Forgiveness can be one of the toughest—and most freeing—acts we can perform in life. But finding forgiveness is not as easy as it sounds. I once knew a woman I will call Susan. She suffered greatly regarding her relationship with her mother. The relationship had not been easy ever since she could remember. Her mother suffered from depression and alcoholism, and often took out her anger on Susan throughout her childhood. Sadly, Susan quickly became an expert at covering up what was really going on inside her family home in front of her friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.
After Susan left home at age eighteen, her mother’s downward spiral continued. The relationship was agonizing for Susan. Her mother would call her at all hours of the night, threatening suicide and sobbing into the phone. The reality was that Susan’s mother was simply incapable of living up to her title. Finally after Susan married and had her own children, one day she just didn’t pick up the phone to call her mother. Her mother never called either. There was never an argument or a cross word. Everything just stopped.
As a day turned into two and then many more, Susan focused on creating healthy relationships with her children and raising them the way she wished she had been raised. As time ticked away, Susan found it was easier to be angry with her mother than to be burdened by the sadness that accompanied the loss of what was always an unhealthy relationship. Well-meaning people suggested that Susan forgive her mother. But Susan was not ready. She knew forgiveness was a personal decision. She also realized that she did not make a conscious choice to terminate the relationship and still held out hope that her mother would one day evaluate her behavior and reach out to make amends.
Eighteen years passed. Through family connections, Susan learned her mother had moved to another state where she seemed to finally find happiness. Although the rejection hurt deeply, Susan had come to accept that this was the reality of her life. Then one day last November, Susan received a phone call that her mother had passed away without warning. And with that phone call, all hope was erased for reconciliation or a heartfelt apology. As Susan attempted to grapple with her pain, she set out on a lonely journey of grief. While the heartache came in waves, the anger visited less often. After months passed, Susan finally decided she was ready. She wrote her mother a heartfelt letter. Then she headed to a remote cabin with her husband. One night as dusk was falling and a fire roared in the fire pit outside the cabin, Susan read the letter aloud. She would say later that she felt her mother by her side. In the letter, she told her mother she had forgiven her. That she understood. And that she was sorry that they couldn’t have had the mother/daughter relationship they both deserved. Then she tossed the letter into the fire and let it all go.
Today as Susan looks back, she doesn’t have any regrets. She found a way to forgive and heal in her own way and in her own time. She feels at peace.
I know because Susan is me.
Forgiveness comes in its own time. It also comes with the valuable lesson that our world is full of imperfect people—even family members—who sometimes hurt us deeply. But it is possible to move past the pain and anger and find a place where you feel compassion for the person who has hurt you, just as I did. For years I wished I had a different mother. But now I realize that because of her, I am who I am today. And for that, I am truly grateful.
“True forgiveness is when you can say, 'Thank you for that experience.'" —Oprah Winfrey
Vicky DeCoster is a Certified Life Coach who specializes in helping her clients move past obstacles, create a plan for happiness, and cross the bridge of transition to find a new and fulfilling direction in life. To read more about her and her practice, visit her at crossthebridgecoaching.com.