93. I Forgive Me

93. I Forgive Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

I Forgive Me

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.

~Tony Robbins

I was fifteen, a sophomore in high school, and thrilled about the evening ahead. My classmates had elected me to the Homecoming Court and tonight was the celebration. Excitement filled the room as girls primped for the presentation. Dressed in a beautiful gown, I felt like a princess at a ball. Unexpectedly, my mom walked through the door with a troubled look on her face. She came directly over to me and softly said, “Stan won’t be able to make it tonight. He was in an accident and is in the hospital.” I burst into tears, although I had no specific details. Stan was my boyfriend.

“What happened?” I asked. She said he had fallen at his gymnastic meet. Homecoming festivities were about to begin, so I composed myself and smiled as if everything was fine.

After homecoming, my parents drove me to the hospital and I rushed to the ICU waiting room. Stan’s immediate family was there. His dad kept crying, which deeply upset me. As they told me what happened, it took a while to sink in. I just wanted to see Stan. The hospital policy allowed only family in the ICU, but an exception was made. We were restricted to only ten minutes and I was taken in to see him.

He looked the same, except for the breathing tube. He tried to talk but no sound came out, only moving his lips. I don’t remember anything I said, only the awful sounds of machines and the feeling of helplessness. I assume I told him about homecoming. I definitely recall saying, “I love you.” Even at fifteen, I understood the prevailing comfort of knowing someone loves you and is pulling for you. I was there for him and would be by his side while he recovered.

The reality of Stan’s accident was that he would never recover. He had broken his neck by falling off the still rings at his gymnastic meet. His first and second vertebrae were broken, and he was a quadriplegic. His condition required a tracheotomy to keep him breathing and alive. His vocal cords were paralyzed but he could move facial muscles, so communication was by lip reading. His mind was 100 percent whole. He was truly imprisoned in his paralyzed body. No words can describe the mental and emotional anguish he endured.

I was devoted to Stan and he knew I loved him. After school, my mom would drive me to the hospital to visit him for those emotional ten minutes. I didn’t miss a day. He was on a specialized bed that would rotate him, so sometimes he would be face down with his head in a brace. My most difficult memories are when the swelling in his brain was at its worst. He was unresponsive, staring at the floor with tears falling from his eyes. I would sit on the floor and look up at his swollen face and tell him about the day at school and the friends that sent their love. My heart broke as I saw the boy I loved endure such agony. I cried myself to sleep at night thinking about the horrible sights and sounds I had experienced that day. I prayed desperate prayers, “God, let Stan live, let him recover, heal his broken body.”

As weeks passed and his muscular body atrophied, everyone accepted the reality that he would never recover. Unbeknownst to me, Stan and his family were quietly and lovingly strategizing about my place in his life. I had turned sixteen and was driving myself to visit him. Now in a private room, we could talk freely; he would ask me to hug and kiss him and hold his hand. It was gut wrenching to watch his face as he would concentrate so hard trying to feel my hand holding his. His family bought flowers and cards for him to give me for our monthly “anniversary” of dating. Becoming proficient at reading his lips and understanding what he wanted to ask or tell me brought more joy and laughter for both of us.

Nine months passed and Stan invited his best friend George to visit him. Multitudes had visited the hospital, yet no one had actually seen Stan after his accident except for his parents, sister, brother-in-law and me. I was so happy about this positive step. Stan was getting better, I thought. After their visit, Stan tenderly told me I needed to move on with my life and that he was breaking up with me. He said that he wouldn’t recover and I shouldn’t spend my teenage years visiting him and missing high school experiences. He said, “I asked George to invite you out on a date.” I was shocked, saddened, and conflicted, although I agreed. Though somewhat relieved, I was completely unprepared for the overwhelming feelings of guilt that would plague me in future months and years.

George honored Stan’s request and invited me to a football team party. The party was fun and new possibilities appeared. In time, I found a new wonderful boyfriend, but continued to visit Stan every other month. He had moved home with all the medical equipment and full-time care that he needed. I had indeed moved on in my life, but was shackled with a heavy burden of guilt. I felt guilty living a happy life while Stan suffered. I felt guilty that I dreaded visiting and seeing him suffering. I felt guilty that I cared about Stan’s wellbeing although I had a boyfriend who might feel hurt because of my loyalty to another. I obviously would have benefited from professional counseling, but in the 1970s there was a stigma to counseling so no one suggested it.

After four years of suffering as a quadriplegic, Stan died peacefully in his sleep. Someway, somehow, at some point in time, I found a way to eradicate all the guilt and move forward, living productively. I forgave myself. That may sound strange because I didn’t do anything to cause or create this tragic situation. In fact, I may have even gone beyond what was expected of me. Why would I need to forgive myself? Simply put, I forgave myself for not having all the right words, actions or decisions. I forgave myself for not being the perfect friend or girlfriend. I forgave myself for not being enough. No one made me feel guilty. I brought that all on myself. Forgiving myself has been survival for me as a daughter, wife, ex-wife, mother, and friend as I have made more mistakes than can ever be counted. Forgiving myself has enabled me to forgive hurtful words and actions of others. Forgiveness comes in many sizes, shapes and forms. Forgiveness is personal. Most of all, forgiveness is powerful.

~Julie Kinser Huffman

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners