July 24, 2018
You must forgive
Twenty years ago, as the realization set in that I was facing life alone as a single mother, I stood on the brink of utter despair, feeling a darkness and emptiness that was suddenly tangible. I wept constantly for days and weeks. I began to question my place in this thing called life and I felt a severe pain unlike anything I had experienced before. My memories are so vivid and intense on the one hand, and far away and vague on the other hand. For years, it felt as if I was watching an extremely dramatic movie of someone else’s life.
The first Sunday after everything happened, I sat in church and listened to gospel truths and heartfelt testimonies. Where previously I would have felt such joy and renewal of the soul to hear the good tidings of the gospel, now every word felt like a knife going through my heart. I began to feel like an outsider looking in on the things that had been the most precious to me. And yet, my faith was still strong and my testimony was secure. I knew that I still believed in God, my Heavenly Father, and I knew, even more than ever before, that Jesus Christ was my Savior and Redeemer. Yes, my belief and my testimony were still deep in my soul, but I began to feel so off balance. I felt as if I was just out of reach of those truths that were so deep inside me. And then I began to feel numb. At some point I realized that I was in a state of shock. One minute I would be in such massive emotional pain that I couldn’t breathe, and the next minute I was not feeling anything at all. It was a roller coaster of extreme proportions.
I remember looking at my children sitting next to me on the second row of the chapel and saying to myself, “Why me? Why us? Why my family?” I wanted to scream and yell and stomp my feet all at the same time. And most people don’t know that I really did scream and yell and stomp my feet, usually when no one was around. I used to stare at my beautiful children and wonder how we got to this point.
As I worked through my pain, I nonetheless tried to fill their days with joy and laughter as we continued to play inside and outside the house, go on walks, shoot basketball hoops, hit baseballs, throw footballs, go to the park, and experience life as we always had. I worked so hard to keep life as normal as possible.
When I met with my loving and caring bishop that first Sunday, I said with complete honesty, and through a mountain of tears, “Bishop, I cannot do this. How am I going to do this? I need help. I cannot do this alone.” The bishop took me at my word, and within a few days he had referred me to LDS Family Services to receive some personal counseling. My bishop was a true shepherd in Israel, as he made sure that my children and I were taken care of in our temporal needs. He was also a wellspring of counsel and support for our spiritual needs. He looked me square in the eye that first Sunday and gave me some spiritual counsel that to this day has impacted my life. I can still hear his words: “Nancy, you must forgive. I’m not telling you that you must forgive today, or tomorrow, or even next week. But someday you must forgive John.”
It was a simple statement, said with Christlike love and sincerity. I knew the truth of his words to me as he spoke them. I didn’t know how I would ever forgive John. But I knew that the Savior was asking that of me. That counsel became a pillar of responsibility on the horizon of my future. It actually gave me strength and direction. I knew the truth of the principle of forgiveness, and I knew that the Savior was asking me to forgive someday, when I was ready. Even though I knew it was a journey, I soon learned that it was, in fact, a monumental journey. As I certainly didn’t feel it then, or necessarily want to feel it at that point, it still remained an ever-present truth in my life. And it actually gave me comfort to know that someday I would be able to forgive. I had to believe that with everything I had. I had to find the determination to believe it, that I was capable of forgiving, of letting go. That was my hope. And my faith in Christ helped me as I moved along in that journey.
As time passed, I learned to let go of some of the anger and hurt, some of the frustration and pain. But it would come and go in waves. Some days I felt as if I had arrived at that heavenly place of peace, and then on other days, I realized how human I really was. I believe in my heart that I traveled along that path quite a distance. And though there were detours, and setbacks, and roadblocks along the way, I do believe that most of the time I was moving forward. At times my pace was steady and sure, and at other times I have barely moved at all, and still at other times, my engine has stalled. And yes, there have been times when I have jumped ship. But when I realize I am swimming in turbulent waters, and when I am ready to go back, then I swim back to shore and get going again.
With John’s passing last year, I moved forward in my journey of letting go of the hurt and anger, of learning to forgive, and of feeling peace. I was completely caught off guard when he cried out toward the end of his mortal journey, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry…” In all of these years, he had expressed his sorrow and regret very few times. And yet, in that moment of his despair, I truly felt everything would be okay. There were no other words in my heart that I could express. Somehow, I finally felt his remorse. It was as if the glimpse of heaven was waiting for him, and began shining its light into his soul. And with that, heaven also shined its light on me.