Yesterday DF’s father died. I am so, so glad that it happened after DF’s recent trip down south to take care of business. Now his father’s widow, who’s 95, won’t have to stress out over death-related details or to face her late husband’s very disorganized papers.
No, DF did that for her – with complete transparency – because she was too busy coping with the impending loss. I’m glad he did that. I’m gladder still that he was able to say some things that needed saying, while his father was still able to hear and to respond.
Please, please do the same – before you miss your chance. If something needs saying, then say it.
Their relationship was not ideal, but DF made a conscious choice to put aside rancor and say, “I love you unconditionally.” As in, no conditions attached to his statement:
- No recriminations.
- No asking “why?”
- No demand for closure.
That last is counter to pop-psychology tenets, but not everyone needs or wants it. A therapist I know once said, “Closure is overrated.” I think I know what she meant: Those openness-and-healing talks aren’t necessarily a panacea.
That’s because they’re only pieces of the puzzle. Closure comes from figuring out where all that information fits with what you thought you knew about the situation. That might mean facing some uncomfortable places in your perception of self.
A great weight lifted
For example, suppose your parents crippled you emotionally because they couldn’t express their feelings. You may have needed therapy to deal with the resulting issues.
But once you know more about where momma and daddy were coming from, you have to decide what to do with the new knowledge. Specifically: You have to decide whether or not to accept your parents as flawed humans who did the best they could, or decide to continue to be affected by what you perceive as their mistakes.
Understand: I’m not saying you need to brush off abuse or neglect. Sometimes it’s smart to remain separate from the person or persons who harmed you. That’s a context of self-preservation: “Person X is a cruel and sadistic person who damaged me and I choose not to allow this to happen again.”
But suppose the context is more along the lines of, “My daddy was beaten regularly by his parents so his discipline of me was overly harsh” or “My momma was neglected and therefore had trouble nurturing”? You have two choices:
- Stay angry and forever mourn the lack of a happy childhood, or
- Forgive your parents for what they couldn’t have known and try to make the rest of your life happier.
Incidentally, those are just random examples, not personal ones. And yes, I know it’s hard to forgive. (Boy, do I — more on that in a minute.)
I still can’t let go
You don’t have to forgive at all. But read this Leonard Pitts column about Elwin Wilson, a former Klan member who, in old age, finally began to repent of his hatefulness. He sought out one of the Freedom Riders he’d beaten up, to ask forgiveness. His young victim is now U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who gave his pardon. Apparently both men cried during the meeting.
Wilson died last week, a great weight lifted from his soul. I can only admire Rep. Lewis, a class act who was able to put aside bitterness and rage and freely forgive a man who’d hurt him and so many others.
He’s a much better person than me: I hold a couple of lingering, very private grudges. I’m not yet a good enough Christian to deal with these, i.e., I find it tough to forgive.
Today I mused on that: What is keeping those grudges in place? Maybe it’s that I feel that these people have not sufficiently repented the harm I feel they did. But as they say, hating someone is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.
If either of those people asked me tomorrow to forgive them, would I be able to put aside my still-smoldering anger and let it all go?
I’d like to think so. I’m also self-aware enough to know that saying it is not the same as meaning it.
How easy to toss off a glib “okay, that’s all in the past, we’re square” just so I can check that off my emotional bucket list. Forgiving with a truly open heart is a little trickier. It requires letting go of the comfort of victimhood, i.e., feeling that I don’t have to make them feel better because I still hurt. It would also require me to examine how much of that pain is from self-inflicted poison.