come.
The hardest person to forgive is ourselves, yet it is vitally important for the mental health of those who have been victimized in any way.
My therapist told me I could get to forgiveness without the people saying sorry, but it took longer. But she knew how important it was for MY mental health, and she encouraged me in my journey.
To know how far I had come was apparent to me when I saw my mother two years later, and I no longer felt a need to avoid her, or a need to talk with her with a frozen smile on my face. I was finally able to see her as person with flaws, and sorrows. And I was finally able to see myself as the same, with hopes and dreams and the desire to live a better and meaningful life without hatred and rancor toward others.
When my parents died, years apart, I felt no anger or guilt or shame….that was when I knew I had fought a good fight and had reached forgiveness.