Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Hard Part of Forgiveness

This is a picture of my mom taken when she was 25. By my reckoning I was 2 or 3 years old at the time. My mother died last week at the age of 78. Cancer      
had ravaged her body throughout and she made the decision in November of last year to discontinue her  treatments. It took cancer to move me to reestablish a  relationship with her, to attempt to learn who she wa
 and who she had become. I discovered as much about  myself as I did about her. To understand, or perhaps it is better to say to begin to understand the words that will follow requires me to cover familiar territory for some of you. 

My childhood was far from normal. My parents had a difficult relationship that included abuse and neglect of both his spouse and son. My father was an enigmatic man of great talents but also great failings. His was a difficult   upbringing that I don’t believe he ever made peace with, and those unresolved issues bled into every area of his life. Eventually their marriage fell apart, my mother leaving him in the summer of 1976. Through a series of hard to understand events I found myself with no family shortly after my 16th birthday. My parents never reconciled, their marriage finally dissolved by my father’s death in 1983.

There was little to no communication with either parent and for many years I was unaware of either’s whereabouts. Needless to say, this created lots and lots of unanswered questions. I had a poor opinion of both for a number of years, until hearing from an aunt who finally began to provide me with some of the answers that I had wanted for so long. This interaction with my aunt reignited in me a desire to answer those questions that had haunted me for so long, questions about rejection and reasons and fears of being a man I didn’t want to be.

My mother seldom gave me the answers I sought. She didn’t want to reopen old wounds. She had remarried and was building a new life. To be honest, for a long time I held hard feelings towards her over that. I needed answers about my father and why she permitted the things that happened. I came to understand that my mother had been a buffer between my father and I, that she had taken many blows intended for me and had taken the brunt of many blows intended for me. I came to understand that she left me behind, in part, so that I could have the stability that a 16 year old needed, that she trusted my soon to be adopted parents to be able to provide for me what she could not. I cannot say that it was a noble act, but it was not as calloused as I had come to believe.

In the 34 years since my father died my mother was able to piece her life back together. She married again, a man who loved her and cared for her. They were good for each other. She had found a way to break free of the chains of her past.  She discovered faith in Christ and turned her life around. She made an impact on many people. She became someone I did not know. The question was and is....can I break free of the memory as I have held it all these years?

As Christians we are called to forgive, and I believe that most of us genuinely try to forgive others. But we all have trouble forgetting. Genuine forgiveness involves forgetting the offense, to choose to no longer hold the offense against the person we have forgiven. There can be no true forgiveness without forgetting. I had to choose to forget the past, unanswered questions and all, if I was to truly embrace forgiveness for both my parents. I had allowed my memories to color how I thought about and how I related with my mother, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes deliberately. My mother had become a different, a better person, and I was unwilling to let her be that person. I limited my love and forgiveness for her by the memory I chose to keep alive, and nobody suffered for it but me.

As I spent a few days last week at my mother’s I came to realize that my mother had become the person she was always meant to become. She had been molded by her experiences into someone who made a difference in the lives of others. She allowed what was to pass and became someone I had never given her the freedom to become because I would not forget.

Sometimes it’s not so much who we need to forget but the memory we hold of them.

Rest in Peace, mom. We all will miss you, even me.