To Forgive And Forget – Easier Said Than Done
When someone asks for forgiveness, who actually benefits? According to Merriam-Webster, to forgive is to give up resentment of or claim to requital for an insult. To cease to feel resentment against an offender.
I would imagine that the forgivee would potentially have a clear conscience, but what about the one who does the forgiving? Can they really, truly “cease to feel resentment?”
I had to answer that question, or at least explore it, almost 18 years ago.
For the ten years prior to 1994, I had chosen to maintain a very large distance from my mother. If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember how she turned her back on me when I needed her, how she violated my privacy and betrayed me when I was in high school. I held a lot of resentment over those incidents, along with a few others, and just needed to stay away. I grew comfortable in my self-imposed no-fly zone, knowing she was still out there, but unable to hurt me any longer. I was able to say I didn’t care anymore and that I didn’t need her. She had taught me to be self-sufficient because I had no one else to turn to while growing up. Yeah, I was tough.
Until the phone call.
She put an end to the silence to tell me she was just diagnosed with cancer. The doctors were giving her 18 months to live. For me, that meant I had 18 months to figure this whole resentment thing out.
It took me awhile to shuffle around my value and priority system, but by that time she found the doctors had miscalculated her life expectancy. Eighteen months now shrunk down to four. With hardly any time left, I put my feelings aside and visited her as much as I could. In the end I stayed with her 24/7, shooting her up with morphine every two hours, until at 5:00 p.m. on Easter Sunday afternoon in 1994, she finally let go.
I thought a lot about forgiveness during those weeks and if I was capable of it. Whether or not she looked for my forgiveness, I’ll never know, because hashing over the past seemed pointless when the moments of the future were dwindling.
Now, almost two decades later, I find the resentment still holds, though it has dulled to a whisper. I haven’t thought too much about the reasons behind it, because it is what it is, and I’ve moved on. Yeah, I’m tough.
Until the phone call.
My aunt called last night to tell me my father was taken to the hospital. He has had some health issues he refuses to take care of, and though he was admitted for a urinary tract infection, I can’t help but remember a urinary tract infection was what my grandfather had been admitted for 18 years ago, and he never came home (he died two days before my mother…ugh).
With what my father put me through, will I be able to face him again? Will I sit at his side as I did my mother and hold his hand? Though I’ve matured enough to let that resentment go, I’m not certain I’d go so far as to forgive him. Surprisingly, twenty-five years of separation still hasn’t made me feel clean enough to be in the same room with him.
But I guess I’ll never know if my mind will change as it did with my mother until I’m forced to make a choice. And knowing me the way I do, *big sigh,* I’d better start putting away for a ticket to Arizona.
How about you? Are you quick to forgive? Is it any easier to forgive someone near and dear to you as opposed to someone not so close? And in your heart, do you truly forgive? Please, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Posted on September 20, 2011, in Family, Friendships, Human, Relationships and tagged cancer, Diana Murdock, Diana Murdock's blog, forgiveness, illness, resentment. Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.
Diana, you always know just the right thing to jab a memory hidden in a corner. Forgiveness is so easy to say and so hard to do. I’ve held resentment for many things for years and kept them hidden to carry on a relationship with those that hurt me.
Slowly after starting my writing career I’ve had to open those doors- not so much wanted to but had to. I put a lot of myself in my writing and at the same time hide it from the people I know but when I approach a scene the truth leaps out at me and usually after I do an edit.
My wounds open and the light of day seem to start the healing. Does it really matter who is asking and for what? One must live their life and either grow or wither- not from other’s action but from our own.
Forgiveness is something I must do to lighten my load and it has worked for me. I approach the people who I feel hurt by and it doesn’t matter what was done. I try to start fresh each visit and I think it affects them as well.
Do we forget? No way. Does the past really matter if we are living a life that is our life and not ruled by others.
I always think of a passage from the bible where a disciple asked how many times must he forgive someone who repeats the sin. The answer was seven times seventy or truly as many times as asked.
To live my life I try to let it go and start again each time. It has brought peace to my soul.
For the most part, I do live my life for me, but the memories of growing up still tend to put a knot in my stomach. Obviously I haven’t released it. I need to work on that. Funny, though…I thought I had.
It may look as if I have forgiven, but the fact that memories of the deed still have the power to hurt me and to sometimes make me angry, I can say I have not really forgiven. Do you know what the problem is? It’s not like something on the computer that we can just delete and forget. Yes, we can forgive, but can we forget?
Greetings from California.
Hey California Girl! My memories run long and deep. This is a tough one…
Wow – amazing post Diana – open and raw. I am really sorry for everything you’ve had to endure and for the struggle that lies ahead with your Dad.
Forgiveness. It’s an incredibly tough one.
I wrote a post about learning to forgive my Mom years ago for the abuse she put me through: http://nataliehartford.com/2010/11/05/forgiveness-the-ultimate-life-changer/
In the end, what I realized is that forgiveness isn’t about the other person, it isn’t about “letting them off the hook” or even letting them know that you’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness is about you – it’s about setting yourself free from the resentment and the anger and the hurt. It’s about not allowing that person and the negative experience they cast upon you take up any more real estate in YOUR life!
When we hold onto resentment, anger, and hurt – it only takes away from our own personal joy and love of life. It takes away from our true ability to feel love and give love. It affects us. It holds power.
To forgive is to let go. Accept that what happened, happened but it’s done and over with. It can’t be changed.
In the end, personally, I was able to accept that my Mom did the best she could with what she knew. Was it good enough – certainly not. She should have never had children quite frankly. But she did. And she was rotten. But it’s all she knew. And it sucks. But I survived. And I am better for it – stronger. I am who I am right now due to all my experiences – good and bad. So I forgave her to free myself. So I could go on, be happy, and thrive! And to do so, I confronted her and was honest with her about every thought, feeling, and emotion…and I think I let it go!
My father who was already dead when I came to this point was a bit tougher since it’s hard to sort out issues with a dead guy but I did. I did the same thing. I went to him, I laid everything out on the table and then I told him I wasn’t going to let it take up any more space in my life and I forgave him.
It’s tough….hardest thing I’ve ever done…
I will say though that when I forgave, I truly forgave and let go. My resentment and anger is 100% gone. I’ve been able to truly move forward and was able to establish a wonderful relationship with my Mom.
You’ll know what is right for you as you move through this experience…we are all here for you and sending you huge hugs and tons of love and support!!!
Just read your post, Natalie. I still have some work to do. I’m thinking deep down I have to shake off the remnants of bitterness that still lurk there. Dismissing it isn’t the same as forgiveness. Thank you so much.
Diana, I admire your courage and strength to write about these times and your struggle wtih forgiveness. It is a personal decision. I’m with Natalie, the forgiveness is for you, not your parents. Remember, you’ve made choices since that time to rise above the muck.
As to flying to Phoenix, make sure it is for you and not for him. It’s part of freeing yourself, not an obligation. It may help the healing. If done for the responsiblity of parent/child, it’s probably not the right reason.
You’ve come far and become strong. Keep that as your guide.
Nancy, your comment about the reason for flying to AZ. I really need to identify that. I’m thinking it would be for me, for closure, so I won’t have any regrets. I’d like to think I take the high road in every part of my life. Thanks for your words.
Forgiving isn’t the same as forgetting. Forgiving doesn’t always mean renewing that relationship that hurt you. I dealt with this issue a lot in counseling when it came to my father. I was so angry at the stuff he did to my mom, my sister, and me. I kept asking different people what it meant to forgive. Now, I think I’ve mostly forgiven him. I don’t hold a grudge; I don’t wish an anvil to drop on his head. But I haven’t forgotten, and while we talk on occasion, I will not put myself in a position to be hurt again. Forgiveness has more to do with the transformation inside your heart, not necessarily outwardly reconciling with the person you forgive.
This is a very heavy topic, Diana. Great discussion. 🙂
Great post. Your honesty is refreshing, your experience (I’m assuming) is haunting.
As for forgiving, I tend to be. Ah, but I’ve not been so wounded that I can generalize and call myself a forgiving person. It’s like your situations: I don’t really know what I am or what I am capable of until the circumstance arises that pushes me into a new place.
I do know that I’ve been forgiven much. I’ve wronged people and I’ve still been forgiven. Being forgiven is liberating; forgiving is often the same. Still, this true-ism doesn’t make forgiving any easier does it? Come to think of it, it doesn’t make being forgiven any easier either.
True forgiveness can only happen if the transgressor admits what they’ve done, acknowledges the impact of their actions, expresses remorse, and works sincerely to either repair the damage or to change themselves so that the hurtful behaviour won’t happen again.
So, no. True forgiveness happens rarely, if at all, because it has to begin with the transgressor. And I’m okay with that. I prefer acceptance, because it’s something I can do for myself.
I’ve learned to accept that the person(s) who hurt me did so out of weak selfishness. My needs were simply less important to them than their own motivations. They didn’t do these things because they hated me, they did them because I was a means to their own ends.
It helps me to recognize that their actions weren’t an attack on me personally (regardless of how “personal” the transgression was). It also helps me to let go of what “should” have been. I can agonize over it and make myself miserable if I want to, but nothing will change what happened. These are the two things that let me make peace within myself.
If I continue to include these people in my life, they will continue to act in ways that hurt me. Life’s too short for that, so I exclude them from my life. I can’t offer them true forgiveness for their actions and let them into my life again unless they come to me in true remorse.
And if that doesn’t happen, I’m at peace without them.
Powerful post, heart wrenching to say the least. Your honesty and ability to write of such a difficult subject amaze me.
I think we all work on forgiveness as best we can. I’m in agreement with Nancy that you need to really look at why you would go see your father. I was going to say, NO! Don’t go, but then read Natalie’s comment and had to take a step back and think, “Yeah, maybe”. If you can see him and not feel like the scared little girl you were under his control and if you can say what you need to say to release your pain, then absolutely.
Whatever you choose to do, I hope you find the peace within that has so eluded you.
I don’t know if this is helpful, but for me…forgiveness doesn’t come in shades or half-measures. If I forgive a transgression, then I let it go. It’s done, no longer matters, is water under the bridge and I move on – my relationship with that person moves on.
There are some events in my life I will not forgive. Is that selfish? Perhaps and I’m okay with that. Those events serve as lessons I will not repeat. Because someone asks, doesn’t mean I’m obligated to grant forgiveness. If I truly don’t feel that way, I won’t say the words simply to pacify protocol.
If I can’t forget and let go, then I can’t forgive and to say I have is dishonest. I believe being true to yourself and the honesty of your feelings is more important than soothing someone’s conscience. And yes, it’s not always easy.
Hello sweet cousin! First, let me say, you have a loving home to stay in when you visit Arizona, and I will even take time off work to spend with you during this tough time for you. Second, let me give you some advice our Uncle Popo once gave me…it went something like this:
To forgive someone is not saying, “what you did is ok” or “I agree with what you did to me” or “I deserved what you did to me”, even though that is what many people think. Forgiving someone is taking back your power, having your voice be heard, and letting go of the pain. Forgiving is the cutting away the last bit of rope that binds you to that person that hurt you. It is empowering to say to someone, “I forgive you.”
I’ll never forget that day that your mother, my aunt died. It was the very first time I had met her, and the very last. It was her death, that brought my mother to come to her bedside and say good-bye after years of resentment towards each other. It was her death that brought you into my life for the first time. Forgiveness opens windows and allows the sun to shine in.
Several months ago I wrote a letter to my brother letting him know I have forgiven him after years of not talking to each other. It was empowering to forgive him. In doing so, I was able to let him know that I loved him with all my heart, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and the silly childhood memories we shared together. It felt good, regardless if it was the right thing to do or not…it FELT GOOD to tell him I loved him still…(even if he is a jerk). I felt free. He didn’t ask for forgiveness, but I gave it anyway, because it is mine to give. I gave him freedom to respond or not respond, or laugh or hide or share or throw away my letter, because the outcome didn’t matter to me. I was not expecting a response. I gave him forgiveness and love unconditionally, in spite of his jerky qualities as an adult. His choice was to do nothing and I realize he has a different journey to walk. My choice was to forgive him, and love him, still. And it feels good.
I love you cousin. xoxo
Diana, you are an amazing person. As someone who shares a similar past – even the same birth state ;p – your words really shake things up in me. I appreciate your posts, and I appreciate your willingness to share.
I believe forgiveness can only be given in two instances. The first being if the person needing forgiveness is truly sorry for whatever they’ve done and has done everything in their power to make up for whatever wrong was done. They should not look for forgiveness or ask for it, they should, selflessly, want to right a wrong.
The second instance would be if the person who was wronged can truly forgive. It needs to be something that they want to do, because in forgiveness is healing and it only works if you’re completely open to it.
I believe there are no black and white answers, there are no wrong or right answers. Each incident should be handled separately.
I knew it, before I opened the comment thread I just knew all the cliches would be written, “forgiving is not forgetting” and “resentment only hurts you” LOL,LOL,LOL. Here is a straight forward opinion, It depends on what happened, rape, abandonment, physical or emotional abuse,………………… nope, no forgiveness on this side of the fence. A small insult or a minor mistake……… sure, of course.
Kudos to you Diana to share this vulnerable part of yourself with us. It is also a sad testament that so many have similar experiences. Re: your father, take care of you and your wounded inner child first.
I lean with Kate and Russell…why would I spend energy forgiving someone not sorry or telling myself I forgave, but seething with pain inside and when I see the person? I have been forgiven in my life by others and have worked to earn every ounce of that gratitude.
I also think some offenses are unforgivable. I used to have a long list of people I hated until I realized it was holding me back. So I processed some stuff and edited it. Now there is one standing name and they shall not be forgiven. I wish for everything karma can send their way and won’t apologize for that. My 45 cents.
I will echo the others in applauding your ability to write about these things without sounding self-pitying (which is the best I can do yet). My tuppence is that when forgiveness will move you forward, then it works. What I went through made me who I am, but nothing will make it right or acceptable or understandable.
Tough post, and again, I admire you for where you are.
Thank you, Elizabeth. Everyone has given me so much to think about now . I hadn’t expected this when I posted it this morning. But definitely good.
This was a gut-wrenching post, and moving comments. I can’t add anything, really, except that I know whatever you decide to do will be right, as long as you do it for yourself and not for your father. You are very a special soul, Diana.
Diana, I read all three posts. I thought I had something to say until I did read everything. Now I have nothing. I was going to offer you strength, but it seems to me that you’ve already got that. What I can do is keep you in my thoughts and prayers…
…That’s what friends do.
Another amazing post, Diana. You had so much pain and hardship in your life but still you come across as a gentle, fantastic woman. There is so much a person can learn from you. Thank you for sharing your story.
I’ve learned to forgive and not keep any grudges. It was a long learning curve but I feel that over the years I’ve accomplished a lot in this area.
Amazing post, Diana. I agree with Angela, for all the pain and hardship in your life, you are triumphing through it.
I’ve never had to forgive in the ways you’ve had to so I can’t speak to that. However, I would say that ultimately, you need to do what feels right in your soul.
Thank you for sharing. 🙂
Forgiveness is what you do for yourself so you don’t carry the heavy burden any longer. Its freeing! That is different than the burden of having to take care of him in his final days.
Thank you, Susie. Next on my to-do list…forgiveness. It will be a process, but I’m ready for it.
Like you, I am a very forgiving person. But, the choices you’ve had to make? I’ve never had to forgive anything like that. It’s a real tough one and I honestly don’t know what I think. Have you gained peace from being with your mum? Possibly, a very tiny and little smidgen. However, I would think the peace would come from knowing you have a clear conscious. Your father on the other hand. I don’t think there is any peace to be found there. I feel extremely bitter (on your behalf). I just wish I could help you in balancing a choice, but I feel I would be too negative. All I can say is if you need to talk, you can always call on me 🙂
I read the post and the comments and I like how everyone has weighed in. I grew up with a rockstar mom and father who had many more bad points than good. I’ve found that I can forgive my dad, as long as I don’t have to see or be involved with him (since he remains fairly evil and crazy).
I think because my mom and the rest of my family are SO awesome, it has been easy to just let it go. Plus my husband and circle of friends are magical and fill my life with joy. Holding resentment just diminishes that joy (and lets the evil perps get the attention they love).
I think it is brave and wonderful that you will see your dad. Go, you@
Dear Diana – I’m so late in getting to read your blog as we are without wifi at the moment and I’m just grabbing it where I can! As usual, you have cut right to the heart of this sensitive and so very personal issue. Everyone has left such powerful comments I know there is little left to add. So I simply want to say how much I admire your honesty and your ability to articulate your feelings. As others have said, forgiveness is not about the other person – it’s all about you. I do believe that not everyone deserves to be forgiven (particularly when the depth of the hurt inflicted is a great as this was). However if you feel there is a level of peace you may achieve by seeing your father at this stage of both your lives, then go for it. Just know that whatever decision you reach will be the right one for you. You are the person who matters. I’m keeping you in my thoughts, special lady.
Diana, I too, am late coming to this post and after reading all the wonderful comments, I hope you feel our cyber arms of love surrounding you. The neat thing about love is that it can travel at the speed of thought.
Everything is created by desire. Everything. In the world around us and in the world within us. You have the desire to forgive. Is it a process? Yes. The process involves the hero’s journey that Joseph Campbell wrote about … traversing through the labyrinth of lives, and coming out on the other side with all of the internal enemies and dreadful painful wounds healed and overcome. The journey isn’t fun, but worth it. Because you want to forgive, the ability to forgive has already begun growing gradually and unawares, until you are thrust into a situation and realize your reaction is totally different! Then you will know it is complete.
When events in our lives cause great pain, it is impossible to forgive and forget without further creative experiences that build new tangible wisdom and awareness within us while tearing down the old. It’s coming, Diana. Your desire has already planted the seed.
Its funny that I came across your blog today because I’ve been questioning this same thing today. Our reasons may not be the same but family is family and resentments are resentments. My maternal grandmother is having surgery tomorrow and is having dinner at her house (as I type) and I’ve been debating on going and why I chose not to go. My grandmother treated me as an outsider as a child. It was clear that she did not like me. She has over 20 grandchildren and she isolated four of us as outsiders, treated us as such, and lead the witch-hunt to drive us out of the village. Now, 25 yrs later, she’s not a part of my life. I’ve made a life for myself apart from her. Seemingly, she wants her family close because her time is shorter now. (I think she’s 70). So, I’m wondering have I forgiven her and just moved on or am I still resentful. I don’t feel ill feelings toward her. My grandmother just feels like a distant relative.
I’ve gotten some great advice from one of my Professors at Temple University, writer Sonia Sanchez. I’m paraphrasing so bare with me. She said when you hold on to the hurt that others have done to you, you are giving that person power over you without them being (physically) there. Letting go is only one step. Being supportive and praying for the person who wronged you is another huge step. And only you can answer if you are willing to take that huge step. It would be for your benefit, what they get is only residual.
In my case, I’m not ready for that big step. Maybe soon though. As I type, I’m considering visiting her in the hospital.
What ever happens, take care of you and everything else will fall into place.
Thank you for your comment. This is truly a tougher subject than I thought it would be, not only for me, but for a lot of others. It seems as though everyone is more in tune with the answer than I was, and I have really learned from everyone.
It’s a tough call, but I think the bottom line is that we cannot fear judgment from others when we make our decisions. It has to ring true for us. Thank you, again. (for this and all of your comments).
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