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Guest post by Michael

The word “forgiveness” comes from the root word “forgive” which the dictionary says “to stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.”

I recently had a conversation with a young woman who was physically abused by her father. He was never a “hands on” dad (meaning when it came to the raising of his daughter, he wasn’t active). He served in the military, but came home and started abusing his two daughters. The mother and father are now divorced and the father is in jail for what he did. The young woman told me that her father blames his behavior on the military (he did see action), and that he thinks that the kids are going to forgive him and let him still be a part of their lives. The daughter will not hear of it. She wants nothing to do with him. I do not know the extent of the abuse, or what kind of abuse, but I assume it’s bad because he is in jail.

We’ve all heard the saying “forgive and forget”, but the problem is you can never forget some things. These things can cut deep into your very being. While it is said that time can heal all wounds, forgiveness is a part of that. Most think forgiveness is for the person who wronged you. I argue that it is not. In fact, when you read the definition, it is all about the person who was wronged. After a person hurts you, the way you deal with the hurt to make it stop hurting you (when you think about it) is the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness DOES NOT absolve the person of his or her wrong-doing.

Melody was my girlfriend for four-and-a-half years. Her family lived in Florida (except her daughter). I took care of her during her battle with lung cancer for eighteen months. When she died (October 2006), her family came in and took all her stuff. I didn’t care about most of it. She had little of value when it came to electronics, jewelry, money, or possessions. But what she did have were pictures, art, and memorabilia from our four-and-a-half years together. They cremated her without letting me know (she wanted to be cremated . . . I knew that, it was just they did it without including me). There was no grieving with me. I had no one to grieve with. They did everything behind my back and refused to talk to me. The only exception was that her sister called me up from Florida (two days after she died), and left me a voice message, threatening me with jail time if I did anything with her money or bank accounts. I was livid. I heard the voice message and I immediately began to shake with sorrow and anger! Here I lost the love of my life and all I got from her family was a threatening call.

I was angry, really angry. It was so consuming that I couldn’t grieve her death because I was so angry at her family. I tried to reach out to them, find out why they did what they did, but I never got any answers. They just took her stuff away, thought I had no right to any of it, and left me alone to grieve. The worst thing about that is there would never be closure. I would never know why they did it. Closure is the only thing I wanted in this situation and I was never going to get it, and that made me even angrier. For three months, I would go to work, come home with takeout and wine, eat the food, drink three-quarters of the bottle of wine and fall asleep with the XBOX controller in my hand. Wake up the next morning, rinse and repeat. It was the most miserable I had ever been in my life and I struggled to come to grips with it.

Then one night, I was working on a piece of music which I was using as a way to deal with my anger. I had put together all the voice mails I received after she died and set them to background music. When I came to the sister’s threatening message, I put the sound of vulture calls in the background and changed the music. And all of the sudden it hit me. You see, Melody was not close to her family. She thought all her siblings and her mother had major issues. The reason the family took her stuff was because they were trying to desperately to regain the part of her they didn’t have . . . her heart, her love. But no matter how hard they tried, they would never get that. Her heart and her love were not in her possessions. I had her heart, I had her love . . . inside of me. I’ve always had those parts. And all the things that she taught me over those years would be alive and in me . . . and then I could pass those nuggets of knowledge on to my daughter and those around me . . . and thus Melody lives on. All of a sudden, I realized . . . I won! I had her heart! I had the most important thing! These people will never know the Melody I knew, the wonderful, talented, nurturing, person she was. I was a direct benefactor of that. Once I looked at it that way, the anger subsided, almost instantaneously. I had finally found a way to look at the situation and be at peace. I had found a way to forgive them. Notice, I didn’t say forget. I still wouldn’t piss on any of them if they were on fire, but I was able to move on, knowing I was the one who actually won in this situation. I am also not ashamed to admit that I don’t feel an ounce of sorrow for them. I don’t feel anger towards them. I just feel nothing towards them. They weren’t a part of my life before, they aren’t a part of my life now . . . so I don’t care what happens to them.

I relayed that story to this young woman, and something clicked with her. Her eyes were glazed over with tears and she said “I never thought of it that way. This really helps me with this situation and another that I’m going through. Thank you so much. Would you become my “step-in dad?” And with that . . . Melody lives on! I’m still winning! If it weren’t for me going through that situation more than twelve years ago, I would have not had the tools to help this young lady.

So, forgiveness is not about the other person, it’s all about you! It’s about the way you cope with someone who wronged you. You can never put the toothpaste back in the tube. You can’t change what happened or the way people are, you can only change your reaction. You can only change your perspective. Once you decide to exorcise the offending situation from your life, peace is right behind. If the person who wronged you means something to you and it would be worth keeping him or her in your life, you will have to deal with it and find some way to make the relationship work. If the person should be “dead to you,” then cut them out of your life and don’t look back!


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    It took some amazing powers of perception for you to see the underlying cause of the horrible behavior from Melody’s family. And for you to pass on what you’ve learned to people you know is awesome. For you to share that with a bunch of random strangers on the internet via Bruce’s blog is spectacular.

    Thank you.

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      I look at it this way. I’m 55. my mission is now to leave this world in better shape than I entered it. The only way I know how to do that is to help people with things that I can. I leave nuggets of insight with people like my daughter, the young woman in the OP, my girlfriend’s daughter (who is also my daughter’s age) and my girlfriend’s son…and people that I know and people I don’t (like the people here on Bruce’s blog). If it helps someone to get passed something that has been making them stuck (like not “forgiving” someone in THIS sense), it is worth the time!

      Thank you!

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      I’ve been over her death for a while now. In fact, my current girlfriend was unpacking some of my pics when we moved in together…and she came across a framed photo Melody and me, she insisted we put it on our table with all our pictures that we display!

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    J.D. Matthews

    I agree whole-heartedly with this post’s content, and it’s so great that Melody’s legacy can help others.

    The only thing is that I think there must be a better word for this than “forgive.” Because, to me, forgiveness entails absolution, and the word has been mangled to death by the evangelical world as an escape hatch for all manner of wrongdoing. Not only do you let go, you’re required to accept the offender back into your world with open arms, never hold them accountable and pretend nothing ever happened. This is the common use of the word, so far as I can tell, especially in evangelical circles.

    Like you, I choose to just let things go and not dwell on them. But I don’t absolve them, nor do I ever allow the offender space in my world again. I don’t forgive. I just don’t… well… anything. They just become strangers.

    I feel like there must be a better word for this than “forgive.” And I feel that, given the common usage of the word, it could be dangerous to encourage others to forgive.

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      I mean…I get what you are saying. I have a girlfriend now (who is another WONDERFUL woman) and she has the same attachment to the word as you do. But as you can surely see by the very definition of the word, it says NOTHING about the person who wronged you.

      “to stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.” It says nothing about absolution. It’s all about how YOU get through it. When you say to someone “I’ve forgiven you”, it means you found a way to deal with it. It does not mean you’ve given them absolution.

      I agree that what the word actually means and the way people take it are 2 different things.

      I currently have a situation with a family member (an uncle) that wronged me. This happened 8 years ago and it involved a female. It was f**ked up. He was clearly in the wrong but for the year that he did what he did, and the year after he did what he did…he constantly defended himself and his actions. Mind you, I have to see him at family functions. He’s the only brother of my father that’s alive…and my father is still alive.

      So 2 year later after the initiation of said incident, he came to me and said “There was no excuse for my behavior. I was in a bad spot in my life and that is the only thing I can say to you…I’m sorry.” I told him not to speak of it anymore. It happened and there’s nothing that can change that. I told him that we will never be as close as we were (he was my favorite uncle), and that there will always be a thing between us. But I have found a way not to be mad at him…not to resent him.

      Again, I am not giving him absolution for his bad behavior, I just found a way not to resent him for it.

      I hope that clears it up.

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    Becky Wiren

    This is beautiful. I appreciate you writing this. And it is sad about Melody, but at least you know she loved you and that her love will always be with you.

    I try to forgive everyone, although of course that doesn’t mean relationships are restored. But I don’t have festering rage at anyone who has been in my life. Although I don’t blame people who are angry at others who wronged them.

    There are some deeds that may deserve one’s anger to fight injustice, locally or globally. There are actions happening in our government right now that are aimed at hurting the most vulnerable of us. Those people in the government deserve our rage, every bit of it and deserve us fighting them with all we’ve got. I don’t see forgiving any of them for their actions, unless one of these politicians turns, repents, and works for good. Don’t see it happening though.

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      Becky…I see you get it!
      As for our politicians…especially our President…even if he repented…I wouldn’t believe him…I mean, how could we?

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    Forgiveness is a skewed notion if understood via evangelical Christianity. It really pragmatically means to bury your feelings, ‘give it to God’ and other such viral nonsense. I don’t believe in forgiveness of that sort because it is not the natural process that Michael describes so well in this guest post. Thank-you, Michael. Forgiveness is something that happens as a process of life goes on and has nothing to do with setting someone free of responsibility for their actions. For instance, when a child is abused, they do not benefit by being told to bury their feelings by praying and letting God take it over. They benefit, rather, by being cared for, listened to and NOT preached at by dumb-ass Christians/Muslims/whatever. I would hazard that Michael’s perception of things is much healthier than the church will ever be, that forgiveness has to do with a loving relationship to the self first and not last. This is a basic, foundational self-love upon which altruistic love must be based… without it, that basic self-care, love of others can never be… I just saw a short clip of a Jane Fonda interview where she spoke of getting help for her feelings, old feelings from childhood and finally realizing in her heart that she was not to blame for what she endured. She was able to forgive herself for being harmed. This is a huge step that many many people seem to be completely oblivious to, entirely unaware.
    Sick Christianity profits on this lack of awareness and even teaches us that we are wrong, born wrong and need Jesus to be right again. Christianity teaches a child that it is their fault, just as they are forced to feel it when they are harmed.
    Christianity is a virus I spread as best I could for many years. I am forgiven because me, not God. I am forgiven because I said “No” and because I could realize and feel in my heart of hearts that I did not believe all that black book garbage. Michael, I am not sure that we understand forgiveness in exactly the same way but I really agree with what you have written and I am sorry to know how you were abandoned and harmed when you lost your Melody. Happy to know that your loss has deepened your awareness of yourself and others and that you look forward to using those ‘tools’ in your life.

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Bruce Gerencser