Family and Forgiveness

Merriam-Webster defines family as “a group of individuals living under one roof,” or, “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children.” Those definitions seem vague and unemotional. I don’t know about you, but when I think of family, I think of a Norman Rockwell painting and all of the feelings it evokes…the good and the bad feelings of family. I love the thought of family with all of the warmth and love that goes with it. I know it takes more than just love to make a family. It takes hard work, communication and understanding and from there comes the love. I live for building least until recently. Recently, I screwed up the most important thing to me ~ my family.

I lived to build this family bigger, better, stronger. When I married Stan I was excited to be a part of something so much bigger than I was. He is the oldest of four boys. I had one, much older, brother. I always wanted to be in the middle of a big, giant family. It took me years to get there…years of work and tears and feeling on the outside. Finally, I made it through to the middle. I felt the love and had the big, warm family I always wanted. It was my heart’s greatest desire. I had it and I threw it all away. Not intentionally but it’s gone, just the same.

Last May was Claire’s First Communion. We threw a party for her, inviting family and friends galore. It was our weekend to celebrate with her and celebrate her growing up just a little. She was in heaven. The day got even better for her when Stan’s brother and his fiancee asked her to be a flower girl in their upcoming wedding. She was on cloud nine.

Stan’s brother and his fiancee went on to ask all of the brothers and my two sons to be part of their wedding. Not me. I was the only one of the family, who was attending, not asked to be a part of their day. I was left out. I was on the outside, yet again, looking in. I was no longer in the middle, in the mix. I don’t think I had ever experienced such feelings of hurt and betrayal. Maybe this sounds petty to you and maybe, it was. But the feelings were mine and they were real to me. I tried so hard to build this family big and strong. I tried to make everyone feel welcome in our house and our family. I left my daughter’s party and went upstairs to try and sort out why I felt so hurt. I couldn’t make sense of my feelings. I stayed away from Claire’s party for the rest of the night. For me, the damage was done. Stan’s brother and his fiancee left Richmond without saying good-bye to me. No explanations or apologies were given.

The date of the wedding approached. Initially, I said I wasn’t going. I wasn’t trying to act ugly or mean, just to keep myself from acting inappropriately. I should have followed my gut and stayed away. Instead, I went with anger, bitterness and ugliness inside my heart. I acted with these emotions. I let these emotions rule me during the weekend of the wedding. There is a lot about the wedding day I don’t remember, which is another mistake. I can remember some things fairly clearly, when prompted and my behavior was beyond reprehensible, from what little I remember and from what I am told. I said and did things because of all of the nasty, bitter feelings I carried with me. I needed to go with forgiveness in my heart but I didn’t. I failed. I failed Stan. I failed my kids and I failed the rest of my family during the weekend.

I would do anything to relive the day with forgiveness in my heart so things would be better for everyone else, especially Stan. He has paid the heftiest price. I have worked hard these past several months to forgive myself and forgive Stan’s brother and his wife. I have apologized to everyone in the family, both in person and a written letter, but forgiveness is a fickle friend. I am not sure that I will ever be granted forgiveness from the entire outlying family. My immediate family has forgiven me. For that, I will be forever grateful. I have also forgiven myself. I had to. I had to let go so I could go back trying to be the best person I can be for Stan and our children. I want my behavior to be a lesson for my children…don’t go anywhere with bitterness in your soul. You will lose, maybe not everything but you will lose.

I have lost a lot. But I have also gained. Stan stands beside me. I think all of us get stronger through adversity ~ Stan and I are strong. Ever since the beginning of our marriage whenever Stan leaves for a business trip he always leaves me a love note. The love note he left me after the weekend of the wedding brought me to my knees. He wrote down our wedding vows. “In sickness and health. For richer or poorer. For better or worse.” This is “the worse” he said. I thank God every day for Stan. He is my gain, for better or worse ~ forever.

I was recently asked if I would forgive someone who wrote me a letter or sent some flowers as an apology. At this point in my life, I would have to say “Yes, I would.” I learned (or relearned) so much in the past months. I learned life is too short to carry the heavy burden of guilt on your shoulders. I learned life is far too fleeting with those we love. I learned holding onto grudges does nothing to ease the pain of a wounded heart. I learned mistakes are part of living life but regrets go with you to your grave. I relearned power comes from true forgiveness. When you have hate, bitterness, ugliness in your soul you become lost and powerless. I read once that failing to forgive or let go of resentments is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person will die. It is when you can forgive that you are free.

My hope is, someday, to be able to sit down and talk openly about the hurt, anger and disappointment of last summer – to communicate openly with one another, but for now there is nothing more I can do. The ball is in their court. Stan’s brother told me never to contact them again. I didn’t listen. I sent my apology letter anyway. They returned it, unopened and unread. I don’t think there is much hope for communication right now. But communication is the key to all of life’s relationships. Without communication, there is no understanding. Without understanding, there are no lessons learned. Without lessons learned, there is no forgiveness. Without forgiveness, there is nothing.

Forgiveness is…for the love of my children.

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