Grief Week 4: The Importance of Forgiveness During Grief
It doesn’t matter if you are grieving the loss of someone who has passed on or if you are grieving for the loss of a friendship of someone who is still alive, forgiveness during this grieving process is critical. It doesn’t just free you, but you will be able to move on with your life in spite of what may have taken place in the past, or what you are going through currently helping a loved one move through hospice care.
If the person you want to forgive has passed you obviously can’t confront them about any past hurts or make an effort to forgive them in person. When someone is alive but you have been estranged from them for awhile, direct forgiveness isn’t necessary. In fact, sometimes making a direct attempt to forgive someone and telling them, “I know that you hurt me, but I choose to forgive you…” could actually create more conflict and leave both parties more isolated than before. What usually happens is that the other person feels the need to defend themselves and attack you instead. This can lead to more turmoil and more hurt.
Here is the beautiful part of forgiveness, the other person doesn’t even have to know that you have forgiven them. In fact, forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person, but has everything to do with YOU. Many assume that forgiveness is a feeling or a sense of relief when you let go of the past. In reality, forgiveness is much more than that and is an action, not a feeling. Forgiveness doesn’t just happen because you “will it to be so” it happens when you make the clear decision that you do not want to hurt anymore and you choose to forgive someone for what they said or did to you. This is an important step in the grieving process to allow you to move forward in a more positive way. Once you are able to complete the action of forgiving, you will then reap the benefits of feeling more free and happier.
I think we have all gone through periods in our life where someone hurt us so badly, that it seems hard to forgive them for what they did. When you are not able to forgive the other person, it isn’t them that you’re hurting. If that person has already passed on, they can no longer carry the weight of their actions toward you. If you are grieving the life you had with an ex, they have, more than likely, chosen to move on with their life. It will not hurt them that you are not forgiving them, it only hurts you.
Many think that the decision to forgive “lets the other person off the hook” or you accept their past actions. In reality, this isn’t what happens at all. Forgiveness doesn’t have anything to do with the other person at all. It has everything to do with your mental health and well-being. Forgiveness is the action you take to free you from the burdensome thoughts of the past hurts so you can experience the freedom and relief that comes from letting grudges go. Remember, you are not condoning what they did or approve of what they did, you just have to be willing to move past it all and let it all go.
You accept and acknowledge what they did. You appreciate the lesson you learned and know you will not do it again. You decide you deserve a happy life without thinking of what they did to you. You choose to forgive them and move along with your life. The best part, the other person doesn’t even have to know that you’ve forgiven them.
In the case that the person you need to forgive has died, you will not be able to share that information with them, even if you wanted to. Rather, the act of forgiving them is an act of resolving an unsettling time in your life. You no longer need to carry that burden around with you. This is a critical piece of the grieving process: letting go of what happened in the past so you can move forward with your own life. The idea of forgiveness can be hard when we’re not ready for it. It can bring out the “hurt child” in all of us with thoughts of “But it was her fault!” or “It’s not fair!”. Many times, the person who has caused harm seems undeserving of our forgiveness and an important part to remember, they probably are not deserving of forgiveness. Forgive them anyway.
If your family is big and may come with a lot of drama, this concept of forgiveness may sound foreign. In the case of having a loved one going through hospice, is key that they are kept comfortable and at peace. Sometimes, that means making amends with something from their past, or they want their loved ones to make amends and come together as a family before they go so they are not worried that the family dynamic is not strained as they pass on. This is when it is truly helpful for you and your loved one to understand that you have forgiven others in the family for their wrongs and will be okay moving on. Giving your dying loved one the peace of mind that all will be well when they go.
Anger can also rear its ugly head during this time of grief. It could come as anger toward the other person, anger toward the medical community or anger toward their spirituality or religion during this trying time. When we are in grief, the anger we hold has a way of making us feel horrible as well as stunting the entire grieving process. This will prevent any possible progress or hope of moving forward.
Let’s create a new perspective on forgiveness. A long time ago my best friend at the time did some horrible things and I was very angry and hurt by her choices, words and actions. I have estranged myself from her as her toxicity was no longer serving my needs as a kind human. I thought that was enough, but I was wrong. It took me a few years before I could really sit and forgive her. When I show forgiveness to someone, I don’t do it for them, I do it for me. No matter the situation and every single time I do it. You see, the other person is probably in a state in their lives where they wouldn’t care one way or another. They are hurting in their own way, so I chose to show them compassion because someone who wasn’t hurting, or who was happy with their life would not choose to do mean and hurtful things to me. They must be suffering, in their own way, and so I hold compassion for them.
I do not carry anger around with me. In Buddhism, there is a great perspective on anger. They compare it to a hot coal that we intend to throw at someone who has harmed us, but as we hold that coal in our own hands, we are the only one who gets burned. I know me and what I selfishly need and I need peace in my life and when something or someone has harmed me and the past situation can never be changed or fixed, there is simply nothing left to do, but forgive. This simple act will free you from all the time and energy you spend thinking about the person or situation.
You may find yourself in a position to forgive certain family members who may not be acting on their best during this grieving period. Just remember, they are handling the situation as best they can, but my be hurting deeper down than they let on. Hold compassion and love for them. Forgive them for things they have said or done in the past. If something needs to be said to prevent future hurt to family members, say it, but don’t say it out of emotion. Take time to calm yourself and logically present the situation and how it hurt you. Anger for the sake of anger only brings on pain for you and you don’t deserve it.
What if you need to forgive yourself? We are flawed human beings and every one of us are doing our best, with what we have every day. We have our own limitations and sometimes we can interfere in our ability to do better or be a better person. Take time to forgive yourself by asking yourself these questions; “Did you have good intentions for your loved one?” “Did you do what you needed to do at the moment, even though it wasn’t what you wanted to do?” “Did you say something that you regretted?”
Can you fix any of the above? If you can by apologizing, than do it and then forgive yourself for being human. This simple act will push you forward and help you grow to accept forgiveness as a regular tool in your life. What would your loved one want for you, anger or guilt? Hopefully neither and they would want you to grow and expand in love for others and love for yourself. Embrace forgiveness and reap in the benefits of this technique.