Alexander Pope famously said, “to err is human, to forgive divine,” a phrase that residents of Manchester and elsewhere may find inspiring or perhaps frustrating, especially those receiving hospice care.
The act of forgiveness is something that’s recommended and encouraged by many mental health professionals as well as many major religions, but can be challenging or even feel impossible sometimes if someone has been hurt by someone else in the past and is still hanging onto that pain, whether it occurred recently or decades ago.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice often has discussions with our clients about forgiveness.
Some clients, at the end of their life, may want to take the effort to make things right with their family or other loved ones with who they may have grievances before it’s too late. But they don’t always know where or how to start.
They may not want to end their life with pain or estrangement with friends or family from the past on their conscience and know that they have limited time to do something about it.
It can be extra challenging if there’s mutual bad blood – the person they want to forgive could have their own grievances or similar emotional burdens they’ve been carrying. Family dynamics can be especially challenging, especially with slights or miscommunications that can go back decades, even into childhood, with both parties feeling offended and growing more and more distant over the years.
We don’t tell people that they are required to forgive others before it’s too late, and we don’t know how sincere someone’s intentions are. But if a client does ask questions about forgiveness, we’re happy to give advice or point them in the direction of different resources.
Some strategies include:
- You need to take the initiative. Hoping that someone else will reach out to have this discussion before it’s too late may not happen as much as you want it to. So, you may have to make the contact even it may feel a little frightening to reach out if a lot of time has passed.
- Don’t expect it to be easy. A conversation doesn’t have to start with “I forgive you” or “Can you forgive me?” And it might not even get to these specific words either. But you could still have a mutually satisfying discussion with someone from your past who may have been wrong or may have wronged you. Simply enjoying good times together and agreeing to move forward positively, even with little time, may be as good as it gets.
- Have a group. One-on-one time with someone with who you have had challenges might be difficult and the other person may have their own concerns about wanting to do that either. Instead, consider having everyone together, such as family members or friends from the past. If you’re relatively comfortable with everyone you can even share your feelings at once. This could be an opportunity for everyone in the group to share with each other, apologize for any past problems, and ultimately become closer together. It’s too bad it takes someone at the end of their life to draw people together, but it could be a good feeling.
- Put it in writing, even if someone is there in person. It can be challenging to speak clearly about past pains and unhappiness that have gone on for years, especially if the other person is right there. So, it might be easier and less demanding to write your thoughts down. This could lead to different conversations.
- Ask a neutral third party to help. If you and the other person from your past are both hesitating, it might take the help of someone familiar with both of you who can bring people together. They may be able to help manage any conversations but they can get people together.
- It doesn’t have to be conditional. Adding “I’ll forgive you if X” to any statement will reduce some of its impact. It requires the other person to share, something they may not feel comfortable doing.
Value in trying less
It’s easy, after trying to get together after years of separation, to declare victory. But being able to forgive or be returned can lead to all sorts of feelings.
The Mayo Clinic admits that it is easy to create and hold onto a past grudge. But being able to forgive has its advantage. It can lead to better relationships with others, less anxiety, and better mental health overall. Benefits can also include fewer risk factors of depression, better heart health, and an overall stronger immune system.
Having that off your chest can be satisfying.
For those interested in learning more about forgiving, Global Forgiveness Day takes place every July 7. It’s an opportunity for people to know how to let go of some of their burdens and start setting things right.