What Do We Have to Forgive?

Forgiving the Things We Can’t
Accept, Understand, or Rationalize Away

365 Messages of Hope, Humor & Heart for Caregivers – #5

what-we-have-to-forgiveWhen I spoke at a caregiving conference in Seattle, a woman shared a story with me that took my breath away.

Sue and Ann had been best friends for 42 years. They’d gone to college together. After they got married, their husbands became best friends. The two couples had raised their children together, and they had lots of plans for traveling together during their retirement years.

When Sue’s husband suffered a debilitating stroke, Ann and her husband abandoned them. Ann was angry because she thought Sue’s husband had brought the stroke on himself by smoking and by not following his doctor’s orders. She said he had made bad choices, and now she was choosing to not change her life and sacrifice her retirement freedom to be a caregiver for Sue or her husband. The two couples live across the street from one another, and now Ann and her husband shun Sue and her husband.

When I heard Sue’s story, I couldn’t decide whether I felt more sad or mad. How is it possible that someone could abandon her best friend in her greatest time of need? How could Ann possibly justify her actions?

I told Sue I think there are some things that we simply cannot accept, understand or rationalize away. If she could make sense of Ann’s behavior, if she could explain it, if she could find a rational reason for it, she could work it out in her head and heart. I don’t think there is a way to do that in this situation, so I said, “I think you have to forgive her.”

Nothing will ever make up for the loss of a 42-year friendship. Nothing can be done now to undo the pain or restore the relationship to its former status. Sue has suffered the loss of a healthy husband and she has been betrayed by a person she loved and trusted. Everything about this situation is unfair, unjust, and just plain wrong.

Sue deserves to be angry and hurt. Ann doesn’t deserve to be forgiven,. But this situation reminds me of the saying, “Hanging on to anger and refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

I hope Sue can stop drinking the poison. She seems like such a lovely woman, and she doesn’t deserve to wake up every morning feeling angry, resentful, and sad. She deserves to be free of the pain of this terrible loss, and forgiveness is the only way I see out of this tragic situation.