July 08, 2011

The Power of Forgiveness

I spoke to two of my brothers last night about funeral arrangements. My oldest brother, Stan, is not attending the funeral. He cannot forgive my mom for her unkind words and actions.

I tried mightily to convince him to come. As the oldest, he is now the patriarch of the family. He needs to be there for ME - his "onliest and favorite" sister. He said I should contact Mary Kay for a job, because I was quite persuasive - but that he made up his mind years ago.

Stubborn much?

Our mother was often mean, her words and her fists wounded us. Her coldness and unforgiving nature made life at home hellish at times. Her litany of curse words and threats kept me sad and afraid. I never knew what would set off her explosive anger. It made me timid and apprehensive.

Since my three older brothers came long before I arrived, I don't know what injuries were inflicted on them. In December, Gary told me about the time that he was tied to the water heater for losing a dollar when he went to the store for bread. He was four years old. I'm sure that Stan and Terry have similar stories.

You don't ever FORGET things like that...but forgiveness is possible.

Likewise, my older brothers don't know what my younger brother and I endured, since they were adults and out of the house by the time we met our mother's wrath.

And I know, as the only daughter, I suffered my own kind of hell that was different from theirs. I could never satisfy my mother's expectations, nor could I anticipate the unpleasant result of any action or inaction I took. Common household objects were potential projectiles and weapons; saying 'no' was rewarded with a fat lip and bloodied nose.

She tried her best to mold me into an image that was to her liking - but I, though fearful, was still rebellious - as I tried to maintain my fragile self-worth.

At ten, she started calling me "the slut". The mind games continued well into adulthood. She would try to manipulate us by playing "divide and conquer", in an attempt to turn us against each other.

She had no success in that arena.

I was probably in my thirties before the sting of her words quit hurting me. As I moved to CA, I was far away from her influence. I had time to reflect, and was able to recognize that her problems had little to do with me.

I slowly learned to forgive.

But I never forgot.

It's the stuff of bestselling, tell-all memoirs - but I no longer let her treatment of me give me an excuse for MY bad behavior.

I can have positive thoughts of her. She could be funny at times. She loved her grandchildren, and treated them well.

She never acknowledged the negative stuff - when I'd remind her, she had no recollection of ever being harsh.

She never knew the truth of her actions; never considered what effects it would have on her children.

Still, I was able to recognize her many failings as deeply-embedded issues for her. Maybe she had too many children. Maybe she suffered from undiagnosed mental illness.

I was determined not to let my history with her invade my present anymore. I forgave her for all the embarrassment, all the pain, both physical and psychic, that she caused me. I was damn sure I wasn't going to repeat the pattern.

Forgiven, but not forgotten.

And in the gift of forgiveness, I found my power. I found peace. Resolution. And felt love for my mother (and pity for her weaknesses), probably for the first time.

I hope and pray that my brothers also find forgiveness in their hearts. For there, they will find a better life, and hope renewed for the future.

Lewis B. Smedes - The Art of Forgiving: When You Need To Forgive And Don't Know How
"Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future."


15 comments:

  1. Powerful stuff. I'm sitting here with goose bumps. You are one very intelligent, special, unique woman...I can't think of enough words... to be able to forgive your mother that way...and so early in your life. In your 30's. Awesome. I'm proud to know you, Ms. JFC!

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  2. Thanks for this powerful post, June. It doesn't sound like it was a very nice home to grow up.

    My twin and I always felt like we were very fortunate to have two loving families in which to live. That is, until our step-father died this April. He was 90. Our mother died at 80, in 2002. They lived on the East coast, and we went out there, 1500 miles each way, every year, for many, many years, to see them. After our mother passed away, we continued to go out to see our beloved step-father.

    After the funeral, we were told to take what we wanted from his house. We took our half brother and half sister's word for that. When we got home, my sister got a NASTY phone call from our half brother. He called her every name in the book, yelled at her, and called her a thief and a liar. I guess we took his 'beloved train set' that was over 50 years old, and some tools that dad had. They were all in the house at the same place, and we felt he handled it all wrong.

    We shipped almost everything back. We feel like we lost not only our parents, but also our brother and sister. He was our step-dad for 65 years...3 more than the sister, and 55 years more than the brother.

    Family dynamics...aren't they something!

    Sorry I ranted on your space.

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  3. I won't be hurt if you choose not to include this.
    Dear June,

    I'm embarrassed to say that I don't remember if you told me any of this 'way back when.' But reading your words now, feeling the emotion in them, explains a lot to me...

    ...We met in the first place because you had the guts to take a chance on a training program that made big promises but you had no way of knowing if any of them would apply to you. I apologize that I don't remember if I interviewed you (I only interviewed several hundred folks in those years) but there was never a question that you belonged there, not only through those arduous [boring] days in the classroom but later as a valued member of the staff. And luckily, somewhere along the line we became friends.

    Why did I know that you belonged in my life in those 3 phases, you ask?

    Too many reasons to list here (but I'll work on a full list if you want ::grin::) but first and foremost was the constant smile on your face, the easy way you laughed, the witty banter that you often started and always excelled at. But those are just the things I saw on the outside. More importantly, I knew that you had picked yourself up out of a horrible situation at the time, you drove the long distance to the school despite the challenges that came with that, you did whatever was asked of you sometimes at a great personal expense.

    Now I'm thinking that maybe my "Little Linda", wounded by the words and actions of her father, connected with your "Little June", wounded by similar injustices from your mother. Stranger things have happened! :)

    I have always believed that my adversity at a young age made me strong and I see and recognize that strength in you. The tough times gave me a sense of humor that certainly didn't fit anything I'd seen growing up; your sense of humor surely didn't fit your circumstances either. Maybe sometimes we laughed when we felt like crying? I know I did.

    I was lucky to have forgiven my father some [years of therapy] ago. It was hard but it was worth it. I truly believe that my father suffered from clinical depression but that was something that was out of the realm of understanding of that generation of people. I'm sure your mother was mentally ill, as well. So sorry for them as well as many others who didn't have the resources that have been available to later generations.

    You're right, we will not, cannot forget. Dad used to work in a factory that made patterns out of wood into which iron was poured to create molds into which steel was poured to create objects that went all over the world for endless uses. Got that? Anyway, for both of those transformations--from molten iron to molten steel--it was FIRE that was required. The fire melted the iron before it could be strong and the fire melted the steel till it was the stronger finished product. That's my image of what happened to me over those 20 years with my dad. I think the last transformation happened as I dealt with life on my own.

    Dear June, thank you sharing the story of your transformation with us.

    BTW, Would "Little June" like to come out to play with "Little Linda" sometime???

    xo

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  4. I am emailing you something. Youu are a survivor in the truest sense. The day after my mom died, I wrote my memories and my children did not recognize their grandmother, who had many issues, and eventually changed completely. Many of us have been there, and would you believe the stastics show, that we are teachers?

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  5. Such raw reality and emotion. Thank you for such a candid depiction of how forgiveness is possible...and how what could be the beginning of a cycle of hurt can be broken and kept from passing on. I think there are many undiagnosed people in our lives and you are lucky to realize that much of her behaviors could have been that. You are even luckier, stronger, for not absorbing it all as your doing. Thank you!

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  6. I'm so sorry. My grandmother was somewhat like this. My mother, miraculously, was not. I had trouble forgiving my grandmother. But you have it just right, forgiveness releases the power the person had over us, and we reclaim it for ourselves. Thank you for sharing this.

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  7. I am awed at your ability to forgive all of this. You have come a long way. I feel like you must be incredibly strong, to have overcome so much.

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  8. That is so true. I think if you can forgive you can move on. Doesn't mean you have to never remember the hurt.

    I'm so sorry you had to have a mom like that. Has to be sooo hard. And you were so good to go see her. I don't know if I could have done that. I mean, I would definitely go to the funeral, but to just visit, I would more likely be like your brother.

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  9. This is amazing and wonderful. Thank you for writing it and sharing it. Cyndy was kind enough to link it up to my Saturday Sampling post, where there is another post about forgiveness--I think you'd appreciate it.

    My dad was physically and verbally abusive to me and my eight siblings. Just today (coincidentally) I was thinking of some of the names he used to call me--"Dummy" "Mouthy" etc. and I was thinking how cool it is that I never believed him. I always knew it was about him, not me, and for that, I thank God.

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  10. Your story reminds me of "A Child Called It." It's wonderful that you are able to forgive her! Hopefully your brothers can too one day, but I understand why they wouldn't want to go to the funeral. I don't believe I would either.

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  11. I grew up in sexual abuse, and getting to the point of forgiveness was a long road for me, but once I got there, it was SO freeing.

    I was touched by the fact that you said you can have positive memories of her. I'm working on focusing on some of those positive memories from my childhood, and making an effort to share them.

    I hope that your brothers come to a place of forgiveness. Forgiveness really does release the hold the abuser has on your life.

    I manage the monthly blog carnival against child abuse, and I would love it if you would consider submitting the link to this post!

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  12. Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing. Forgiveness takes super-human strength sometimes but you are really freeing yourself when you find that power. I hope your brothers can find it like you have. Blessings to you!

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  13. You are so right that forgiving doesn't have to mean forgetting or saying what someone did was "OK." I'm glad you came to this place in your life, so that you can truly be released from all that she did to you. I hope your brother is able to come to that point some day. Difficult times for your family I'm sure, but I"m glad you were all able to stick together. It does seem that your mother had a mental illness; that kind of treatment is not right.

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Thanks for stopping by. I love your comments...I get all warm inside just reading them!