The power of forgiveness

Perhaps one of the most difficult and painful aspects of working with seniors and their families are those times when I hear a senior share about their “broken” family relationships. The hurt that is expressed is often heart wrenching, and especially when an older person realizes that time is running out if there’s going be any chance of healing and reconciliation.

There is nothing more hurtful and distressing than knowing that there is some unresolved conflict or issue that has caused a breach in the family. And it’s not limited to conflict between a parent and a child, it’s often an unresolved issue among siblings, which can be just as devastating for a parent who desperately wants peace in the family before they die.

But the painful truth is, to rise above family conflict. Tension, anger or hurt requires the process of forgiving. And this means letting go of the offense and not bringing it up again, which I recognize is far easier said than done.

However, it’s only when we are willing to forgive that we enable families to come together.

Forgiveness allows putting an unpleasant situation behind us, and although it’s not easy to do, it remains the best solution for mending.

Think how we all disappoint someone at some time within the family. And, of course, it’s especially hard to think of forgiving a member of the family when we’re close to the event.

But harboring anger and bitterness not only hurts yourself, it also hurts others as well.

However, the process to forgive offers both inner healing for the offended while removing guilt and sorrow for the offender. Bring yourself to a point when you’re able to forgive out of decision and not feeling.

And remember, the timing of healing varies among people and situations, but its arrival makes for genuine forgiveness.

Talk with the offending family member when you feel the time has arrived for constructive dialogue. Discuss the troubles the offense caused you, or a member of the family, and why there is a need to apologize or to accept apology. Forgiving works best when both parties come to terms.

Distance yourself from mentally reliving the offending event. Forgiving a family member means putting a period behind the offense and not bringing it up as a hurtful weapon against the forgiven.

Forgive even if a family member doesn’t want it. In other words, do your part to protect the well-being and personal quality of your life.

There is pressure on everyone from the senior parent to the grandchildren. Emotions run from hope to discouragement and from resolve to fear. For those on the front lines, the experience is the most intense.

But in the end there is power in forgiveness.

Next month I want to address some of the issues that typically cause conflict among family members, and how we can confront these issues head-on.


Carl R. Johnson serves as community elations director for the Kitsap Alliance of Resources for Elders in Silverdale. His column appears monthly.

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