It occurred to me yesterday after I left grief counseling that grief has another aspect to it that I personally haven’t read much about, but which I think is incredibly useful toward healing. Forgiveness. It’s one of those words you read about and hear others talk about and it sounds comforting, soothing, easy even, and of course it’s the “right thing to do”. While mulling this idea about it became slightly overwhelming the number of those that must be forgiven in order to heal, in order for a weary griever to continue to place one tired foot in front of the other.
For me the outside forces that needed forgiving were friends who couldn’t understand the depth of sorrow that seeped in to stay the day John died. These friends could not bear to watch my grieving, could not bear to hear the sobs or see my clothes hang on me after months of subsisting on toast and tea. They had to look away. I found this easy to forgive, my love for them was way deeper than my need for them to be at my side during those months.
I had to forgive some of John’s friends for not understanding my path and specifically my withdrawal of that group. They would, and still incredibly do, invite me to all sorts of wonderful gatherings, and I still do not have the strength to look upon their faces because they were such an incredibly huge part of his life. They were the family he created when he didn’t have one, these were the people he loved and respected and laughed with. When I see them, my stomach turns and tears burn immediately-in part because I know they too miss him, in part because he is supposed to be there by my side discussing a new play idea or zombie invasion, but he is not. In their presence his absence is incredibly loud, and it is in many ways, still too hard to step into.
I find that I had to forgive John too. For leaving me, for immediate and absolute abandonment. I know he would never have chosen that himself. In my heart I know it is misplaced anger but for me, he is still someone that needs to be forgiven. He took great care of himself but always pushed away my concerns, my frequent nudges to get another physical, my worries about his heart even though a test he had, had down a few years before he died said he was fine. He would remind me of that whenever I brought it up, he would say “I’m a big strong man honey, you don’t have to worry about me!” But then he died of a heart attack, and all I can think of to retort is. “Yes, yes I did have to worry.”
The hardest person to forgive in all of this is myself. The guilt of not pushing John more and listening to my instinct that something was not right, that he was in danger. I have a hard time of not forgiving my lack of continuous nagging on the subject knowing he may very well be here if I had. The need to forgive this and it goes hand in hand with guilt and is still, to this day, over two years out, a work in progress for me.
I have also had to forgive myself my lackluster parenting of my children in the year after he died. Thank goodness one was away at college and the other was a senior. For those with young children, I honestly don’t know how you do it, so many days and weeks of that first year I really cannot remember anything about them-even today, looking back on them with clearer eyes- those days are mostly lost to me, and in that, I lost most of my son’s senior year, something else I find hard to forgive myself for.
I had to forgive my inability to be a good friend to those who love me. I had to forgive my inability to stay at a very public job that I loved because I simply could not bear to grieve so publicly - to have to tell the story of John’s loss over and over again to those who entered the building -or see their faces as they watched me fall into an unkempt mess. As Christine, my therapist explained, “That is a job where you have to give a lot. In that moment you had nothing left to give. Of course you left, what else could you really have done?” How spot on she is about that. In that time there was nothing in the bank left to share ,but I felt as if I abandoned a group of people who were my family and just after they had shown me the most love.
I had to forgive myself the smaller things too, going to work without proper attire-more than once, forgetting to pay bills, feeding my dog whatever she wanted and not giving her the attention she needed, in general letting my house and life fall into complete disorganization and disarray, that still shows up in parts of my house and life today.
However, it’s been the more joyful things that I’ve found the hardest to forgive myself for. The first time I laughed out loud at a T.V. show, the first time I had fun on an out of town hiking adventure, the first time someone besides John held my hand. The fact that I sold our house and moved and have NEVER missed that house. The fact that I, in spite of sorrow, fear and the general unknowns of the world, still want to be of service and have fulfillment in my life. The fact that I want to be married again, to share my days and nights and joys and fears with another. I’ve had to forgive myself for so many things I screwed up along the way, but the hardest things for me to forgive have been in the wanting to continue on, the wanting to live fully - even if I have no idea how to do that and still carry John’s loss at the same time.
Forgiveness - I really didn’t read much about the need for it in my grief literature but as far as I can tell it’s an important component to healing. In my humbled, still wandering around in a house under construction sort of life, I think if a griever cannot forgive anyone else, if it’s all too much to forgive friends, co-workers, family or God they should try hardest to forgive themselves. Because true friends will come back, co-workers with return if they are truly kind and God has really big shoulders to carry whatever feelings a person lays before him/her.
And it’s hard work! Don’t get me wrong it sounds simple on paper but for me it is an ongoing process. Sometimes I think I have forgiven only to have to revisit it again and again. A little like the way a person chooses to love and be faithful each day in a marriage - even during the hard days, forgiveness is a little like that. I often have to actively choose to forgive and remind myself why I chose to do so. But it’s freeing too. Freeing for me, so I may let my precious and limited energy settle on something more useful. It’s that freedom that let’s me get down to the brass taxes sort of grief work that makes forgiveness even more valuable. Grief needs lots of space and time and the harboring of hard feelings, guilt and blame does nothing to get a griever either of those things.
If you are griever, I believe the most important person to forgive is yourself. Forgive the early days of crazed sorrow and indecision, the later days of guilt and what if’s, and the full circle of wanting to one day enter fully into the world and live again. Forgive yourself, so that you, the widowed and wounded, may still walk in the sun and enjoy the feel of a breeze on your face-if not today-maybe tomorrow-one tired step toward healing at a time.