Grief: Forgiveness, Grace

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I’m Catholic on paper. Which means that I’m not a very “good” Catholic. What it also means is that I’m very educated on matters of guilt and how to beat myself up.

The guilt I’ve felt, over my relationship with my mother — all my life — and more recently since any chance of improvement on this earth with her has been vigorously snatched from my hands, has been unbearable.

I have heard from people privately: “Thank you for your blog; thank you for helping me find a little broken part of me…” I have also heard from others privately, “Be careful of what you share. Some of it is very private, and it fans the flames … it mightn’t help you… it keeps it out there… ” and I could not agree more.

I have vacillated: Keep a post up? Take it down?

It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, I remember this one truth: this is the Internet age. Where ADHD reigns and YouTube seems to hold the reins. I am old school and I can promise you this: I don’t share everything. I share what suits me.

But the days of late have been hard. I would say that I’ve spent a good two weeks in guilt stew. The last week has been uniquely painful.

So I spoke with a wise cousin last week; and I spoke with a wise friend. I went to dinner with wise women and I have basically immersed myself in a wonderful soup of women and the one thing that keeps coming at me — from all these walks of life, from all these wonderfully strong, vibrant, sagacious and heartfelt women is this: forgiveness.

Because I am Catholic, I don’t really pray-pray. My personal brand of Catholicism has been such that I don’t like to call in the “big guns” until I simply can’t take it anymore. Until I am at my personal rock bottom. I can likely count on one hand the number of times I have actually prostrated myself in prayer and each time, I have been gloriously answered.

As much as I say that I get things, prayer, on an intellectual level, I don’t get them on an emotional level. Or I get them on an emotional level, but not on an intellectual level. It’s not always balanced.

I am by default and practice a thinker. I learned as a child to trust the concrete, that the abstract was a gamble and that whatever I didn’t see couldn’t be relied upon. The moments when I know what I saw but was convinced otherwise were also less reliable. So, it took me a long time to get to feeling or at least allowing feeling. Trust a feeling? Greek.

I’m also big on repression when I can’t or don’t have the time to deal with something. (That’s usually when you absolutely MUST deal with something, but you know: driving, going out to dinner, in a meeting… those are not the best times, so when those feelings come up, I push them back down. I do deal with them eventually, and I have no intention of forgetting about them, it’s just that sometimes I can’t help it — they simply fade away or drop into a cup of ice cream.)

But this past weekend, when I simply COULD NOT shake the guilt, no matter how much I tried, I basically heard all the fantastic voices in my head, including my mother’s (her voice was really lovely, actually, a little like Jessica Lange’s) that kept saying, “Let it go…” and “Pray on it…” and “Talk to your mother…”

On FB chat yesterday, I asked a friend while waiting for my son, “When you say ‘talk to her‘ do you mean really, ‘talk to her’ as in verbally with the voice and vocally and all that? out loud?”

My friend said, “Yeah. Or write to her, or in your head…”

And I squirmed.

I can’t remember if I wrote or thought, “That’s not crazy? It sounds a little crazy. I mean, she’s not there…”

My friend said, “It’s not. But do what works for you.”

I thought or replied, “I’ve done everything but that. I’ve written, I’ve silently prayed, I’ve had the conversation in my head and I’ve talked about it with others… but you’re talking about out-loud talking; audible words coming from my mouth.”

And I think that’s the point of it. I think that we must get to a point where we are so humbled, so tired, so ready and so woeful or motivated or whatever to allow ourselves that “eff it” mentality where we’re going rip off the band-aid and spill our guts. It was like that time when I got really mad (the rage post) and I said aloud what I needed to get off my heart.

I have a notion that it’s not God who separates us from Him, but rather we who do the separating. He’s always there. It’s up to us to open the door or look out the window.

I also have another notion that when I can feel the tapping at the door, when I can hear His breath of peace, but I don’t allow it to wash over me, that it’s really my fault… it’s not His.

My mother was like that. She was patient and always wondering, ‘When are you coming back to me, Molly?’ and I have to say that I had a screen door that was locked because I was terrified of being hurt again, or a half-door like a country house that allowed her into my heart only so much because I was terrified of being hurt again. I had to erect my boundaries. I had to do what I could to feel safe.

But I know now, that was ok. Here’s how.

So, last night… after my famous grilled chicken and sweet potato dinner that my boys simply can’t get enough of, I went upstairs to my room to prepare for our family hot tub date.

I heard my friend in my head, “Out loud. To Mom.” So I basically said out loud to the Archangels and saints and to God and to Mom, to intercede on my behalf and to help me with the guilt.

I said,

“Mom, I know we’ve got our stuff. Or we had it. And I’m sorry about it. I really am, but you’re gone now and maybe we can have a relationship … y’know, now? I’ll take your comfort. I’ll take your love. I’ll take your protection because in my head now, you’re nothing but love and energy and light. You’re not a personality, you’re not your illnesses, or your fears. You’re nothing but love and I need it. I’ll take it now. I forgive you for all your stuff; I did the best I could and I know I KNOW that in your heart if you could’ve been better, you would’ve been better. No one wants to be unwell. No one wants to hurt others — it’s a sickness — and I release you. I release you from my anger; I wish you were here now, because I was ready Mom, I really was… but now I will take you any way I can get you and so, Mom, if you have an ounce of fierce and protective maternal love in you for me, as I know you did on earth but you couldn’t share it for whatever reason there was, I am asking you now, Mom: to get this monkey off my back. I am asking you and God and the angels, Mom, the big guns, to release this guilt and shame and keep it away and to remind me you are near and watching over me and to keep that off me. I was just your kid, Mom, and as I’ve said, with all due respect: you set the tone, Mom. I just fell in line… and as I matured, I simply kept it going because it was all I knew. You did your best and I did mine, but I always loved the essence of you and the glimpses of love that you shared with me, I will cherish forever, but ya gotta help me out here… Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…

Or something like that.

And after about three minutes of it, my crying subdued and my breathing started to regulate and this odd feeling of “Why am I so upset?” came over me. I felt lighter, and I couldn’t get as upset as I was; I couldn’t usher guilt if I tried and even now, as I recount it, I get weepy because I miss Mom and the glimpses she gave me, but I wonder if this isn’t the beginning of a new stage of relationship with her… in that I can appeal to her pure side, that I can have her with me energetically because she is free of her body and as much as I wish I could have her here to talk to, I can have her energetically to think of and be with.

Sounds crazy? I don’t know. I believe in energy healing; I believe in God and the Angels and all that stuff. I have no doubt that I will be sad and will mourn her. My physical energy is still quite low. I absolutely must be patient with myself and this process, so I get that for sure. I must have no expectations and I can not do this alone. Ironically, as I’ve matured, I’ve come to believe in the not-so-concrete; the stuff in front of us all the time is too simplistic. There has to be a better way. It takes guts and humility to do it, but I have no doubt it’s real.

Forgiveness is two-sided. I understood it intellectually but I get it emotionally now for sure. I have no doubt. When we forgive, we lose a lot of weight. Grace is weightless and it’s waiting for us all.

Thank you.

9 responses »

  1. Molly, forgiveness is such a powerful thing. This journey can be lonely in how personal it is. It is unique and often paradoxically flawed, yet when you find peace, you know it. It might not stick around and that’s ok too. When you look for it again though, begin with forgiveness (of yourself), as you’ve described so eloquently here. Guilt and shame cannot live in a house where there is true forgiveness. Sending lots of love. Xoxo

    • Kat – you were on my mind so much yesterday. I think I prayed to you too. I know I threw Aunt Katherine in there too. I was literally at such a loss. I knew that I had to start with me. It had to begin with me; there is no other way. It’s like the inverse of blame; you can’t forgive anyone else first — you absolutely have to start with yourself. You are such a source of hope for me. You don’t know it. I won’t get all gooey, but I admire you so much. Truly. A lot. Very much all the time. xoxo

      • You are the sweetest. Your compliments are too kind. I haven’t been able to tune in for all your recent blogs, but I’ve been thinking about you a ton. Even on my run today I was going over your blog and the Catholic references, your thoughts on prayer. As a Catholic, I too always felt weird about prayer, about asking for things when deep down I knew I already had so much. I’m reading this new book E Squared and it’s filled with quantum physics, which I love. In it, Grout reminds us that God is energy, just like electricity. It is available to all of us at any given moment. “You don’t ask for permission to plug in a light bulb, nor should you ask for permission to tap into the Source.” Although I know this on so many levels, it is funny how my past conditioning remains my automatic response. Tap in, sister. Guiltlessly. God wants nothing more than for us to be the best versions of ourselves. We all have that right, yet so few take advantage.

  2. I am so happy that you prayed. I try not to be churchy, even though I’m supposed to be (according to the sermons), because I firmly believe prayer is personal and private. I do not hold hands with other people in church, as so many families do. It makes me uncomfortable to even look at them. But I do believe it can help, so I sit here, VERY uncomfortably writing about prayer. I do so because you wrote “I can likely count on one hand the number of times I have actually prostrated myself in prayer and each time, I have been gloriously answered.” I was hoping that you would consider that if you pray at rock bottom and can be gloriously answered, that you might find comfort in small ways if you did it more often. And, as you did, praying to whomever you feel can help you best often WILL help you best. I have more to say, but I’ve deleted things four different times now that just sound preachy, so I will just encourage you to continue what you’re doing and let you know that I’m always here to chat, or listen, or just hang out quietly. HAHAHAHAHA, yeah, like I’m usually quiet. But I would try for you.

    • I am glad to hear you say the personal and private. Mom believed that too. I also believe it. It feels showy and glamorous to do it so openly and “handstands for Jesus”-y. (mine.) I don’t avoid prayer in the least; I like to think of it as a close-to-last resort; I feel as though God has other things to take care of. I feel as though there’s a lot going on in the world, so as “simple” as my request might be of Him and Mom and the angels, there’s a lot of good old fashioned yankee protestantism in me from my father, the converted Catholic (they’re usually the worst, haha). I am grateful for your friendship, CB. we will get that salad. 🙂 it’s the best ever.

  3. I read this first thing this morning but couldn’t comment from my phone so I came back. This place where you are right now, just know that you aren’t alone. I am there. I am so there with you. I hope that I help. I hope that whatever I say doesn’t seem crass or callous. I hope that you know it comes from a place of love and understanding. This takes time, it all takes time, and it’s not linear. Sometimes it’s like a gigantic circle that we can’t get away from, sometimes it’s baby steps forward. Sometimes it will hit you when you least expect. I’ve learned to sit with it when it does, to get all the way in there and feel it all, because it usually allows me to move on, to move forward faster. I love you, Molly. I wish there was something that could make this better, easier, more predictable. I wish. xoxo

    • Never callous. Always caring. I am learning deeply that it’s not linear or predictable as my attitudes change almost hourly, but I know the forgiveness is key for me. I have had to to forgive myself for my behavior because I *did* try hard, I *did* keep the screen door open, and often, I left it ajar with the best intentions and kindness even though it was challenging. This is the most I could offer; to do otherwise would be fool hearty. It just would. I know you get it. I suspect there are others out there who just won’t/can’t wrap their heads around my existence because it’s so far from their experiences with her, but in order to fully forgive myself I have to allow myself my truth and my limitations. The whole thing or else it’s all bullshit. And if there’s on me thing I’ve learned, it’s that bullshit never works for me. I know you get that too. Xo so much.

  4. I relate to these lines so much:

    “I have a notion that it’s not God who separates us from Him, but rather we who do the separating. He’s always there. It’s up to us to open the door or look out the window.

    I also have another notion that when I can feel the tapping at the door, when I can hear His breath of peace, but I don’t allow it to wash over me, that it’s really my fault… it’s not His.”

    The talking out loud thing feels has worked for me too, but I never start with that. I do most of what I guess could be called praying inside my mind, but maybe it all just stays trapped in the body that way. Saying actual words probably makes it easier to release the feelings that go with the words. Like a giant exhale. This grief is complicated stuff. So is God. I know it probably isn’t supposed to be, but for people who think so much it just is.

    I think it is always hardest to forgive ourselves.

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