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!!


Easy Forgiveness

Over the past month, or probably two if you count the time leading up to meeting with Joseph, I’ve had people say how much they admire me because what I’ve chosen to do. Three distinct feelings come over me when I hear these words.

First, is it really something to admire? Saving a life is admirable. Fighting for our country is, too. Working tirelessly to help those who need it the most in this world is also on that list. Giving one’s life over in pursuit of a better world is worth admiring. Those things, to me, garner admiration.

Second, I feel completely awkward when those words are used in conjunction with me. Many of the choices I have made in my past are not to be admired. They came from a broken place within myself. They hurt other people, both on purpose, and inadvertently. I have failed those closest to me. I feel like a fraud when someone says I am “to be admired” for the choice of forgiveness. I’m certain I do not deserve any words of praise when you take my life as a whole. Therefore, when I receive them I think: you don’t really know me.

Third, forgiveness should not be something that is admired in this life. It should be so common that it doesn’t stand out to others. I’ve heard so many people say: I’m not sure if I could do it if it was me. I truly wish that wasn’t the case. Can you imagine what the world would be if forgiveness happened more often? Or how much happier individual lives could be if forgiveness is what we based our actions around? Astounding.

I want to take a few moments and talk about what forgiveness means to me.

In forgiving Joseph I have not come to believe that what happened is acceptable. I do not condone my daughter’s death. I am most definitely not alright with her dying on the highway in a crash caused by another’s mistaken choices. Those things will never happen in my mind.

Quite often I have said that I struggled with the concept of forgiveness. For decades, I could not separate forgiveness with condonement. In some cases, today, those two are inexplicably intertwined . . . maybe forever. In discussing this with others I have come to the conclusion that forgiveness, hinges often, on intent.

I was told, sometime during the past twelve years, that my daughter dying in the crash caused by another was an “intentionless crime”. I did not care. I was angry. At times, people would say that “he didn’t mean for it to happen” and I would snap back at them and say “she isn’t less fucking dead”. His intention mattered little to me because the outcome wasn’t acceptable. She was gone, forever, whether he meant for it to happen or not. I remember thinking at one point, that if she could come back because her brutal death was unintended, then I’d care about his intent.

Then I met a mother who lost her daughter in a very intended violent attack. The killer had tried to end his sister’s life in prior incidents no one knew about. Her child was preyed upon and finally caught. Suddenly, the idea of intent shined a new light on my situation. Becca wasn’t hated. Nor was she hunted. She wasn’t looked at as deserving to die. Her death was an unpremeditated act that resulted in a few extremely poor choices and very odd timing in the universe. When Joseph saw her face . . . he didn’t choose to end her life. Yes, his actions led to this ultimate finish but he wasn’t heading toward her death with intent.

This really does make a world of difference concerning forgiveness. But should it?

A decade passed before I was ready to entertain the thought, seriously, of forgiving the person who took Becca’s life. I had to let go of the anger I held in the unfairness of it all. And, as I said, meeting someone whose child was taken with premeditation allowed me to consider Joseph in a different way. I could see her pain in knowing that someone thought her daughter deserved to die. I heard her talk of never forgiving him. And, I completely understand her position. As completely as someone can who’s child wasn’t murdered.

Would I be able to forgive Joseph if his intent had been to hurt Becca? I don’t know. I doubt it. Coming to the conclusion that forgiveness may not have been an option if he’d intentionally hurt her was enlightening to me. Somehow, forgiving him became easier. Then, an event happened very close to me that solidified my decision to extend forgiveness. Joseph was no longer defined by this one happening. . . he was a complete person.

It was easier to forgive when all of these things fell into place. When the knowledge of what intent can mean finally settled in my heart I was ready. Concerning forgiveness, easy forgiveness doesn’t really warrant admiration. The hard forgiveness, the deliberate wrong against us, is more difficult to come to terms with. My uncle molesting me for years. I’m not sure I’ve forgiven him completely. My father, who chose me to be physically violent with, hasn’t gotten my forgiveness yet. Those are just two examples of mercy I am not ready to extend because of the knowing intent of the individuals.

Yet, I should act with grace in both of these instances. I know this in my head. After feeling the weight lifted from my soul upon forgiving Joseph I understand the freedom it can give the forgiver. I’ve seen the peace it can bring to the forgiven. Maybe I don’t want my uncle or my father to feel that peace. I’m not sure. I will probably spend years wrestling with this aspect of my life.

Which brings me right back to the beginning of this blog. I don’t deserve words of praise or admiration because I have chosen to forgive Joseph. Doing so was not a difficult choice when the time was right. I truly hope, that someday, I’ll be strong enough . . . wise enough . . . to forgive those things done to me that were deliberate.

Imagine how my life would change. How the world would change. Hurt people hurt people. Healed people heal people. Each a drop in it’s own pond that sends out incredibly different outcomes.

Saturday afternoon, Joseph and I sat at a table in a small coffee shop, having conversation about our shared history. At our first meeting he’d said to me that he had some situations in his own past that he needed to rethink concerning forgiveness. In our second meeting I asked him to explain this to me. As he did I realized that I had something to learn about forgiveness myself. The pardon one can find for the willful action against us.

I realize I have the opportunity to learn from him.

I am grateful for this chance.


Create Healing With Forgiveness

Late last year I decided to make another piece of art to put into “the world’s largest art competition” Artprize. I started to work on it just after the first of the year. This project was going to be much larger than the one I entered in 2015. That painting was one that depicted my boys and I holding a deceased Becca. I tried to show what it was like to have to say goodbye. It was much smaller than this year’s but conveyed much of the anguish and pain I felt in having one of my children die. Having to accept that my daughter is no longer here. It was a very difficult piece to work on, and in truth, took many years to finish.

This year’s entry “Touching Heaven” shows how far I have come in my healing process. It’s huge in size standing 10ft tall by 5ft across! Three panels layered with spackle, wire, papier mache, acrylic paint, stained glass, glitter, and feathers. The angel, I created, is my Becca in heaven. Look how far I’ve come!

When my boys move somewhere new I always ask them to send me a picture of their rooms. It helps me to envision them in their surroundings. Which makes me feel calmer about them being far away. A little trick I play with myself. With this piece of art I am doing the same with my Becca. In the three years, between the projects, I have accepted more fully her absence. I am ready to visualize her somewhere else. Away from me. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t like it, but I know it is the reality of things.

Today is the official start of the competition. My piece has been hanging since Sunday and I have gotten much positive feedback from those who know me. In the next few weeks, I’ll be standing by my angel talking with people, and I hope to get a positive response.

For those who don’t know, I have been looking for the drunk driver that killed my daughter, the man who ended her life here and sent her to heaven. This driver ENDED MY CHILD’S LIFE and I have a need to look into his eyes. Being born, and dying, are the two greatest occurrences in one’s life. I was there for one and, tragically, he was there for the other.

I awoke this morning to a message from my cousin, Tammy. She’d sent a few screenshots from some records she’d located. Her words were simple: I think I found him. And, she has. The 23 yr old man, that killed my 23 yr old daughter, is now a 35 yr old living not far from where I work. Everyday. I have his current address saved on my phone. All of the energy I had upon waking up instantly left me. I’ve been waiting for this information for a while and now that I had it, did I really want it? I mean . . . he’s 35. Becca will never be 35. He has a home. Becca was robbed of her future. He’s lived the eleven years that she lost. Could I really contact him? Should I?

I am pretty open about who I am and what I feel. I’ve shared about my desire to meet him. A few people have told me that they are surprised I want to contact this man. They would understand, they said, if I was doing so to scream at him. But that is not what I want. My soul needs to extend forgiveness to his soul. I have tried to explain to these people why I feel compelled to share forgiveness with him.

I don’t believe he set out, that long ago night, to hurt anyone . . . or to kill my Becca. Though his mother behaved reprehensibly, after the crash, I can not believe her wish was for her son to grow up and end someone’s life. His crime is categorized as an “unintentional death” which I now understand. If he had searched out my daughter, hunted her and preyed upon her, then I am not sure there would be any forgiveness in my heart. This isn’t the case, though.

If the circumstances had been different and it had been my child driving . . . I wouldn’t stop loving them. I would do everything in my power to help them overcome the emotional toll this would undoubtedly take. I’d be there every step of the way to help them put their life back together and find happiness in every day. How can I not want this for another mother’s child?

Becca’s life never had the chance to blossom to its full potential. Her chance to change the world and make it a better place was cruelly snatched away from her in a second. The lives she might have helped, especially the children she should have had the chance to teach, are less rich without her having touched them. She would have done great things. Don’t we all think this about our children? And, doesn’t every single one of us have the potential to do world changing things? Including this man. I don’t want the fact that the event he caused, that killed my Becca, stops him from being all that he can be in this life. One life, her life, was ended in tragedy. I don’t want two to end the same way.

So, here I sit writing this blog piece. The words coming easily as I put thought to the screen. Oddly, I’ve started three handwritten letters to him and can’t seem to put together the right words. Do I tell him I forgive him straight off . . . so in case he doesn’t want to meet me he at least knows? What should my first sentence be? How do I introduce myself? Do I put my name on the outside of the envelope? Or will that stop him from even opening it? Will he even meet with me? Will my appearance in his life cause him anger about an event he’s trying to forget? There is no way to know any of these answers. I must take the chance and extend the possibility to him. I sincerely hope he contacts me in return.

If I do meet him face to face and he has no desire to be forgiven by me . . . that is alright. Maybe he just doesn’t understand that his soul needs it. That my soul needs it. That Becca’s soul will have greater peace because of our meeting. I will have a sense of closure around the person who ended her life. I believe this is necessary for me to keep healing. Right now he is merely a foggy image, standing in the courtroom, as I screamed at him to look at Becca’s picture. I need his image to become more solid in my mind. I need it to be real.

Whether you agree, or disagree, with my attempt to contact him I thank you for reading this piece of writing. I am scared. Terrified. Anxious. But, most of all, hopeful.

I am hopeful that our meeting will somehow bring good to the world.


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.