Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

I quietly moved the hospital sheet away from his face and gently tucked his blanket around him. It wasn’t that he was aware that I was there. It was to give me something to do while I sat watched him die.

The life support had been pulled. He was wheeled into a private room with a window, a bed, and a metal folding chair. The chair was for me. I asked for a cot. One appeared within minutes. I wasn’t going to leave until he was gone.

He had been asleep for over 24 hours. It was just a matter of a day or two before he was gone. I sat night and day in the metal chair that I pulled up next to him and said nothing. There wasn’t anything left to say and yet there were a million things to say. I did not know what else to do except to sit and wait.

Once in a while a nurse would come in and check on me. Sometimes they brought me something to eat but mostly I would dash down to the cafeteria and grab a sandwich with a cup of coffee. I drank it black when they ran out of cream. I would stare at my watch when they were closed and counted the minutes until the cafeteria would be open again.

He had a brain injury he would never recover from. I had loved him since the day I was born. He was my brother, my protector, and my friend. Letting him go peacefully was the greatest gift I could give him and the I resented it. I resented that he had been hurt. I resented that he would never wake-up again and laugh and tickle me. I resented that I had to sit there by myself with nobody to talk to. I resented him dying and I resented that there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

For three days, I remembered everything I could about him. All our conversations, laughs, arguments, food fights, vacations and his relentless assurances that I was fine. I remember how angry he would make me and how horribly he would embarrass me when the grilled any boy picking me up for a date. It got so bad that I arranged to meet them down the street. He felt it was his duty and obligation to let them know that if anything happened to me, they would have to answer to him.

Those memories filled my heart and mind with tenderness and tears.

On the third day, knowing this was the day he would pass away, I had fallen asleep with my head on his bed. He had not moved for two days and the process was beginning. I slept lightly but exhaustion had taken its toll and I was in a deep sleep when I felt something brush my head. I thought I was dreaming and ignored it. I didn’t want to sleep but I also didn’t want to wake-up.

I felt it again. My head shot up. I felt a kink in my neck and rubbed it. I looked around the room. I wasn’t sure where I was for a moment. I looked down and him.

His eyes were open and he was staring at me.

I didn’t understand what was happening. The doctors had told us he was paralyzed, so who had touched my head?

“Hi,” I said. I had no idea what to say or what was happening.

He smiled. He tried to talk but no words came out. This was impossible. He was paralyzed from the neck down.

I leaned over and put my ear as close to his mouth. I held my breath.

“I love you,” he said and closed his eyes. I grabbed his hand and squeezed it as hard as I could. I stayed like that for an hour, still not believing what had happened.

“I’m sorry,” I finally said. “I’m sorry for all the times I was mean to you. I’m sorry I stole your toys and hid them and made you mad. I’m sorry this is happening and I’m sorry I can’t do anything about it.”

I felt him squeeze my hand. I started to cry. I thought that if I didn’t let go of his hand, he would live. It didn’t make sense but I was convinced of it. I held it tight all afternoon,

A nurse came in to check on us. She smiled and pulled my chair over to me as if she understood that I couldn’t let go and therefore couldn’t sit down.

I sat down and nodded her my thanks. She checked his vitals even though it was pointless. It was no longer a matter of days; it was a matter of moments.

She quietly left. The door closed and his eyes opened again. He looked around for a moment and saw me. I stood up again and smiled down at him.

“Don’t be sorry,” he whispered. I leaned over again and listened. “You’ve done nothing wrong,” he said. He closed his eyes and was gone.

I said nothing about it. I knew no one would believe me because it was physically and medically impossible for it to happen, but it did. I kept our secret.

He forgave me to lessen my burden. He did it for me and not for him. That was the greatest gift he could give me.

Weeks later, the pain was not less but I was learning to manage it. My family grieved but we tried to cope because there was nothing else to do. We carried on and pushed forward.

His last words were all about forgiveness and acceptance. Teaching me to forgive myself and acceptance of something that no one could change.

I honor him by forgiving myself when I am being my worst critic. I honor him by forgiving others when they have made a mistake because I know we all do the best we can with what we have. That includes me.

Years later as I was walking down a hospital corridor to visit a friend, a man came around the corner suddenly and bumped into me. He startled me because I had been walking with my head down, once again deep in my own thoughts of failure and anxiety about a mistake I had recently made.

I apologized as I stepped back and started to walk around him. felt his hand on my arm. I looked up and gasped. He had my brother’s eyes and smile. He could have been his twin except for his blonde hair. My brother had black hair.

“It’s OK. Everything is fine and he’s good,” he said and walked away.

I leaned against the wall to catch my breath. I had a million questions for that stranger, but knew to not question what had just happened and to accept it for what it was — something I can’t explain but believe nonetheless.

I once again felt my burden leave and love for myself return.

I smiled and continued to walk down the corridor with my head up and a light heart.

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I thought of a million reasons, but the look on his face told me to keep quiet.

He gave me a slight smile born of apathy and grief. I was looking at a lost and destroyed soul. He looked away, rubbed his eyes and stared at his lap.

The room had become silent as if there was an absence of time and space. I looked up and they all either had their heads down or were looking away.

What had I stepped into and how do I get out of it?

I cleared my throat and gently put my hand on his arm. He pulled it back slightly but not completely.

“Gary, what are you talking about?”

He shook his head, coughed and leaned back in his chair and looked at me. His eyes were crystal blue and shiny from his tears. He was holding them back and struggling.

I didn’t know whether to push forward or leave it alone.

“Susan, what you have been saying and teaching us in these classes is good. Very good, but on this point, I cannot do it. Not now and not ever. I don’t deserve to be forgiven for what I did. If I don’t deserve it then how can I do it myself? Nah, not gonna happen. Can we change the subject now?”

I was there to help these men with their future. In order to have a brighter future, one must atone for the past and once done, put it behind them and figure out today.  Teaching and talking was crucial to learning but must also be done on one’s own determinism.

There was such destitution in his eyes; I decided to leave it alone. If he wanted to talk about it, I would listen. Until then, I decided to carry on with the class.

He sat quietly for the next half hour. He didn’t look at anyone and continued to stare at the table. The rest of the men read and chatted about what they were learning, what they thought about it and how it applied to them.

The laughter came back into the room for everyone but Gary. He was as still and silent as a stone. I could not keep my attention off of him.

Towards the end of the class as I was wrapping it up, Gary raised his hand.

“I have a question,” he said.

“Go right ahead,” I said. I felt some relief that he was talking again.

“Do you think there are some things that you can never make up the damage for?”

I knew this was a loaded question. The room got quiet again. There was something these men knew about Gary that I did not.

“I suppose so. Murder, for one thing, comes to mind.”

“What if you hurt someone and you didn’t mean to?”

He wanted to go somewhere with this. I knew this was thin ice for him. No one was interrupting him or participating in the topic. All the men were deferring to him for some reason.

“I think we’ve all done that…”

“Yeah, but have you ever murdered your own child?” he asked. He was looking directly at me.

There it was.

“No, I have not. I have never killed anyone.”

He nodded as an acknowledgement of my honesty.

“I was drunk one night and had my kid in the car. I crashed. She died. There isn’t a second since then that I don’t wish and pray to be dead. It should have been me.”

I did not know how to respond. I did not know what to say, so I just looked at him. He braced himself for my wrath and judgment. I had none. I only felt a great sorrow that went into my bones.

He put his head back down. I stepped forward and put my hand under his chin and forced him to look at me.

“I have no words for you,” was all I could think to say.

“Do you hate me now? Do you want me to leave because I am the most despicable person in this room? If so, I will leave and I will understand. No hard feelings.”

This man was in his own prison and always would be. There wasn’t anything else anyone could do to him that would punish him more than he already had. He would until the day he died. That was apparent by just looking at him.

“No, of course not. You can stay. I just wish I knew what to say.”

“Just don’t ask me to forgive myself. I never will.”

I nodded.  I wanted him to try to forgive himself, but there are times in life when you have to back down and let things be the way someone else wants them. As pure as your heart may be and as good as your intentions are, some people will always keep themselves in their own prison.

More people than you might realize are in their own prisons of their own making. No need to add to it. Let  them be and just do your best to love them for who they are. There is goodness in all of us.