Forgiveness Series: 4. Forgiving yourself

One of the hardest aspects of grief – as a grieving parent – is forgiving yourself.

Children die every day. And, for every child that has left this world, is a parent left wondering what they did wrong, how they could have prevented it, why they weren’t in their child’s place.

Abi’s death could not have been predicted nor prevented, yet still I wondered what I could have done to save her. If I’d have noticed sooner and taken her to hospital… had she had some injury in her past that may have caused her hemorrhage… or perhaps things I did or didn’t do in the pregnancy and birth affected her. Then there was the guilt of every single time I lost my temper with her, or punished her, or said no to her.

Even, as in my case, where there is very little scope for ‘blame’ or ‘regret’, guilt still found a place in my loss.

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Forgiveness Series: 3. The Fourfold Path of Forgiveness

In The Book of Forgiving, Desmond & Mpho Tutu offer a process called ‘The Fourfold Path’, which helps us to move from a position of anger and resentment to one of forgiveness and (inner and outer) peace.

This part makes up most of the book, but I have outlined the basic elements of the path below:

Telling the story – this is you talking, and talking, and talking, about what has happened – the shock, the pain, the fear, the details. Getting the story out, again and again can help you to process the events and move towards understanding and forgiveness.

It will also help you to ‘own’  the story. I owned the story of how Abi died by talking and writing about her death, in all it’s real and painful detail. Yes, it’s all devastating to hear or to read, but it’s also MY story and will forever be. Talk about your pain – whether that’s a traumatic death, a life-changing medical diagnosis, an offence or abuse – and own your story. Try to do this factually, without the addition of things you thought happened or were in the another person’s mind.

Exercise: Tell your story to your stone, whisper it or shout it, but hear your voice say the words to the person who you want to forgive. Explain why you feel the way you do, talk about how you want to move on from the resentment. Then, when ready, write your story down, the whole thing. Get it out and work through the key points. This will help you to see where the roots of the problem lie. You can always destroy or delete it afterwards. 

Naming the hurt – It is very important to name your hurt. When we bury our true feelings we only seem to suffer even more because of it. Marriages crumble under the weight of unspoken resentments and unacknowledged hurts. When we ignore the pain, it grows and spreads like a tumour that eventually drains us and affects all our relationships.

This happens a lot in grief. After a death, people stop talking about the deceased. No one wants to mention their name because it reminds everyone of the loss, so nothing is ever said, and this silence screams at those most deeply grieving. If you feel angry, admit that – to yourself and maybe others (the authors guide you through this). Put a name to your emotions and they won’t seem so scary and overwhelming.

Exercise:

  1. Hold your stone in your dominant hand. Name out loud a hurt you are feeling. As you name it, clench the stone.
  2. Open your hand. As you release your fist, release the hurt.
  3. Repeat this for each of your hurts.
  4. Write down all the things you have lost and name the feelings that accompany those losses. What does your heart tell you. What is the weight of your loss. Name it so you can heal it.

In my grief, I felt so many emotions. Sometimes they all came at once and led me to feel overwhelmed. Other times, I went through periods of anger, or depression, or anxiety. Recognizing these helped me immensely, and while I still have periods of these feelings, I now know that it is better for me to allow them to happen than to try to bury them because they are too painful.

Granting forgiveness – This is how we move from the position of victim to one of a hero – a hero being someone who takes their pain and uses it to do something awesome like forgive and love others. All of us are human and are all capable of love, hate, beauty, cruelty, indifference and goodness. It would be nice to think there are those who are perfectly good, but that’s just not the case.

It’s easy to say ‘I forgive you’, but incredibly hard to mean it. You’ll know when you do, because you’ll feel able to breathe deeply again, your shoulders will relax and yes, it will feel like a weight has lifted off your shoulders. What you may actually find is that you begin to grow through forgiveness – that spreads to all areas of your life – your past, your relationships, even the person who cuts you up on the motorway…

Exercise:
1. Take your stone and wash it. You have spoken to it, clenched it and now you will cleanse it.
2. Get a bowl of water and dip the stone in three times. Each time you dip the stone in say ‘I forgive you.’
3. Write down what you have lost by not being able to forgive. Write about the person who has harmed you – why do you think they have done what they did? Now write how this experience has made you stronger. Has it helped you grow and show empathy for others? Write your story again, but not as the victim, as the hero. How did you deal with the situation and how will you prevent such harm happening to others?

For a long time after my loss, I felt like the perpetrator in a battle of resentment and anger. Why wasn’t I being forgiving? Why didn’t I forget? Why wasn’t I moving on? This only led me to clam up even more. It became a vicious cycle. I knew that in order to break this cycle I had to open my heart to forgive. Not to ‘make up’ or ‘tolerate’ but to truly forgive. It wasn’t easy, but it did transform my life and my grief.

Renewing or Releasing the Relationship – Having worked through your path to forgiveness, you’re left with a ‘what next?’ You can now decide what will happen to your relationship with the person you have forgiven. You can renew the relationship, using your forgiveness to create a new connection. Or, you can release the relationship, putting the person and the emotions related to them behind you. It is possible to release a relationship and forgive. Forgiveness is not about putting yourself in another vulnerable position. In cases where the perpetrator isn’t asking for your forgiveness or is no longer alive there isn’t a relationship to have. It can take a long while to get to this stage of the process, but when you do it will be immensely beneficial for you and your peace of mind and heart.

Exercise:

  1. Decide whether you want to renew your stone as a thing of beauty (paint it or place it somewhere), or to release it back to nature.
  2. Write down if it was possible to make something beautiful out of what you had. Was it difficult to do this. What did you learn about renewing and releasing?

The final post about forgiveness looks at forgiving yourself.

 

Forgiveness Series: 2. The forgiveness myths

In my first post about forgiveness, I outlined the impact resentment can have on our physical and emotional health and wellbeing.

In the second chapter of The Book of Forgiving, Desmond & Mpho Tutu explain what forgiveness is not. This might seem odd, but there are many things we assume about forgiveness that only add further barriers to our ability to forgive.

Forgiveness is not weakness
We greatly admire people who are forgiving, who seem to move on from their hurt or ‘cope with their loss’. We don’t think they are weak, far from it; we tell them how strong they are, yet somehow, if we forgive, it can feel as though we are giving in, being weak. Forgiveness requires immense strength, but it also offers complete freedom.

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Forgiveness Series: 1. Why forgive?

Grief is a complicated emotion. In the early days, life’s trivialities pale into insignificance. Little disagreements or annoyances fade away as you are thrown into the stark reality that life is precious. Arguing about whose turn it is to put the bins out seems petty and pointless, which of course it is.

However, over time, grief can breed resentment and anger as you try to find your place in this world without your child and try to understand other people’s emotions. You’ve changed, they’ve changed, everything you ever knew has changed.

These feelings are always natural, as I described in my post about the Whirlpool of Grief. However, it is easy to get caught up in the cycle of anger. Once you focus on those feelings, it is hard to move on from them. This leaves you feeling bitter, lonely and hopeless, and others feeling unable to help you or understand you.

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Book review: According to Yes by Dawn French

I chose this book while browsing online. I thought my first book was so successful that I should stay on the comedian-author theme. As a lifelong fan of Dawn French, I didn’t think I could go wrong with According to Yes!

However, I wasn’t actually looking forward to reading the book. Why? Because I was worried I wouldn’t like it. That might sound utterly silly, but I had some of the poorer reviews in my mind that had tainted my excitement. I didn’t want to be let down by the infamously brilliant Dawn French! But, I was committed to reading out of my comfort zone – and making my own mind up – so I got started.

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Book review: Holding by Graham Norton

I like Graham Norton and have been a fan of his since his early career. So when I saw that he’d written a book, published in October 2016, I was intrigued.

I expected it to be another collection of the witty stuff he is known for, or a bit ‘lovey’ and unrealistic, so I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it was more of a darkly comic crime story.

Firstly, I liked that the type was cleanly spaced and not too small, and even better the chapters were short enough to read in a sitting (chapters breaks are important to a busy mum). And it’s clear early on that every word counts; there’s not one line of waffle or fillers. I wanted to thank Graham simply for making my reintroduction to reading so easy!
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The Love to Read Book Club

Inspired by the BBC’s #LovetoRead campaign, and my own reading challenge, I thought that in order to get our children to love books, we, their parents, need to love them too. So, I’ve set up an informal online book club – The Love to Read Book Club – for busy parents, as a way to spark conversation, offer encouragement and support, and give tips and recommendations on books to read.

If this gets just a few friends dusting off a book and reading it then I’ll be a very happy woman, but it would be fantastic if this Club could grow into something that people use to keep their reading going. And, if our children see us with books in our hands occasionally, instead of screens, they may just start to develop a curiosity that leads to a love of books too.

To join the Club, simply send in a few details – there’s no rules or fees or anything like that, it’s purely a social forum that gives us chance to include books in our lives without too much effort. I look forward to hearing about your latest read!

love-to-read

 

These books are made for reading!

I lost my love of books the day my daughter died.

I had a book on the go at the time, I can’t even remember what it was, back in February 2013, it was probably something I’d got for Christmas. But then with a family trauma and the deep and painful grief of the sudden death of my eldest child, all my energy and ‘headspace’ was needed to get through the days.

All of a sudden, reading a story of fiction seemed a completely pointless way to spend time. Why on earth do we waste our precious minutes alive absorbed in a made-up world, about made-up people, doing made-up things, when we have so much to appreciate in real life?

So that was it. I took my beloved book collection to the charity shop knowing I could never bring myself to look at them again. They reminded me all too painfully of the time when I lived carefree, of the time when I could just ‘pick up a book’ and get lost in the stories, to care about the characters and feel the ‘book grief’ as I finished a particularly good one. They reminded me that my life was now forever changed. My perspective smashed and put back together in a different pattern.
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Book review: Through the eyes of a lion, Levi Lusko

I was contacted by the publicist in Nashville, Tennessee, for the pastor and author Levi Lusko, to review a copy of his first book, Through the eyes of a lion.

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The press release said:

‘On December 20, 2012, five-year-old Lenya Lusko went to heaven while in her parents’ arms after a massive, unexpected asthma attack. With a ferocious personality and hair that had been wild and mane-like since birth, they called her ‘Lenya Lion’. But a few days before Christmas, Levi and Jennie Lusko had to leave the hospital without their vibrant daughter.

After Lenya’s death, Levi had to make a choice – one that anyone going through dramatic events has to make – to give up or to live. In Through the eyes of a lion, Levi explains why he chose to live, and not just survive – but live with the fire and passion that comes from acknowledging that there is more in this life than what can be seen with the naked eye.’

One afternoon, I had a few hours to myself so I decided to start the book. I couldn’t put it down! In fact, I got a highlighter out and highlighted sections that reached out to me most. I read the book in two sittings, which is pretty impressive as reading for ‘pleasure’ for any length of time has been hard for me since Abi died. I have only managed an hour at most. It even inspired this post which I shared about my faith.

There was much about the story which resonated with me. From the way Lenya died so suddenly. That her parents were with her when she passed. That she was one of four children. And that Levi encourages us to see life with fresh eyes – to see what has been invisible to us until now.

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