“Forgiving the Dead”
Much has been written over the years about forgiveness. Pulpits have resounded with the biblical premise of forgiving our enemies. Self help books still occupy shelves at Barnes & Noble. Most of these resources speak of the spiritually and emotionally healthy aspect of forgiving someone who has been the source of pain in our lives; that the dispensation and acceptance of forgiveness can be the key to restoring the relationship. But, how do we forgive someone we will never see again? How are we to forgive a person for dying; especially when the death has been the result of a needless risk, self-absorbed poor judgement or addiction?
The common thread of forgiving the dead as well as the living is that we have been hurt. We seldom want to face the indignation or even outright anger we feel toward the dearly departed. We have been taught somewhere along the way that being angry with the decedent is paramount to sacrilege or bad moogambo! I have encountered wives who wrestle with anger at their husbands who ignored the doctor’s orders to treat their diabetes or whose refusal to diet and exercise resulted in a fatal heart attack. I have all too often counseled those who have lost children and spouses by drug overdose.
I vividly remember being startled awake by a two-thirty a.m. phone call. The voice on the other end jolted me awake, “Mr. Webber, I am sorry to inform you that your brother Philip has been killed in a traffic accident.” My initial response was to pound the pillow with my fist. I was angry at Phil because I knew what led to this tragedy. It was like I knew it was only a matter of time. And I was angry at Phil because he didn’t care enough about us to live! But forgiveness didn’t come immediately. I want to share what I discovered in this journey.
Why is Forgiveness Necessary? [Let me give you three practical reasons.]
First: Resentment is Counter-productive
Withholding forgiveness is a form of control that produces bitterness and resentfulness. Resentment is self-inflicted pain and, at best, an irrational waste of energy. When we’ve been hurt, resentment and bitterness will surface eventually. Resentment is committing a slow, emotional suicide.
Second: I Have Been Forgiven
I choose to forgive because God beat me to it…many times. But, other people have also forgiven me. It seems only fair that I forgive. God doesn’t keep a score card on my life failures and I am so glad that other people don’t keep a running score of my life failures either. I have come to see it this way, I’ll never have to forgive somebody else as much as God has already forgiven me! The awareness of this truth makes it easier for me to dispense forgiveness.
Third: Forgiveness is a Process
Forgiveness is a great concept until I must do it. Some things are easy to forgive. You can forgive with relative ease your neighbor whose dog comes over and soils your lawn. You’ve scheduled a meeting with someone and they’re late or they don’t show – forgiven. But what happens when somebody lies to you or about you… that’s a different ball game! The other aspect of forgiveness is the level of intimacy that’s involved. The closer we are to a person, the greater the emotional intensity. But the need to forgive is still there.
So, How Do I Forgive?
I really wish I could give you a magic wand, works every time formula. Relationships are complicated and so is the process of forgiveness. I’ll share what I have learned, at times, the hard way.
Admit My Hurt
I’ve got to be honest with me! I can’t get over my hurt until I admit it. As I said previously, sometimes we don’t like to do that because the person who hurt us is dead. We tend to repress it or ignore it with, “I don’t want to deal with it.” But that doesn’t work because the unresolved pain tends to emerge in some other form of compulsion. I suggest writing the deceased a letter or visiting their grave site and literally talk to them. It is important to call them by name.
This is the essence of forgiveness; to release the offender. It means that we must let them go and stop holding on to the hurt by offering forgiveness. Think of it this way: holding on to resentment gives that person power over me!
Embrace the Truth That “It’s Not About Me”.
This issue here is the inability of the deceased to acknowledge acceptance of our forgiveness. The reality is we don’t need the other person’s response. We can choose to forgive…period. What ultimately helped me move forward in grieving the loss of my brother was the realization that he had done nothing that required my forgiveness. This was all about me; my feelings; my hurt; my resentment of being awakened in the middle of the night; my having to tell the rest of the family. I had to look in the mirror and face a self-centered person who simply could not control events. I came to terms with the truth that I was using forgiveness against someone instead of with them. Forgiveness in the proper context is a gift of God for the living and the dead.
Director, Community Care/Aftercare
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
Chesterfield, VA 23234