‘I’ll never ever forgive him/her/them…”
Whenever I hear someone express that, I feel extremely sad. I understand the pain, the bitterness, the anger, the rejection, the resentment and the myriad of trapped emotions.
Today, I'm not going to show you how or what to do to start the process of forgiveness, you can read about some of the tools I use for that purpose here: Release the rage: 3 tools to teach you the art of forgiveness
Forgiveness can be a painful process. On the other hand, though, it can be easier than you'd believe possible if you are willing.
I understand because I have experienced that a deeply personal level with my father.
"The the most precious gift to self and others is Forgiveness. Let go of the pain, the stories... whatever you are holding on to and forgive with all your heart." - Martine Metaxas
What I want to share with you is my personal journey and how I forgave my father. I forgave my mum and most importantly I forgave myself.
My parents finally went their separate ways when I was 14-15.
The hairline fractures of their marriage had been there for a while. A new baby, a move to a new area, and the hope that a new business and start would help patch up some of the cracks.
However, nothing could prepare them for the destructive seismic force to their already ‘rocky’ foundations; the violent death of their just turned 9-year-old daughter. My sister.
Run over by a double-decker bus on a Zebra crossing - her right of way - steps away from reaching what was to be her final destination, the curb, the other side of the road. She was on her way to a birthday party.
My eldest sister Michelle. 15 months was our age difference. We were not only close in age, but we were also like twins, and inseparable - mum even dressed us the same.
Her death left a void for each of us in different ways. I witnessed the external torment and turmoil; I can only guess how devastating the internal effects this had for each of my parents.
In all my healing journeys of old wounds, Michelle’s death left many scars.
Life goes on. To cope with their pain and loss for the next six years, they put everything into growing one successful business and then another. They worked hard.
The rewards were good. We went ‘abroad’ for holidays (not typical of the times and area we lived). Me and my kid sister, seven years younger, had all our material needs catered for. It seems it wasn’t enough.
Little did I know that when mum packed us up to spend the summer season on the Isle of Wight (she had a 4-month singing contract), that I would only see my father again 2-3 times in the next 32 years.
Their parting of ways was let’s say not elegant - is divorce ever?
Anyway, that’s their story, and there are always three sides to any story.
There I was at 15 again thrown into a new situation, a new area, new school, new friends to meet and a new life without Dad.
He just exited our lives. His name became a taboo subject, so it was easier to stop talking or mentioning him. It was me and my sisters' way of coping. The inner longing never went away, and the pain of understanding why he would do this to his child. To us. To me.
You take it onboard as your fault and that there must be something terribly wrong with you if even your father doesn’t want to see or know you.
As always, life has a force of its own. It goes on. Survival. Growth. Change. Adapting.
I grew up. Started working. Moved to Greece. Married. Had children. Created businesses.
And all that time there was no contact. No replies. And then I gave up. I decided it's 'his loss'. I had my own family to look after. I had to accept that for whatever reasons he had; he did not want contact with me.
I swallowed the bitter pill of rejection.
I was 47 when we established contact again, ironically a few days after the funeral of my stepfather of 30 years.
It was a strange experience, and I didn’t know what to expect, or how I would feel when we found ourselves face to face.
I had a lot of reasons to be mad at him for, and more importantly to forgive him for.
- Abandoning me
- Rejecting me
- Not being around for 32 years of my life
- Not writing, phoning or even answering my letters or cries for help
- For deleting me out of his life because he ‘thought’ he’d made a mess of things and had ruined our (mine and my kid sister) lives
- Not sharing my joy at my meeting ‘the one’ - my husband
- Never got to see my beautiful island paradise
- Didn’t get to walk me up the Town Hall stairs on my wedding day
- Didn’t get to meet my soulmate, husband and best friend
- Didn’t get to meet his first (and for a long time only), grandson
- Missing out on my meeting and creating an early relationship with my two half sisters
- Depriving my children and my sister’s children of knowing and having a relationship with their grandfather
- Not being there for me to celebrate my wins, encourage me to get back up in times of struggle
The list is probably longer, but what good would that bring me - more hurt, stuck in victimhood?
Dodinsky says that “The wisdom of forgiving: It does not mean giving people the license to hurt you over and over again. It is simply, an act of releasing the pain others may have caused and remembering never to let them take away your PEACE again.”
Only you can release the pain and hurt from the past. Forgiveness allows that to happen.
My father was well aware of what pain he caused because he was in pain too. On the day we finally met again after 32 years, he expressed his sorrow for everything he had or hadn’t done and was sorrier that he couldn’t change things. He couldn't turn back the clock.
I was surprised by my own reaction which was calm, practical and strangely enough, at peace and without bitterness. I told him, “those are your demons to deal with and the regrets you will take to your grave, I can’t change them, I can only forgive and move on. Life is too short. Enough time wasted.”
I was just so happy to have him back in my life.
The gift of forgiveness and the gift to myself and my father allowed me to:
- Find peace at last and know that it was never about me
- Start a new relationship with my father
- Meet my new extended family - my two younger sisters and their partners and my nieces. While we don’t get to see each other often, and the ties are loose, we know and feel the connection.
- To understand that holding on to pain, and all the negative emotions is just not worth it
- Feel a sense of freedom. Freedom from the past and the freedom to enjoy the future.
- To see that my dad was not the lousy dad/man/person I thought because he abandoned us. Seeing him interact with his two daughters and how in his second life, was given the opportunity to show exactly what a good dad he was.
My little sis' Jo, (youngest of all 5 of his girls) was very very close. I couldn't help but be touched by their relationship and how he looked after them. As we got to know each other, she told me about Dad. How when they were young he plaited their hair (he taught me how to knit…), cooked for them.
And what was even more moving, was that their other two sisters - my sister and me - were included in their conversations and lives; we never met, but he talked about us. We existed.
The gift of forgiveness meant that I was saddened and pained by his passing and was left with a feeling of time lost rather than feeling angry, bitter, resentful and full of hatred for a strange man, that biologically happened to be my father.
That would have been the alternative if I had not found the strength, wisdom and love to forgive. I could have stayed forever in the ‘dank’ room.
“Because forgiveness is like this: a room can be dank because you have closed the windows, you’ve closed the curtains. But the sun is shining outside, and the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart.” — Desmond Tutu
I am also incredibly grateful for the gift and chance to get to know him a little better over the ten years since our reunion to his passing on December 29th, 2017, and for the opportunity for growth, transformation and learning that this experience gave me. Oprah Winfrey says that “True forgiveness is when you can say, Thank you for that experience.'”
Thank you, Dad, for that experience!
Who do you have to forgive?