The Road to Forgiveness

The face of grief is always changing. Grief never ends - it just shifts and changes, over and over and over again. The past few months, my grief tsunami has turned into something very different than ever before. I almost want to call it "profound", but that sounds too pompous. I do feel as if this past year or so, I have been able to dig deeper into the abyss than ever before. I have reached inside, pulled out pain, and then started to make some sense of it, like solving a puzzle. Piece by piece, the joy inside the life that I have now, today, is starting to emerge.

It is my belief that in order to get here, I had to feel and analyze and break down and sit with every single fragment of my grief. It was probably the hardest thing I ever did. I am not finished. I might not ever be. There is no finish line - only sharp turns of major growth and awakening. But every single day, I wake up in a new way, all over again. I wake up with the knowledge that I am still and always learning.

At first, and for a long time, the death of the person you love most tears you apart and rips you in half. But if you do the grief work and face the pain head-on, eventually, it reverses. You take the pieces of the hurt and you tear THEM apart. You rip THEM in half over and over again, until you start to figure out what to do next. Until the pain is no longer suffocating you and ruling your life.

When this major shift happens, suddenly, there is room for love. In the past year or so, I have felt my husband's love stronger than ever before. I have had signs from him, both literally and metaphorically, time and time again. I have felt his energy around me constantly. The best way for me to explain it, is that in the past 4 years since his death, I have gone from feeling like he is "nowhere", to knowing he is "everywhere." This does NOT make it somehow "okay" or "all better" that he isnt here with me on earth, and that I don't get to live my life with him. Not at all. But knowing that he is everywhere, and actually feeling that on a constant basis, makes my daily life go from one of just existing, to one of truly living again. I no longer question or doubt my husband's presence in my life. It just is, and I know this. The feeling has become so constant now, that it almost never goes away. People have asked me when or how do I feel him or know he is around. My answer is all the time. Everywhere. Always. I feel him right this second, as I type this. His soul is inside everything, and he lives in the rhythms of who I am.

Lately he has been talking to me. I actually hear his voice and he says very specific things. He has been talking to me a lot this year about forgiveness. There are so many people I have needed to forgive, starting with myself. In a story too long to share here (it is in my book), he actually took me somewhere and showed me what it would have looked like, if I had watched him die. He showed me why I needed to stop blaming myself for being asleep while he was collapsing. Then he led me to begin to forgive his father. His father, who never had much of a relationship with him, and who I blamed for a long time for Don's death. (again, too long of a story for here, but in the book) He led me to begin forgiving his dysfunctional family, for not being there enough for him or for me, after his death. He made me see that their abandoning me wasnt actually about me. It was about their dysfunction and their pain.

I had to forgive so many people. People in my own extended family, and friends, for not knowing what to say or for not being there in the way I wanted or needed. Recently, a friend who was like a brother to me and who disappeared from my life soon after Don died, came back into my life again. We talked it through and we got emotional and we dug deep into it, and it was a hard conversation (or three) to have, but once again, I heard my husband's voice, telling me: "It's time, Boo. Just listen to what he has to say." Tonight, I met up with him and our small close group of friends from before my husband died, and I saw him for the first time in over four years. I was so nervous, and scared, and really really excited to have my friend back, but in a completely different way. Our meetup went very, very well. It was like old times again, but yet not. We all felt Don's presence there with us, almost as if he was the one who brought us back together. The whole night I just wanted to cry, because it just felt so damn good to be with my friends again. It was like a huge sigh of relief. 

Forgiveness is so hard. Its one of the hardest things in life. I never really understood why, until this week, when I read an excerpt from Brene Brown's latest book, that gave me goosebumps everywhere on my body, and suddenly it all made sense. For those unfamiliar, Dr.Brene' Brown is an author, brilliant speaker, (look up her many TED talks), therapist, and researcher. She researches human emotions - things like anger, grief, empathy, shame, and forgiveness. She actually takes something like shame, and interviews thousands of people about it, and researches it, like science, to then break it down and figure it out. This amazes me. Her words have always moved me, but after losing Don to sudden death, they sometimes became a lifeline. This is the passage that made me go "WOAH!", and that made me see forgiveness in a whole new light:

"In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. Forgiveness is so difficult for this reason, because it involves death and grief. The death, or ending, that forgiveness necessitates, comes in many shapes and forms. We may need to bury our expectations , or maybe our dreams about something. But whatever it is, it has to die. It has to be grieved. Forgiveness is not forgetting or walking away from accountability, or condoning a hurtful act. It is the process of taking back and healing our lives, so that we can truly live. So the question then becomes: What has to end or die so that we can experience a rebirth in our relationships?"

I never saw forgiveness as connected with grief before, and that understanding of it has changed everything for me. Now that I get why it is so difficult to forgive, and that it actually involves grieving and allowing something to die in order for something else to be born, I can more easily move forward with making the choice to forgive. Every day when I wake up, I wake up in a new way. I am learning, and always in the midst of becoming, whoever it is, I am going to be. Thanks for reading.

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  • Judy Kaan
    commented 2015-10-12 17:24:35 -0700
    Thank you Kelley for writing this about “forgiveness”. I’m working on it daily – and still not quite there yet – but you give me hope that it can one day happen – and there are many to have forgiveness for and I think you for that. More work in progress.
  • Karen Sutherland
    commented 2015-10-09 10:45:30 -0700
    i am so happy for you Kelley, to have been able to find the secret to forgiveness through the concept of something having to first die so one can grieve, let go, and move forward. Brene Brown is amazing! And I am so grateful that you have shared your own personal experiences with such joyful results. Your Don has definitely had your back on this! I realize I have a lot of work to do with forgiveness, too – especially with myself. So thank you for this beautiful and insightful post. (((((((hugs)))))))
  • Julene Black McGregor
    commented 2015-10-09 08:49:14 -0700
    Beautifully put and I’m so happy that you’ve been able to hear from Don again.