After I gave this speech on forgiveness, people expressed that it made a huge difference in their lives - they got free. I offer it here to you too. (If you have had a recent loss, please only read this vivid account if you are feeling strong.)
“What is the hardest thing you have ever had to forgive? For me the hardest thing was a speeding, dangerous driver who came flying off the highway ramp and onto the city streets, ignoring 8 traffic laws in less than 1 minute. Driving up behind my amazing 25 yr. old son, who was bicycling on the side of the road, he was doing everything wrong while Ben was doing everything right. He later testified that he did see the cyclist in his lane ahead of him but actually ignored him. When he hit Ben’s bicycle, he heard a huge bang and as Ben looked back for a split second they made eye contact and he said that he saw the horror in my son’s eyes.
He hit Ben with such a force that he was thrown through the windshield, smashing his helmet and fracturing his skull before being launched off the roof into a 30 meter arc and then crashing to the ground, further breaking his bones. He died almost instantly, in a pool of his own blood, bigger than his 6’2” frame.
In the first few months of pain and grief, I was so angry that even if I could claw the driver’s eyes out with my own fingernails, that still wouldn't be enough punishment for him! Night after night, I lay awake and made up speeches of what I would say to him at the trial, trying to find just the right cutting words that would stab him in the heart so he might bleed emotionally like he had made my son bleed physically on the road that day.
My anger was always there in the background, consuming my life and energy. I was preoccupied and did not eat or sleep right and it was affecting my health. I knew I needed to get this poison out of my system somehow or I would be slowly destroyed.
One day I went to a farmers’ market and suddenly I got an idea. I bought a bushel of tomatoes, brought it home and into my bathroom. With a vengeance, I pitched them against my bathtub wall. Shouting, screaming and seeing red, I smashed those tomatoes, until weeping and exhausted I had finally vented my anger. That day, realizing that no one could ever make this loss right, I choose to let go of my bitterness and took a huge step into forgiveness. But boy, did I have one huge mess to clean up in my bathroom.
The consuming pain and anger began to lift off me, and as it did something quiet and gentle and tender slipped in underneath. It was peace. As the peace grew, I was able to appreciate that there were other people too that suffered great injustices in life too: in school shootings, diseases, war. As I also let go of the victimization and self-pity that had crept in, forgiveness grew in me.
Slowly, I found I was able to feel happy moments again: I was able to laugh at a silly jokes, I was able to enjoy the beautiful sunset and I was able to get excited about a sale on my favorite shoes again! I was coming alive and walking out from that prison of unforgiveness.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia found the driver guilty and sentenced him. That was when I discovered compassion in my heart. In my victim statement, I spoke of the great injustice and loss, but I also I told him that Ben was the kind of man that would be the first one to shake his hand in heaven, glad to see him. I told him that I forgave him. I did not expect him to answer to me although he would have to answer to God. I had come a long way in my own healing.
Now, though I have chosen to forgive him, it does not mean it will ever be okay that he killed my son. Forgiveness is not a stamp of approval even though it is accepting the heartbreaking new normal of my son having died. It is accepting that now we have to pay this tremendous cost of injustice and no one will be able to make it right.
But the benefit of forgiveness is that it set me free. Forgiveness means the driver is not living in my daily thoughts and eating me up alive, I am at peace. It means I am not carrying a monkey of bitterness on my back who is scratching open my wounds making them bleed again. It means that I am not drinking the poison of unforgiveness and hoping someone else might die.
Some of you have faced this kind of great injustice or worse, or if you have been betrayed, or abused, you too have had someone to forgive.
Nelson Mandela knew about injustice and abuse. For 27 years, he rotted in a degrading prison because he had fought for the equality of black people. On his release, he said, “I knew if I didn't leave my anger, hatred and bitterness behind, that I’d still be in prison.” He forgave, and it drained it all away and he was truly set free. He became the man who united and healed an entire nation of racial hatred.
Forgiveness is key to rising up from the ashes of devastation. Let’s walk out of our own prisons of bitterness. Let's throw open the open gate with forgiveness and say, “Goodbye anger, Hello freedom.””
If you are struggling with loss or grief, get the support you need. For more helpful blog articles scroll down. Included are Birthday Parties in Heaven, He is not here, Just tell Me What Happened and The Worst Nightmare plus helpful Renewing Resilience Tips. For additional grief and loss resources, including a 30 min. introductory session with Helga, click here.
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