How to Forgive The Person You Hate, When it’s You
Is forgetting even possible?
“It’s your fault your mother’s dead.”
His words hung around my neck like a noose. What I didn’t know at the time was that he also blamed my brothers as well. In fact, his own guilt caused my dad to blame whomever he could.
My mom called me the night she was sick from the other room. Or at least that’s what my brother told me. I had just talked to her so I convinced myself he was lying and I chose not to get up from the couch.
Instead I fell asleep. I made that decision for sleep.
The next morning when I awoke, still on the couch, I heard a conversation that will always stay with me.
“Dad, you’ve got to do something. Something’s wrong with her.”
“She’ll be okay,” my dad said, trying to convince himself.
But Gus would not be convinced. Mom’s doctor was called and finally the ambulance. We watched them roll out our mom on a gurney. Her eyes open wide and scared.
Two days later we said our final goodbyes.
More to the story
We all process grief differently and when you’re a kid, you don’t have the tools necessary to ease the pain. Sometimes it’s just easier to get angry, to blame someone.
A month after our mom died my brother decided to bring up that night.
“Dad, remember that night when mom was sick?”
My dad looked up from the sandwich he was eating.
“Did you know mom called Anne and Anne didn’t go?”
My whole world stopped that very moment. My dad’s eyes narrowed as he pointed his finger at me and said,
“It’s your fault your mother is dead.”
I had been struggling to work through my mom’s death. Being only sixteen at the time made it so hard. She was the one who would help us, and she was gone. But adding guilt on top of my unprocessed grief was too much to bear. Within moments the tears just flowed.
I don’t remember any other words exchanged between my dad and me, but from then on, I started stuttering when I thought about that moment, whenever I even thought about my dad.
I ended up moving out. There wasn’t enough room in our house for my dad, my siblings and all my guilt.
For years, I let the guilt grow and keep me from seeing him. Then one day my sister called.
“Anne, Dad is dying of cancer. You need to come and see him.”
“I — I — I can’t,” I stammered.
But Peggy continued. “You know, you already regret not going to mom that night. Don’t do it again.”
What she said about my regret kept silencing anything else I had been thinking. I hated that she was right.
And so I went. Walking into his hospital room, his face lit up,
“Annie,” he called out. “You came! But why do you look so mad?”
“It was NOT my fault that she died,” I said.
And he responded, “I know.”
I was ticked that he knew and never said anything about it, but the truth was, you can’t talk to someone you don’t see. Someone who wouldn’t call or visit. Someone who cut themselves out of your life.
I was fortunate. My dad apologized for not being a good dad to me. I was the only one of us five siblings to ever hear the only apology he ever made.
And that day I forgave him, kissing his cheek. The next day he died.
I was 24 years old and had buried both my mom and my dad.
One more person to forgive
I forgave dad. I forgave mom for dying and leaving us. But there was one person I could not forgive — me.
It would have only taken a moment and I could’ve saved myself from years of regret. Regret turns into bitterness and resentment. And that’s just what mine did.
Before long I hated me. I mean, how can you like someone who doesn’t even go when her mom calls her? What kind of person does that?
The more I thought about it, the more I hated me. Grudge-building was an art I had mastered. The only problem with grudges is you never really know how long to hold onto them.
I had gotten good at storing my grudges. Storing them keeps them fresh for years.
I would fold mine up and put them in little zip-loc bags. And when I wanted to think about them I would take them out and relive them.
Fingering each offense would just cause my hatred to grow. And I was convinced I would never forgive myself. And I knew I’d never forget.
I remember it so clearly. I had made friends with Connie, a nurse. I’m not sure when the conversation got to my mom’s stroke but she said, “You know, even if you had gone to her, there was probably nothing you could have done.”
Those words seeped inside my guilt-ridden mind like a salve into a wound.
I had never considered the possibility that maybe it wasn’t my fault. After all, dad thought so, Gus thought so. And more importantly, I thought so. Until that day. My closed mind opened just a little bit and that’s all I needed.
In order to forgive ourselves, we need to tell ourselves the truth:
The truth was:
I was NOT to blame for my mom’s death.
Even if I had gone to her, it might not have changed the outcome.
God alone holds the keys to life and death.
I’m not going to tell you once I forgave myself everything was fine. No. It took a long time. Counseling helped me change my thoughts. Our thoughts affect our actions and our actions determine our behaviors.
I wrote out affirmations which I learned are helpful when you’re trying to change your thoughts.
It was not my fault my mother died
Over and over, I wrote those words letting them sink into my guilty mind.
Little by little, I began to give myself grace. I started seeing good things about myself. Things that were buried under all the years of self-blame.
One day I wrote out the affirmation:
I have the right to make mistakes.
The more I wrote those words, the freer I became.
Forgiving ourselves is one of the hardest things because we expect ourselves to be perfect. It’s not possible, but we still hold onto it.
I knew I developed that wrong thinking in my family of origin, but although that’s when I learned it, no longer could it be my excuse.
Joyce Meyer once said, “Don’t let your reasons become your excuses.”
Adults get to make their own choices. I could make good choices.
So I chose to forgive me.
And life became easier. Because hating yourself takes a lot of energy.
I learned how to look into the mirror and repeat things that were true:
You are a good person.
You have the right to enjoy your life.
The more I worked on it, the more I got to know me. And the more I gave myself grace, the more I relaxed.
Forgiveness is hard. Forgiving yourself feels impossible. But nothing is impossible with God.
And before you think that I probably forgave myself when I learned about God’s forgiveness, the truth is, it was much later.
I learned that holding onto my anger was saying to God, I know you died for all my sins, but not this one. This is unforgivable.
But that’s not true. When Jesus died, he died for ALL my sins, or NONE of them. And the same is true about you.
Did I forget?
Sometimes we tell ourselves that we can’t forgive because we know we’ll never forget an offense. That’s not true. You can forgive and still remember. God is the only one who said, “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”
If you’re wondering if I have ever forgotten what I did? The answer is No. And that’s okay.
But I will tell you this. It sure doesn’t sting like it did. And I’m so glad about that.
You should really consider forgiving yourself. It IS possible.
Call to Action:
Can you recall someone you are angry with?
Were you able to forgive them?
If you are angry with yourself, do you think you’ll ever forgive you?
I would love to hear from you.
Life is hard, so I write words to make it softer.
Download my free eBook, Helping Someone in Grief: 17 Things You Need to Know