Life Lessons in Forgiveness

One of the gifts of working with the dying is that they teach us how to live. When faced with a serious, lifethreatening illness, the majority of people realize that the most important aspects of life are about relationships with family, community, God and with oneself. When things are good in each of those areas, it is sad to think of letting go. However, there is also a feeling of satisfaction and gratitude for having known the goodness of healthy relationships. In any relationship there are ups and downs. So, it is truly a gift when you can sit with a dying person and hear them say that they have had a pretty good life.

One of the saddest things to experience or observe, is the spiritual pain of alienation and estrangement. This pain, caused by unresolved matters, can create anger and bitterness with families or persons who are facing death. Richard Groves, a highly respected teacher of the sacred art of dying and co-author of The American Book of Dying says,”The experience of spiritual pain is related to one of four timeless qualities: 1) Meaning, 2) Forgiveness, 3) Relatedness, 4) Hopelessness.” He says that “forgiveness pain could be called the common cold of spiritual pain.”

In hospice, the team of nurses, social workers, chaplains, home health aides, and volunteers are privileged to serve as companions to the dying and their caregivers.They invite us to assist them to live as comfortably as possible, for as long as possible.We witness firsthand the beauty of harmonious relationships, as well as the devastation that occurs when relationships are broken and in need of forgiveness.

It is a beautiful thing, to bear witness to a daughter lovingly tell her dying father who she has not seen in twenty year. While there is peace for both the father and daughter at the end, there is also regret. One wonders why they could not have made peace earlier, and restored the relationship sooner.

Families, relationships, and life are often complicated and messy. There are many lessons in observing and companioning people through the messy and complicated issues at the end of life. Most people on hospice teams will tell you that although it is hard at times, they love their work. For the most part it is rich and rewarding, and the human documents that we get to read, study, and befriend are fascinating.

Most of us prefer to have harmony in our relationships, so it can be difficult at times to understand why achieving that peace does not come more easily. We have all been hurt at some point in our lives, and every day we have choices about what to do with those hurts. Forgiveness and letting go is not easy it is, in fact, one of the hardest things we ever have to do. Forgiveness is a process, and it involves some hard steps. Sometimes, even when we want to forgive, or be forgiven, it does not come easily. Unfortunately, forgiveness comes with a cost, and we have to let go of something in order to be forgiven, or to forgive. For whatever reason, we can get attached to our grudges, preferring to be offended and haughty about certain injustices that seem inappropriate and unforgivable.

Strangely enough, the hardest one to forgive is often oneself. Life beats up on us to some degree, we make mistakes, and then we beat up on ourselves. Often times we will offer forgiveness more easily than we receive it. The act of forgiveness requires awareness, attention, desire, intention, perseverance and sometime repetitiveness.

Forgiveness is a universal characteristic, and if practiced in big and small ways around the world in every culture, language, religion and tradition might lead to world peace. Certainly we could begin with our own family and community preferably before we, or someone we love is diagnosed with a terminal illness. May peace be with us all.

For further information contact Chaplain Donna J.Vande Kieft at Providence Hospice of Snohomish County Everett,Washington 425-210-4429