5. Healing from Within

5. Healing from Within

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Healing from Within

Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.

~Marianne Williamson

“I do love you. You have never done anything to make me feel otherwise, it’s just the way I am,” my father would say. Understandably, this made absolutely no sense to a child who so desperately wanted a connection with her absent father. Most of my life I had asked myself, “If he really loved me, how could he be content to just speak to me on the phone occasionally or write letters?” He was missing every milestone of my entire life!

Luckily for both my father and me, I had the most wonderful woman to love, encourage, nurture and support me as I grew and often rebelled. My mother always saw the best in me and told me as much, even when others might have said I was at my worst. As I matured, she taught me many vital life lessons: how to persevere against all odds and succeed, how to love wholeheartedly and how to trust the processes of healing and growth that are integral parts of life. Perhaps most affecting, she taught me that intense anger toward another is a sure-fire way to break your own spirit and potentially leave you with deep regret.

After the sudden loss of my stepfather when I was twenty-one, amidst my sorrow I felt pangs of guilt. What could I have said or done differently? Why didn’t I tell him I loved him more often? He had, after all, been like a father to me since he had joined our lives more than six years earlier. It was then that I understood the message my mother had tried to convey. I realized I didn’t want to live through the pain of “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve”… twice. My father was still here and I had to let go of the victim mentality in order to gain inner peace, if nothing else.

What could I do to make him love me? How could I make him want to have a relationship with me? I initiated phone calls more often, trying to engage him in conversations that would offer some glimpse of the person he truly was. He gradually opened up and shared stories about his life. During our talks, I learned that he too had grown up without his father. He was the youngest child and the only boy in a family of girls. Something in me softened when I learned this. It was not his excuse; it was his reality. Seemingly all at once, my anger changed to empathy. I began to peel back some of the protective layers I had built around me and really connect with my dad. I realized that if I was open to it, I might actually learn something from him.

Our relationship blossomed with my shift in mindset. Our phone calls became more frequent, filled with “I love you” and punctuated regularly with giggles on both ends. I also visited with my dad, which deepened our connection. Needless to say, when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I was devastated. I finally felt like I was getting to know him and then the proverbial rug was yanked out from under us. Although he was sick and undergoing various treatments, his determination was inspiring. When I would ask how he was feeling, his response was always, “I can’t complain… I saw the sun today!” These words motivated me during some of my darkest days and will continue to reverberate in my mind and heart forever.

Fortunately, I was able to enjoy a few more years of these animated talks with Dad. When he was finally called to leave this earth, I was simultaneously crushed and ecstatic. I would miss him terribly, but I knew that we had both found peace in our relationship. I truly forgave my father for the time he’d missed, and as a result I believe he finally forgave himself. Whenever I think of my father I only remember the advice, anecdotes, giggles, and most of all, the love!

~Vanessa Hogan

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