Lessons of a Conscientious Mourner
To live without forgiveness is to live separated from the sacred and the most basic instincts of our heart. To live with forgiveness is to reveal in each moment the beauty and value of life.
—Robyn Casarjian, Forgiveness, 1992: 236.
My learning about forgiveness accelerates during the early days of my mourning, as I read many books about loss and grief and attend two residential retreats with the Quest for Life Foundation in 2016. Slowly, painfully, I begin to understand the importance of forgiveness in resolving traumatic grief and PTS.
I also learn that many healers believe that forgiveness is a missing piece of the “therapeutic puzzle”.
For survivors like me, self-forgiveness is often more difficult than forgiving others. Some people even call it “the hardest forgiveness” or “the ultimate act of humility.” Because Karl and I are now discussing forgiveness with such intensity, I naturally gravitate to books and articles on that subject. Soon, I am reading about the many therapeutic benefits of forgiveness. I had no idea!
A wise understanding of forgiveness
What exactly is forgiveness? Meditation teacher Jack Kornfield defines it as “a letting go of past suffering and betrayal, a release of the burden of pain and hate that we carry” (The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace, 2002: 20).
Marianne Williamson and Colin Tipping promote the notion of “a radical forgiveness”: a complete letting go of the past. This process involves five stages: telling the story, feeling the feelings, collapsing the story, reframing the story, and integration. Using this process, we can convert our feelings into peace, joy, and gratitude (Tipping, C., Radical Forgiveness, 2009: 223-226).
Grief specialists regard forgiveness as the rooting out of negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors directed at an offender and developing positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to replace them. I am relieved to read that forgiveness can be beneficial even if the offender is dead.
FORGIVENESS HAS HEALING BENEFITS
All faith traditions recognize the value of forgiveness, and most in the healing professions celebrate its benefits. All of the following negative symptoms are reduced or decreased by the presence of forgiveness: PTS, unhealthy anger, depression, anxiety, trauma-related symptoms, and bullying. And forgiveness increases these positive qualities: hope, cooperation, quality of life, focus, self-esteem, feelings of mastery, and finding meaning in life. Forgiveness can also promote physical and mental health, whereas harboring blame toward one who has died can be a predictor of general distress in a bereaved person. Fortunately, forgiveness can promote healthy continuing bonds, just as maintaining bonds with a loved one who has died may help to encourage forgiveness.
Gratitude, forgiveness, and unconditional love
I desperately need Karl to help me after his death. And I know at a visceral level that while he was alive, we had forgiven everything that needed to be forgiven.
Or at least I think so.
In retrospect, I discover that we have a lot more to forgive. Blessedly, our communication after his death allows us to finish that sacred work. When we lost our property, I acted imprudently and profoundly offended Karl by not trusting his judgment. I try to make amends in our posthumous communication.
I bless you every day
Writing from Vancouver to Karl on his birthday in June 2016, I say,
“Again, I celebrate and bless the fact that you forgave me and worked so hard. All that work will be useful — now — to get a good price for the property.”
The strength of our bond, nourished by our continuing forgiveness and compassion for each other, now allows communication to flow easily between us and, importantly, it will enable me to accept his help and guidance.
Returning to Nimbin from Vancouver after a holiday in late June 2016, I celebrate the sacred quality of my love with Karl. I tell him:
“I bless you every day. I am scared and excited as I face my new life without you. You gave me something that I never thought I could have: unconditional love.”