Forgiveness Tour

“If this is an intervention baptism you need to let me know,” I told Joseph.

Two weeks ago, when we had coffee, he told me about a young man he’d met after listening to him speak at a conference concerning suicide prevention and mental health. I am unsure as to the exact order the different meetings took place between the three men and Joseph. Ultimately, he set up a meeting that included me.

The reason for the gathering was to discuss the possibility of us being involved in program in which we share our stories of forgiveness. Mine and Joseph’s story being important because of the fact that it surrounds the death of one beautiful woman.

He’d told me that the group was “pretty Christian” because he wanted me to be aware before I agreed to attend. Most of you who know me, or read my blog, are aware that I am skeptical when it comes to organized religion – of any kind. Both, because I have not had any good experiences and I’ve watched as churches have supported immoral leaders and become rich beyond any necessity.

I went in with an open mind. As open as I could allow it to be. People screw up religion. People, I am assuming, can also make it good. I figured: what have I got to lose.

We shared pleasantries. Then started talking about forgiveness. One of the gentleman, the one who’s house we were at, asked what forgiveness meant to me. I fumbled with my words a bit too much seeing that I am a writer. It means that I harbor no ill will toward the person I have forgiven. That I truly want good for them in their lives (the absence of revenge). That I am not angry at them (I have faced what happened and though I still hold them responsible I carry no rage). It’s an interesting question . . . isn’t it? Forgiveness will mean something different for each person.

Then, the man who is a pastor, asked Joseph how his relationship with the lord was. I silently waited until I was asked the same question because I knew then I’d have to “spill the beans”. I felt like a fraud. Not because I am ashamed of who I am but because I did not want to mislead anyone into believing my views align with theirs. I respect what they want to do and I do not want to affect it negatively.

The conversation veered away from each of our relationship with deity into less intense subjects. Then, the man who asked what forgiveness meant to me said “This has to be Christ centered/based or it isn’t worth doing”.

That prompted me to ask the question: What about Muslims? Budhists? Jews? My intent in asking the question was this: if forgiveness can only be attained through Jesus . . . what about the millions of people who don’t believe in Jesus? Are they doomed to carry the weight of non forgiveness until they DO believe in Jesus? Does that mean that Native Americans, for example, didn’t have forgiveness in their world? Either my question was not understood or I did not understand the answer because I still have the question.

A lot was being said.

Again, I am unsure as to the order of events or topics arising, so I am doing the best I can to share the events of last night. I am sorry if it all seems a bit disjointed. My mind is still reeling.

I was asked how it would be if the “forgiveness tour” was shared at Grandville High School (a local school that is connected to a person in the above mentioned group) where religion could not be a part. All of the anxiety of being involved in a “world” that I did not believe in melted away. I could see that my story, my part in our story, could be impactful to others.

But. Then there is the whole evangelical aspect to it.

One of the comments that threw me was when the pastor said he was surprised (?) that I managed to find forgiveness without a partner next to me. I am still pondering this statement.

While they were discussing the money aspect of this whole thing . . . a thought came into my head. What if they didn’t want me included because of my differing beliefs? I would be angry that my story wouldn’t be heard because I don’t necessarily believe Jesus is who they say he is. If I say no to being a part of this program because I don’t believe the same as they do about Jesus . . . wouldn’t that be just as wrong? Simply, yes.

I am accepting of everyone having their own path. I can NOT be unaccepting of those who have chosen Christianity as their faith path. That would make me a hypocrite. And, I really dislike hypocrisy.

February is when we will reconvene to discuss how we all processed this whole project. I go back and forth, but in the end, I want to talk about my daughter. I want to share how forgiveness has changed my life. Maybe after the rest of the group reads this I will be quietly uninvited to take part in the entire thing. Which, I will respect. As I said . . . I want this to be successful for the people who will find healing in the message of forgiveness.

Since yesterday, I have talked to two women, who I know well and trust implicitly. One of them is a non denominational reverend (and my cousin) while the other is a school teacher who I consider to be a true Christian. Both have listened to me and given me good advice.

“Don’t feel rushed, pushed into something that isn’t real or genuine. It’s taken you time to process, feel and forgive. If someone else pushes you too hard, too intensely, too quickly, it’s not genuine. And then it’s not your story of forgiveness but someone else’s. Then,when you do finally share it will be really impactful because it’s yours.”

This is my story. This is Becca’s story. And, Gabriel and Matt’s story. Joseph’s story runs parallel to ours . . . but it’s his. All I can say is that I am glad I have a few months to mull over the varied emotions and aspects of the entire venture.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any advice! I know I have a lot to learn!!

 

Knotted Regrets

Eleven years ago, today, was the last time my daughter came over for dinner. Of all the things we discussed that afternoon . . . who knew, I would need to know she wanted to be cremated, just a week later. I didn’t. There are times, when I wonder, if maybe deep in her soul . . . she did.

Becca came bounding through the front door, as she usually did, with a loud hello and a tight hug. She joked around about a show I was watching on the History Channel. She loved to make us laugh. But then, the conversation turned toward the serious. She shared with me how she had made up with a friend, recently, with whom she had a falling out. Then, she started to talk about her childhood.

It wasn’t until she said the words, “I really loved my childhood . . . I wouldn’t change a thing,” did I realize there had been a time when she wanted to have a different one. My daughter had felt, and rightly so, that there had been too much responsibility laid on her shoulders at a young age. I know her friends lives were much different than hers, I guess I just didn’t realize how much it bothered her. Writing this now, my heart feels like it’s being squeezed because my daughter felt “less than”.

Becca had the responsibility of watching her brothers when I had to work. I’d never knew how much that prevented her from doing. I know she said she wouldn’t change a thing . . . but I would. And, herein lies one of the biggest issues, mothers who have lost children, grapple with: the regrets.

Regrets over things we did, as well as those we didn’t do. Continuously playing conversations, we had with our child, over and over in our minds. Wishing we’d said something different or that we would have taken the time to say more of the good things. Hundreds of “I wish” or “I should have” statements gallop through our thoughts every day. Pounding the lost moments and the broken promises and the harsh words into our souls. Each one, like a pinprick, into our hearts. We are punishing ourselves for not keeping our child safe from the world.

The truth is we don’t need to beat ourselves up . . . others do that for us. Depending on how your child lost their life, there will be some, who ultimately blame the parent. But, that is a topic for a different blog. For now, we’ll focus on the regrets.

To say to you, don’t let the regrets steal your thoughts, is wasted. You will. I did, and still do. Regrets we carry while our child is alive, turn into anchors around our neck, after their death. If you think that I am going to say something cliche like: take the opportunity now to tell those you love how you feel, I’m not. I mean, yes of course, do that. But, I also realize how unrealistic it is to think we can live like “everyday may be your last”.

It’s unrealistic because it’s exhausting to live on guard all day, every day. Most bereaved mothers, however, do live this way for quite a long time after their child is gone. Each time my sons left the house, for a long time after losing Becca, I was certain they were going to be killed, too. My behavior, erratic from grief, was exacerbated when they were out of my sight. I’d have cyclical thoughts about them dying and wondering if they know I love them. Them dying . . . and being unsure I did enough to keep them safe. It felt as if I was sending them to their death every time I allowed them to leave the house. A person, simply cannot live, with that level of anxiety and fear. It takes a very deep toll, on both our physical health, as well as our mental well being. I truly believe that losing a child ages us immediately, and, shortens our life span, drastically.

My thoughts caused me to gather even more regrets in those first years. Watching my boys walk down the street, I’d have the obsessive urge, to yell to them that I loved them. What if something happened and I didn’t take that chance? Immediately, the regrets set in. It’s truly a hard thought process to interrupt. But, we need to do just that.

As bereaved mothers, we also need to find a way to put the regrets we do have, down. They are so heavy and cumbersome. They serve no purpose in our lives. We must find a way to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made. I believe, where my daughter is now, she has already forgiven me my wrongs. I also believe, she wouldn’t want me to burden myself with them when I set off on this new path. I think this is where the true problem lies: forgiving ourselves.
Child loss grief is such a tangle of truths. Sadness, pain, shame, blame, guilt, regrets, responsibility . . . are all connected and wrapped around each other, tightly. This knot, in our lives, can take years to ease apart. But it’s part of healing. It’s a delicate process.

I made mistakes. I still make mistakes. I’m human. I will continue to make them, of that I am sure. Most of the time, I did the best I could . . . sometimes, I just flat out failed. It’s taken years for me to understand that I can let all of those regrets, hundreds of them, go. I carry enough, with me, on my journey . . . I don’t have room for the negative. When they surface again . . . I’ll let them go, again. And, I won’t beat myself up because I should have been perfect. I’ll never be perfect . . . but I will be authentic.

Examine your regrets. You need to in order to release them. Probably, more than once. But understand they do not define you . . . or your relationship with your child. I know, Becca’s feelings about her childhood, don’t define our relationship.

I wish for you, grieving momma, peace in the thoughts that come to your mind. Peace in your aching heart. Forgiveness for yourself. Love from those around you.

I wish for you, healing.