Saturday, January 11, 2014

Can I Really Forgive Him for Dying?

Pushing myself through the rituals of Friday morning, thinking about Ethan, I had an unsettling thought.


Last year my goal for the New Year was to find a way to forgive someone in my life that I was struggling to love or forgive because the pain that person inflicted was ongoing. Through a lot of prayer, I was able to do that by focusing on the positive things in my life that were there because of them -- even if those things happened years ago.

When I saw someone's post on Facebook earlier this week about forgiving someone to achieve peace, I thought, yes, I nailed that one.

Then, yesterday morning out of the blue I realized I still have a lot of forgiving to do and at the top of that list right now is Ethan.

Although I learned a lot of lessons about love from him over the last seven years, I had not yet embraced the lessons of forgiveness.

Several years ago when I found him sleeping in his car in my driveway one morning, God drove home to me a lesson about love. Ethan was screwed up and not living the life I envisioned he would live; he wasn't living life to its full potential; he was wasting the gifts of talent, intelligence, love and support. Yet I still loved him with every fiber of my being. In that moment, I realized how the love we read about in the Bible -- the love that God feels for us when we mess up, sin, don't choose the path that He lays out for us to a full and happy life -- is real. There is such a thing as unconditional love, even when we aren't close to one another or denying its existence.

I loved Ethan unconditionally and did my best to make sure he knew it.

And time and time again I forgave him for the things his addiction made him do. I forgave him the physical and emotional havoc he left behind sometimes, because I loved him. Even while I did my best to limit his ability to cause physical pain, I didn't expect an apology after he called on a rant or neglected something that was important to me. I accepted that was the way he was and I was just glad he called again. I accepted and forgave every emotional blow in the hope there would come a time when things would be better and we could put it all behind us.

Until the other morning, it felt like I had done enough forgiving.

Then I realized I have to forgive him for dying. Even though he's beyond all need of anything I can ever give him, I have to forgive him for me. I have to forgive him every stupid mistake and bad choice that put him on the road to dying alone in his apartment. I have to forgive him for shutting us all away so often that no one missed him for days. I have to forgive him for squandering the life I fought so hard to give him.

Just as, at some point, I have to forgive myself for any way I may have failed him (a bridge I'm not ready to cross, and yes I know I did my best), I have to forgive him for things that ultimately slipped out of his control.

I have to forgive him for becoming an addict, because I know that once he found the drug that spoke to him, it was as powerful and insidious as Satan in the Garden of Eden. It whispered to him in lies and promises about special knowledge and gifts, special visions and experiencing the world in a way he could not without it. It made him feel things the real world didn't deliver. I cannot understand addiction and that desire to escape and I'm glad, but I have to forgive him for being overwhelmed by it.

I have to forgive him for not fulfilling the potential I saw when the doctors pulled him from my abdomen and placed him in my arms, a big, healthy, beautiful baby boy. I have to forgive him for disappointing my dreams, for not being able to find himself again and for not sticking around to take care of me when I get old.

Where time and again I've felt some version of survivor's guilt because of the families grieving a lost child who had done nothing wrong, who was caught up in some horrible tragedy of time or place or birth, I have to forgive him for no longer dodging the fate that had for so long been waiting. I have to forgive him for involuntarily choosing not to be part of our lives when he could have been, because now he cannot choose.

Ethan often said he wished he could die, and I have to forgive him for those thoughts and for finally having that wish granted.

I have to accept that he was doing his best to make his way through a world that was more painful to him than it is to me, a world that somehow didn't make his heart sing the way it sometimes does mine. I have to accept that while having people who love and need me is sometimes enough to get me through a day, it wasn't enough for him. I have to accept that he didn't always feel he had a purpose and that being without a purpose leaves you vulnerable to things you cannot control.

So today, in writing this and acknowledging the things I hadn't forgiven, I'm taking what I hope are the first steps toward letting those hard feelings go. Not because he needs me to do so, but because in order to live and breathe freely again, in order to have peace in my heart, this is what I need to do.

Already I feel lighter and I think the journey toward forgiveness is underway.

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