To forgive may be divine but, for us mere mortals, is the divine even possible? Should all things be forgivable or is there a line that can’t be crossed? A line we can’t come back from? Are there things that are simply unforgivable? Do I really need to forgive to move on or can I move on without forgiving the person for what they’ve done?
So many questions and I have even more. I could write two thousand words and every sentence would end with a question mark. When it comes to forgiveness, my questions are endless and I think it’s one subject I’ve devoted a lot my personal time too. I’ve looked for answers. Read a number of books from so-called experts and some religious figures. I’ve struggled to make peace with this subject because it has me split between two minds.
One mind firmly believes in forgiving and letting go but some things are easier to forgive than others. Some wrongs can be made right with apologetic words or acts of penance. Forgiveness, in these circumstances, comes quick and easy. They’re sorry for what they did, they won’t do it again, and so I let it go. Life’s too short to hold on to petty grudges.
But when it’s not petty? When the pain inflected is too deep to simply brush it off? When it’s something that changes our whole lives in a profoundly traumatizing way? This is where my thoughts diverge.
I don’t know if everyone deserves forgiveness. I don’t know if every act can be forgiven. Especially when the betrayal, or act of cruelty, damages our physical and mental wellbeing so much that we’ll never fully recover. Our lives have been shattered into so many pieces; we’ll never put ourselves back together. In these circumstances, forgiveness feels impossible and it feels unjustifiable.
For the most part, I believe that life is too short to hold onto grudges, and I’m too lazy to dig up the past. It takes too much effort and manual labour isn’t my forte. What’s done is done. We’re good now. It’s okay. People make mistakes and you were decent enough to apologize. I respect that and, being a screw up as well, I appreciate how hard it was to own up but you did. Good on ya. Can we forget about it now?
However, there’s one thing I can’t forget, I can’t move on, and I’m struggling to forgive. It’s not something I can laugh about later or shrug off like it’s no big deal. It is a big deal. It’s life-changing. It will, one day, be life-ending. It wasn’t just a mistake made by someone who screwed up. This thing, the way he handled the fallout, goes beyond an apology I’ve never received.
Honestly, at this point, I don’t even know if an apology would matter all that much. Which is good because I’ll never, ever, get one.
I have an illness called Chronic Renal Failure. In simple terms: My kidneys don’t work. I’ve talked about this before, briefly. Brought it up in passing and moved on. My diagnosis, the event that started it all, was something that could have been prevented. Everything that’s happened over the last thirty-plus years? None of it had to happen. I didn’t have to go through everything I’ve gone through. The surgeries, scars, physical, and psychological trauma. None of it had to happen, but one man’s mistake triggered an avalanche.
When I was three, doctors discovered one small problem. Urine was traveling the wrong way. Instead of going from the kidneys down to the bladder, it was going back up into the kidneys. It can cause a lot of damage if it isn’t treated but it is treatable. The doctors decided that surgery was my best option so that’s what we did. Actually, small correction, it was supposed to be the best option but the surgeon made a mistake and blood clots formed. Now, the urine produced by my kidneys couldn’t go anywhere. It stayed in the kidneys and the damage was catastrophic.
The biggest mistake, in my opinion, wasn’t made in the operating room. Despite everything that’s happened, I know that doctors are human and human beings make mistakes. They lose focus. They get tired. Medical professionals work long hours in a very demanding profession and sometimes the pressure is too much. Sometimes they make mistakes and I understand that no one is perfect. I get it and I can forgive a tired, overworked, person who tried their best.
In my case, however, the real mistake was made in the doctors’ office. I was sent home to recover, but I didn’t get better. I was in a lot of pain, and my condition got worse. My parents took me to the surgeon and asked him to help me. They wanted him to take a look and figure out why I was in so much pain and why I wasn’t healing.
He didn’t take a look, he told them that healing takes time, and sent us home. My mom’s a nurse, she has the training and the knowledge, and she knew something wasn’t right. She took me back and, once again, the doctor refused to help. He called my mom neurotic and pointed out the medical hierarchy. She was a nurse and a mother. He was a doctor, a surgeon. How dare she question his position or his skill?
Luckily for me, my mom isn’t a pushover and she called a friend who’s a radiologist. An ultrasound was done and the problem was found. I was rushed into surgery, and the blockage was removed but the damage was done. My kidneys wouldn’t recover, and I was diagnosed with a life-threatening chronic illness.
I know you’re going to ask, a lot of people already have, and no we didn’t file a lawsuit. It was a different time, in a different country, and there weren’t the same levels of recourse that we have here in Canada. Besides, what would it have done? Money can’t buy a life back. It can’t undo a life-changing diagnosis. It wouldn’t erase the mistake or nullify the consequences I would have to face. It wouldn’t change the future that was waiting for me.
A future that’s included hundreds of surgeries, thousands of hours spent in hospitals, millions of needles, and decades of relentless pain. I’ve been clinically dead five times. That means that my heart stopped beating, my chest stopped rising, and there were no signs of life. I was gone, and my parents almost buried their child. My brother almost lost his sister. My grandparents almost lost their grandchild. I was almost laid to rest in a small coffin.
My body is covered in scars, which I don’t mind all that much, but the pain that lingers has gotten old. Because of the renal failure, I developed a lot of secondary conditions. Renal osteodystrophy, a type of bone disease, damaged my joints and made walking very difficult. The bone disease has cleared, but the damage hasn’t. Today, as I’m writing this, my joints are inflamed and I’m having trouble getting around. I’m limping a lot and groaning every time I force my knees to bend.
My heart doubled in size and for a while, the doctors thought I’d need a new heart as well as a kidney but, mercifully, the swelling went down. I do have an arrhythmia that’s potentially life-threatening. It’s stopped my heart a few times but we’ve already talked about that. I have an implanted cardiac defibrillator in my chest, with wires going into my heart. You can’t see it, it’s under the skin, but it’s there to keep my heart beating just in case it decides to take another break.
Seizures, vision problems, and three kidney transplants over thirty years. At this point, when it comes to listing my medical history, it’s easier to tell you what works. Apparently my liver is in remarkable good condition. The radiologist called it a sexy liver which was a little creepy but hey, you do you BooBoo.
One mistake and my life was devastated. He took everything from me. My body, my future, my life. Because of him, I’ll always be in pain. Because of him, I can’t have kids. Because of him, my mind has been shattered by one trauma after another. Because of him, my life won’t be a long one. Because of him my family, the people I love, have had to suffer in ways I can’t even begin to imagine.
Because of him…
I have a very long list of things he took from me and my family. Some of them I’ve made peace with but I’m still grieving the loss of others. How can one person take so much from someone else? How can one person hurt someone else that much? How do I even begin to forgive him for something that’s unforgivable?
I know that forgiveness isn’t for the perpetrator. It doesn’t set them free or absolve them of their sins. Absolution, I believe, is between the person and their God. A God that knows their heart, the true level of their repentance, and who’s far more divine than us mere mortals.
Forgiveness is for the one who’s been hurt. Pain, in all its forms, is a prison that keeps us locked inside ourselves. It keeps us in and life out. Joy, happiness, contentment…All the pretty feelings we want so desperately to feel. The pain stops us from feeling anything.
For me, it makes me feel numb and disengaged from my own body. Forget about connecting with anyone else! I can’t even connect with my own thoughts, feelings, or desires. I can’t feel anything but the pain and I don’t want to feel that. So I shut down and shut out the world because the pain is too much and I just can’t handle it anymore.
But, by doing that, I’m letting him take one more thing from me and how much more does he get to take?
Forgiving him for what he did to me, to my family, isn’t setting him free. I’m setting myself free. I’m taking back what’s mine. I’m not allowing him to take one more thing from me. I’m standing up and saying enough is enough. Forgiveness will mean that I’m choosing to let go of the pain and step out into the bright, sunny, day.
Which sounds lovely but, to be completely honest, isn’t something I’ve totally mastered. I’d love to sit here and tell you how I’ve forgiven him for what he did. In a picture-perfect world, I’d tell you it’s done and I’m happier for it. Is this the part of the story where I lay out an easy five-step plan to forgiveness? If there’s one thing I won’t do to you, it’s lie.
So here’s the truth.
As I’m writing this, I’ve cycled through anger, grief, and a little bit of resentment. I’ve clenched and unclenched my fists multiple times. I’m swallowing back tears as I type these words. I’m hurt. I’m sad. He hurt me. He stole my life. He got to go and live his life as if nothing happened. All the while, I’ve spent my life in hospitals and operating rooms. It’s not right. What he did wasn’t right. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully forgive him for hurting me.
However, I think I’ve mostly forgiven him for what he did because there are days when I think about what he did, and I don’t feel the pain. There are more and more moments when I feel an acceptance of the situation and I’m content to let his actions live in the past. What is done, is done and I don’t want to be a prisoner to it anymore. I need to forgive so that I can enjoy whatever life I have left.
I used to think that once I’d forgiven him then that would be it. It would be over. I could move on. But some wrongs are too painful and too life-shattering to just forgive and they can’t be forgotten. It doesn’t mean we can’t forgive them, we can, but it’s something that will take time and practise because forgiveness isn’t linear.
There isn’t a beginning, middle, and an end. I’ve made the decision to forgive, and I’ve grieved, I’ve been angry and then I’ve moved on. But something happens and the pain resurfaces. I feel anger and resentment. I want to put my fist through that bastard’s face. I want to make him suffer like I’ve suffered but I can’t. I need to live. I want to live so I decide, one more time, to forgive.
Around and around I go but the journey doesn’t take as long as it used to take. It’s like walking a well-worn path. It’s not easy. Most of the trail is uphill but at least I’m not bushwhacking. I know the way. I don’t get as turned around. Yes, I get tired and have to take some breaks but then I get up and keep moving. More importantly, I know I can make it to the top and once I’m there, I’ll have a moment of peace.
One more question but this one has an answer. Can we forgive the unforgivable? Yes, but only we can decide if, or when, we’re ready to forgive. No one else can make that choice for us or force us into it. It’s personal. It’s painful. It’s liberating but we have to be ready to put in the work.
I’m going to say this one more time because it’s a point that often gets lost. I’m not choosing to forgive that doctor for his sake, to set him free, or give him a free ride. That’s between him and his God. I’m choosing to forgive because I want to be free. I want to live my life, what’s left of it, free from the pain of his mistake because this is my life. I’m still alive, I’m still here, I can still make the most of it.
It’s not the life I would’ve chosen, maybe it’s not the life I should be living, but it’s mine. He doesn’t get to take any more of it. I’m taking my life back, and it starts with me saying three very hard, very heavy, words: I forgive you.