“I think I can. I think I can.” Those words of the Little Blue Engine from the children’s story book have resonated with me throughout life. Especially as I thought about forgiving my aging parents.
In my late-forties I examined my life. I didn’t like what I saw. Like everyone on the planet, I was raised by imperfect parents. Yet in my case, my childhood losses spilled into adulthood,
rooting themselves inside me They bore a crop of anger, resentment and people pleasing.
Surprisingly, my work in a retirement community with seniors and their families set me on a journey toward healing. Daily I witnessed seniors as they literally, sometimes figuratively, climbed the steep mountains at the end of life. Their burdens often seemed insurmountable. Loss of health, friends, life itself.
I also saw their adult children. Many had taken the path of forgiveness. Stripped of resentment, they valued their parents and spoke openly about the their parents’ struggles. They showed love through kind words, hugs and laughter. And they served as cheerleaders as their parents endured life’s trials. Could I do the same?
I couldn’t forgive in a vacuum. I needed people. I joined a support group. As we sat in a circle, we shared our stories. Those stories were sacred; so were our laughter and our tears. I remember one night thinking as I drove home, “I didn’t have to look over my shoulder. I’m beginning to feel free.” The group brought to mind Fred Rogers’ words, “I like you just the way you are.”
One night I left the group and a friend stopped me. “Alice, I will be praying for you, that God will show you who and what you need to forgive,” she said. “And one more thing. That God will show you how much He loves you.”
I began writing out my losses: A big discovery: Prayer not only enabled me to list and forgive those hurts, but it showed me my faults. I needed to forgive myself. I needed to ask forgiveness of others. As I grieved and let go of the hurts, I started recalling the good things my parents had given me. Faith in God and reassurance of Christ’s unconditional love. The importance of community and reaching out to others.
As I weighed my life in the balance, the blessings loomed large. The forgiveness I had received from God and others allowed me to forgive, as well.
I’d like to say that I suddenly felt warm and fuzzy inside afterwards. But I didn’t, at least not immediately. I felt sapped. Like I was standing still.
Not long afterward my sister Carol wrote me with a request. Daddy and Mother’s 50th wedding anniversary was coming soon. Carol had planned a surprise anniversary party. She asked everyone attending to write a letter thanking Daddy and Mother for their positive influence on the lives of so many people.
I stalled. I’d done the forgiveness but my feelings hadn’t caught up with my thoughts. I found a devotional by Melody Beattie, in the “Recovery Devotional Bible,” that spoke to me.
“Sometimes, to get from where we are to where we are going, we have to be willing to be in-between. …Being in-between isn’t fun, but it’s necessary. It will not last forever.”
The writer’s block resolved. I might have been influenced by the words of Melody Beattie. Or maybe the words of The Little Blue Engine, “I think I can, I think I can.”
In the years to come, my siblings and I would help Mother and Daddy make difficult decisions regarding their health and end of life. Forgiveness made all the difference.