37. Forgiveness Is Possible

37. Forgiveness Is Possible

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness Is Possible

Do all things with love… keep your love in your heart. Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

~Jackielou Camacho

It was November 2011 and I was driving home from a very long day at the office. When a call from my ex-husband interrupted the blissful silence of my drive, I wondered if I was ready for one of his raging phone calls. We had divorced six years earlier, and unfortunately his anger toward me for the divorce had not softened. We only spoke to each other if absolutely necessary. I hesitantly answered the phone. I hoped my chipper attitude would help set the tone for our exchange.

His words took my breath away. He had stage IV esophageal and stomach cancer.

All I was able to whisper was, “I am sorry, so sorry.”

Tears stung my eyes as I thought of our children who were seventeen and fifteen, too young to lose a father. My head swam with questions as I pulled into my driveway. How would the children handle the loss of their father? Who would take care of him? I ran into the house as I retched up my lunch. My head hung over the toilet bowel as tears streamed down my face.

My phone rang again; it was my real estate agent. I was numb from my ex-husband’s news when she excitedly told me there was an offer on my home.

“That’s great,” I mumbled.

As I hung up the phone, I wondered about the statistical probability that I would receive an offer on my home the same night that my ex-husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer? My house had been on the market for three years. Clearly the universe had spoken to me. In that moment I knew what I needed to do.

I resolved to move the children and myself in with him. I had faith that this would be a turning point for my ex-husband, and he would embrace spending quality time with our children. They would have the opportunity to know their father. I worried the caretaker role would fall on my daughter otherwise. If we moved in together, I could assume this role so my children would not be burdened with the responsibility.

Despite my resolve, I was concerned. I had worked so hard to divorce my husband and the process had been scary. How could I live with him again? Everyone thought my idea was crazy, even our children.

We moved in just before Christmas and began a sophisticated dance of living as a family unit once again. The children had spent very little time with their father in the years since our divorce, with infrequent visitation. My hope was that they would have the opportunity to get to know their father and reconnect. We would live together for the next ten months. It was not easy. We had our share of tender moments and we had our share of meltdowns.

A few months into living together, the stress began to take a toll on me. Each day his actions and behavior brought up old hurts and wounds from the past. The anxiety-related anger and hostility created irregular heart rhythms. I was reliving our history each day. I knew I must do something to break the cycle. I had to find forgiveness.

Over the next few weeks, I searched for answers on the Internet and in bookstores, but nothing resonated with me. I was desperate to block the pain of the past. I wanted to stop replaying the old movies from years ago that were triggering my emotions. While I could not control his actions, I could control my emotions. I could chose to feel like a victim or embrace happiness and separate myself from his behavior.

We are a product of our lifetime of experiences, and his shaped his choices. He grew up angry, defensive and afraid. Every bad choice he made was driven by his fear. The minute I stopped judging my ex-husband’s actions, I broke the link between his behaviors and my emotions. When I could view his actions without judging them, I no longer felt any emotion toward his conduct. By separating his actions from my emotions, I created space in my heart where I planted the seeds of empathy and compassion, and forgiveness began to grow.

My days became happier and calmer. Peace filled the house as forgiveness took root. I often felt as though my energy was reverberating at a higher, more harmonious level, which gave me strength.

It is easy to say the words, “I forgive,” but they have no impact if your actions are not aligned with your thoughts. So I began to place the intention of forgiveness into every daily chore and interaction. Cooking has always been the way I demonstrated love for my family and friends. As the end approached, I hosted many lunches and dinners for friends and family in our home so they could say their goodbyes.

The payoff came one bright sunny morning just a few weeks before he passed. We were preparing for the last set of guests to arrive. Only family would be allowed to visit after this day. He thanked me for entertaining the multitude of friends over the last week. As he left the room, he turned and said he loved me and without thinking I responded, “I love you too.”

I was stunned as the reality of my words sunk in. It was an honest moment, and I did love him. Not as my husband, but as the father of our children. I loved him for just being a human being, a child of God. Forgiveness had given me the ability to stop judging him and accept him for who he was. I was finally at peace with our past. It was time to let go of our history, so we could both move on. A warm glow washed over me, filled with the power of grace and forgiveness.

Just three weeks later, he passed peacefully at home early one morning in his bedroom with our family dog by his side.

Today both our children are in college and embracing life without their father. The time we spent together building positive memories as a family has helped to soften the grief process for them. Most importantly, we have experienced the power of forgiveness.

~Karen Todd Scarpulla

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