I have spent the last four years seeking forgiveness with my father. Multiple trips with my family to Florida, a cruise for his 80th birthday… nothing softened him. He was consistent with his anger and demeaning ways right to the end, but now that he is laying in his final hours in a hospice, the secret door to the forgiveness that has been eluding our relationship came clear to me. All this time I had been thinking I wanted to forgive him for the many ways he demeaned me. But in the end, it was never about forgiving him at all. His behavior towards me only worsened with his aging, keeping me from seeing the way toward him. All along, the real block to forgiveness was in me. I couldn’t access any memories of feeling loved by him, or remember when I loved him and that was what kept me from forgiveness.
My father passed away the day before yesterday. I was grateful that it was a quiet and easy passing in his sleep and that he had the company and care of a wonderful angelic caregiver beside him all the time. I feel happy that I was able to arrange that for him, even if he could only scream and curse me. There was no tender parting for us. But still, I have to believe that some of his anger finally surrendered and he could feel the loving memories that I tapped into in the last few days.
Forgiveness and surrender is never dependent on anything outside of you, which explains how some people leave horrific situations of abuse and torture without it scarring their soul. They understood that the balm of forgiveness was not for their captors, but rather for themselves. Whenever we perceive ourselves as less than worthy of love we need forgiveness. Understood in this light, whatever keeps us from feeling the potential of our own loveliness ( ie. Our ability to love and be loved) is what truly separates us from life and the relationships that fill it.
We waste years, whole lifetimes even, waiting for other people to be how we think they should be. We divorce and alienate family for all kinds of infractions, large and small, justifying those breaks by characterizing others with their bad behavior. What gets missed is the way we lose essential parts of ourselves in that process and, oddly, it is in death that we see it again. Our most potent transformative abilities are reserved for ourselves alone. It’s like the Buddha said, that you could search the world over for someone more deserving of your own love, and you will not find them anywhere. Death is a friend to us, because it shines this piercing light into our own heart’s ability to love itself.
As I have been focused on helping my father in his passing, there have been other tragedies all around. A beautiful young woman dying of cancer, saying good byes to her small children, another young beautiful artist, just beginning her adult life, tragically on the edge of death after a risky procedure. Death feels wrong, like an injustice to us when the deceased had so much more life in front of them, when we are just coming to know them. Even the death of old people, who we know will die soon, is somehow jarring. How to hold the ending comes from learning how to forgive ourselves.
Death is the one end we all share. And it is our mortality, the truth that this life is so very short, no matter how many years you get, that makes this act of self love so critical. Standing at the gates of your own loveliness gives you a deeper access to your own feelings… You can love and let go because you can hold onto yourself. There are no regrets here. The sound of their voice, the last time they said I love you, these reverberate in the space of self forgiveness forever.