Posts Tagged ‘Forgiveness in suicide bereavement’

“Forgive us our trespasses,” Jesus taught us to pray, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” A reality no one could deny after my daughter’s suicide was that she had trespassed against all of us and had done so irreparably. She could never make amends for laying waste, no matter how unintentionally, to the emotional wellbeing of those who love her. It’s a simple fact.

Also factual was my Christian obligation to forgive her. Early on, I tried saying, “I forgive you” over her headstone just after listing my failings toward her and asking forgiveness. It was the correct formula for a cemetery visit but meant almost nothing. My heart wasn’t in those words; it was in the clay with Mary.

The suicide of a child wrenches out the possibility of forgiveness, at least for a time. The pain is high-caliber, mostly all a mother can feel for a long time, too grossly unjust even to think about forgiving.

There was another problem in my early struggle with forgiveness: why did Mary even need it? If her suicide was the result of a brain disorder and her will not truly free in “choosing” to die, why would she need forgiveness? Had she died of a brain aneurysm, for example, would I be trying to forgive her?

But over the years, I’ve experienced the substantial difference between what I know and what I feel. I know about my daughter’s diminished capacity that was not in any way her fault. Knowing has given rise to forgiveness that I think, after seventeen years, is finally in place.

At the same time, I respect my early feelings of rejection and abandonment. Those feelings were legitimate–who wouldn’t feel rejected and abandoned?–and not to be talked away.

Even so, a Benedictine sister offers these words about forgiveness that I recognize as true: “Only if there is love in us great enough to transcend deep hurt, great betrayal . . . can we possibly really forgive. Only if we can care for another enough to try to understand what drove the behavior that hurt us so, can we put our own pain down long enough to forgive. Forgive is what we do when our love is as real as our pain” (Joan D. Chittister, OSB. Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir. Lanham, Maryland: Sheed & Ward, 2004).

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