A final opportunity for forgiveness

Forgiveness-and-Freedom[1]Several weeks ago, I got a call that a family member I’ve been out of touch with for many years had been hospitalized.

Despite him playing a significant role in my life when I was younger, I didn’t initially feel a strong emotional response to this news because I made the choice not to maintain a connection with him.

Over the years, I’ve thought about this situation and several times tried to identify what I did wrong in this situation.  But despite my efforts I just couldn’t see it; it seemed clear that I was the one who was wronged.

Last week with the encouragement of a friend who pushed me to do this, I finally identified my part – that while I had let go of resentment long ago, I continued to feel judgmental of him.

A day and a half ago, I talked to my sister about this situation and told her I had identified my part in the issue and wanted to make amends before it was too late.  An in-person visit wasn’t possible since we’re not in the same country, so my sister offered to read aloud a letter if I wanted to write one.  He was unconscious and seemingly unresponsive but we both felt it was likely he could hear.   I told her I preferred to speak to him by phone if the nurse would agree to hold the phone to his ear, but would e-mail a letter if I couldn’t speak to him.

As you know, my laptop is broken and my online access is very limited, so after getting off the phone with her, it wasn’t until 24 hours later that I was able to check for the email she sent with contact information for the hospital.  By then, there  was already another message in my inbox, that he was deteriorating very fast and to send the letter right away.  I immediately called the hospital to speak to him, but the connection was very bad and the receptionist couldn’t understand a word I said.

I tried to call my sister but she couldn’t understand me, either.  I immediately got online, and began to quickly write the letter, hoping against hope that it wasn’t going to be too late.  When I tried to send it, it kept stalling instead of going through.  But finally I got an email confirming it was sent, and my sister sent a message that she was going to go back to the hospital with my letter.

This morning my mom stopped by and while she was here, received a Facebook message on her phone that our relative had passed away.  The time of his death was posted and it was apparent that he died before my sister got there to read my letter.  I was glad I had written the letter and released all remaining negativity, but was extremely disappointed that he wasn’t able to hear it while he was alive.

It was the early hours of the morning in the US when I called my sister to let her know I heard the news, and I realized she wasn’t able to read the letter.  She corrected me, saying the relative who posted the time of death was in a later time zone than she was, and she did make it to the hospital before he died. And what she told me was incredible.

The entire day she had repeatedly told our relative, “Avivah said she has something she wants to say, she’s going to write you a letter.”  And she kept checking her phone, wondering where my letter was and what was taking me so long (this was all taking place during the hours I had no online access), until finally it showed up.  By the time she got my email, she was back at her house but despite the expected snow storm and the hour long return trip, she felt an urgency to get to the hospital.

When she arrived, he was still alive but the hospital chaplain already there and a rabbi said the final prayers.

As soon as he finished, she began reading my letter as fast as she could.  I wrote about my appreciation for the positive memories, I apologized for being judgmental, and then I said that I forgave him.

And as soon as she finished reading those words – “I forgive you” – he took his final breath and died.

Blue sky with clouds and sun may be used as background

Afterward, the nurse said it seemed he was holding out for something, and my sister believes he was waiting for my letter.

I am so, so, so full of emotion and gratitude for the opportunity to have closure from a place of forgiveness and love.

This has been an incredibly moving and powerful experience for me to be part of, it’s something that a week ago I could never have imagined being possible, and it has left me with a sense of emotional peace that I couldn’t have anticipated.


14 thoughts on “A final opportunity for forgiveness

  1. Wow. Avivah, that was amazing. What a z’chus to be able to come to such a place of peace and forgiveness. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I always feel the most meaningful connections to your posts. Today I decided to write. My grandmother lives across the world. We had a great relationship growing up but in the past 4 years she’s had Alzheimer’s and has been so out of it I haven’t written spoken to her etc. On Thursday I decided to FaceTime her. I spent 10 minutes sharing some of my favorite memories and how that’s impacted my family. I shared story and song and laughed and cried. She died that night. I found a lot of connection to this post.

    1. Wow, Deena, how incredible. I’m so glad for you that you had this opportunity.

      When you have a situation like this that’s so close, doesn’t it make you think how easily you could have missed this and then it would have been too late?

  3. I loved reading this and it touched me because of a personal experience I am going through right now. I am curious how you would deal with a bit of an altered situation – the person not being on their deathbed, but the person being a continuous abuser (of me). Do you feel every situation can bring a reconciliation, or that one should always put forth (and make oneself vulnerable) even if it might put oneself in a worse off position than before (ie further abused, no reconciliation, further humiliated) in the name of trying?

    1. Hi, Stacy, welcome!

      No, I don’t think that there can always be a reconciliation because you need two parties who are both willing to move towards that goal for it to happen. You can only take responsibility for keeping your side of the street clean, but you can do that regardless of how someone else treats you.

      In a case when someone is abusing you, I’d be very, very cautious about making any apologies since they’re likely be used against you. However, you can find peace in doing what is right and that doesn’t mean making an active apology. There’s something called making a living amends; this means that recognize your part in the situation and you actively take responsibility to change that from this point and on when dealing with that person. Sometimes verbally apologizing can make a situation worse and it can actually be the wrong thing to do.

      Abusive relationships are very confusing and the same actions that are ideal in other situations can be the worse course of action.

      1. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. That was very helpful as well. In my case I have been out of contact with the abuser (ie not on speaking terms) for quite some time now. I am very willing to accept some of the blame but truthfully feel the blame is on said person. I don’t feel what I have to apologize for but feel it is so silly and childish to be not on speaking terms. I have thought about calling and saying we should put it behind us and start anew but I will probably get my head bitten off, and set up for more abuse. Even if I was wrong in the relationship, that person surely is as well and would never let me off the hook unless I said s/he did nothing and I am fully at fault and need to come begging for forgiveness.

        Your post just reminded me how precious life is and how one should take the opportunities and go the extra mile to try to reconcile. I so identified with your wanting closure, finding a place of forgiveness and love, and most of all emotional peace. I so appreciate this and in my case maybe it is not meant to be. But good for you! So meaningful.

        1. Well, I didn’t describe this relationship because the past is the past, but it wasn’t for nothing that in 26 years I had only spoken with him about three times. My part that I owned was that I was judgmental in my own mind toward him, eg thinking I’m much more emotionally healthy than he is, I made better life choices, etc. It’s not that it’s not true, but that it smacks of arrogance rather than humility and recognition/gratitude that I was given the opportunity in life to make better choices.

          This isn’t about blaming yourself for causing the friction; it’s not. I wasn’t to blame for the situation but I am responsible for how I continue choose to think about someone else. Does that make sense?

          And lastly, I know that this closure was only possible because he was on his death bed at the time my letter was read. It’s hard for me to imagine any other circumstances that this could have happened.

          1. Thank you! So interesting. I could go on and on asking questions and coming to my own understanding of such a situation. I am seriously right now going through this issue. So thank you for bringing up what was very timely for me!

          2. It’s a huge topic, Stacy, and it’s really tricky with abusive people. I wish you the gift of clarity as you navigate this situation.

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