A dear friend of mine recently lost her mother. She and her mother had a very troubled relationship for a very long time, and they both assumed even as her mother’s health declined, that they would remain that way until the last days. Somehow, miraculously, in the hours remaining, my friend and her mother were able to discover a conversation about forgiveness.
They couldn’t necessarily forgive all that had come to pass. Nor could they forget. But they came to a place where they felt, in the here and now, that the past somehow mattered less than the freedom that would come with letting go. My friend ultimately wanted her mother to die in peace. And although she thought she was giving her mom the gift of forgiveness, she is the one who is now moving forward, lighter and closer to peace herself.
On the other hand, a patient of mine whose father is dying recently shared with me that forgiveness felt impossible to him. His father was absent and unavailable through the most difficult parts of his childhood. My patient said that forgiveness assumed that the perpetrator did the best he or she could…and he just wasn’t convinced that was the case with his father. Nor did he feel that his father was sorry for crimes committed, or deserving of forgiveness.
Forgiveness isn’t always accessible to all of us, all of the time. In my work as a psychiatrist, I find that there is no “right” way to move ourselves closer. Sometimes it takes time, maybe more time than we are given. Sometimes it takes years of talking and apologies, and sometimes it takes years of no contact and space. Sometimes it takes hours of therapy, and sometimes just a split second of knowing. Sometimes it is a choice we can make, and sometimes, our hearts have been frozen shut in the places where we need warmth the most.
It is so deeply, deeply personal, that perhaps the best we can do as we find our own way, is not judge those around us who are walking a different path.
For many of us, the person most difficult to forgive is ourselves. We hold ourselves to such high standards (perhaps the standard of perfection), as spouses, parents, family members, students, workers…all of our roles. And yet, we are human, flawed, thankfully the very opposite of perfect. We make mistakes, lots of them. Some are small mistakes and some are big mistakes.
The internal, self critical voices can be deafening at times, all the while knowing that berating rarely leads to change and improvement. Perhaps our fear is that if we are too gentle towards ourselves, we will somehow slide into a place of complacency or laziness…even if this has never been our truth. In reality, with-holding forgiveness from ourselves only perpetuates shame and stagnation.
So today and in the week ahead, I invite you to think about the role of forgiveness in your life. Is there a connection for you between forgiving yourself and forgiving others?
With gratitude, Monisha