This idea of a blog post about forgiveness has been floating around in my mind for quite some time. My posts don’t have to come from any one specific incident and this one doesn’t. But rather, from small episodes, which, weave themselves together and set me off pondering. My own life experiences can so often be mirrored back to me in experiences shared by my patients. The beauty, and sometimes, curse of my job as a hospice nurse is that issues I will sometimes run away from personally, will be so pronounced in the struggles of those I care for.
Forgiveness. It is its own sentence. A noun. A verb. An adjective. But, what does it really mean? Does forgiving someone mean that you are completely erasing wrongdoings? Are forgive and forget twin actions that occur simultaneously? Often, I wonder if true forgiveness really exits or if it occurs on some sort of spectrum. Like, I forgive you enough not to boil up in rage when I see you. Honestly, it has so many personal definitions that we would need volumes of dictionaries to hold them all.
On a recent afternoon, after all of the formalities of a visit were completed, a very sweet woman with silver streaked hair began to reflect on her life. She talked about her adventures and accomplishments. Told me about her relationships with family members and her lost loves. My attention was all hers as memories unfolded in her mind’s eyes. But, along with the good, inevitably come the not so pleasant memories. The regrets. The guilts. The things that gnaw at us for forgiveness.
“I have done things I am not proud of,” she said with a glistening in her eyes that eventually became teardrops. “I have made so many mistakes. Have hurt people that I couldn’t apologize to anymore. My choices were not always the best. I lay here, sometimes reliving moments that I would give anything to go back and change. Why did I do those things? That’s not who I am today. The people I hurt – will they ever really know how sorry I am? And I know, in my heart, I know how sorry I am but, why is it that I will just never be able to forgive myself?”
Frozen in my chair, my hand in hers, it was almost like I was listening to my own heart talking. Who among us cannot relate to some of those words? So many times and choices in my own life I would give anything to change. People I have wronged both knowingly and blindly that gnaw at me. How does one let it go? Does forgiveness have to come from an apology?
A very wise pastor friend and I were discussing this issue of forgiveness. He said that if God could forgive me, how could I not forgive myself? I had never thought of it in those terms. Most religions have a God like figure that dolls out copious amounts of forgiveness. Was there some magical way to grab that forgiveness and help me actually feel it?
Apologies. Confessions. Mea Culpas. We can do all of those things but still feel all of the shrapnel of the actions that caused our wanting to be forgiven in the first place. If letting go of those feelings was easy, it would have been done so long ago, but just like moss on the forest floor, you can scrape it away, but even if a speck remains, in time, the moss will blanket the floor again.
My dear patient has since passed on. But, during our multiple chats, I tried to help her with her feelings of guilt, anger, frustration and regret regarding actions that prompted her to need that forgiveness. We are all flawed human beings, who are just trying to do the best we can. Some days we succeed. Some days we fail. Mistakes, no matter the size, happen. We don’t always make the right choices, but often times those end up being the right choices. Why? Because the knowledge and humanity gained from them becomes the trade off for our seemingly bad choices. You never know who our choices impact and how their lives might change because of them. Far more lessons are learned with failure rather than from success. We know we regret our actions and choices, God and the universe knows because of our internal and external voicing and yet self forgiveness often is so delicately elusive.
Just as any good bartender, confessor, therapist or hairdresser, so does a nurse listen to the stories and often has salt of the earth advice to share. Advice which soothes the soul and sometimes brings peace where it was so desperately needed. The trouble is, sometimes the teacher is the one that teaches but is the worst student.
If your heart is heavy and there is regret, take the lessons learned from your actions. Those are what you should focus on. Allow in the place of feelings like guilt to blossom new feelings of certainty that you would never repeat those mistakes. I hate to say this but, give yourself some grace. Forgive. Let go. Lighten your burden.
Now, if you will excuse me… I need to go learn how to become a student…..