Learning to Forgive
My brother wasn’t there.
I couldn’t believe it. Mom had a stroke and my brother didn’t show up to be with her or my father.
Growing up, my brother and I were tight. If one of us was going through a difficult time, we rallied for the other. If we were hurt by someone else, the other built a defensive wall around the one who was hurt. I never imagined a time when we wouldn’t be a solid unit.
When the stroke happened, I dropped everything and went to my mother’s side, an 11-hour drive for me. I automatically expected my brother to do the same, especially since he lived several hours closer to Mom and Dad. But throughout Mom’s stay in rehab, he didn’t come. When Mom was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer a month after her stroke, he still didn’t come.
At first, I tried to brush off the fact that he wasn’t there. I made excuses in my head. I ignored his absence because it was more important to focus on Mom and Dad during this time.
As Mom made her remarkable recovery and things returned to “normal,” the pain of my brother’s absence weighed on me. It was an unwelcome infection that dug in and burrowed deep. What son wouldn’t want to be at his mother’s side? I couldn’t understand it at all.
Seven months after Mom’s stroke, my husband and I returned to my parents house, along with my niece and her husband to celebrate Thanksgiving. My brother also came and this was the first time he had seen my parents since all of this began. Throughout that long weekend, I thought I had put up a pretty good front of being happy but I couldn’t fool my brother.
One evening, after my parents had gone to bed, the rest of us stayed up to talk. My brother looked at me and said, “Beck, is everything okay? You seem like you’re mad at me or something.”
I’m not one for confrontation, but I couldn’t let this one go.
I told him how hurt I was that he didn’t come when Mom had her stroke, or when she had her cancer surgery.
“I always thought we were a team,” I told him. Yet I had suddenly found myself dealing with our parents’ serious medical issues on my own. Never could I have imagined that I would be on my own! I let out all of my frustration on him.
I felt like I had every right to be angry. I was right and he was wrong for not being there, and that was that.
He then looked at me, apologized and said there was one simple reason why he couldn’t come.
“I couldn’t face Mom’s mortality.”
He was too afraid to come and perhaps watch Mom die. His explanation startled me. I had never thought of that. While my first instinct was to get in the car and get to my parents, he couldn’t even get out the door. Fear is both brutal and paralyzing.
That night during this conversation, instead of talking back, or worse, shouting, I learned to listen. He apologized again and said it was never his intention to have everything fall on my shoulders.
And as I thought about his words, I realized that I had never stopped long enough to ask why he didn’t come. I was too hurt and somehow wanted to wallow in the righteousness of that pain.
But now I saw things from his perspective. It never occurred to me how difficult it would be for him to watch our strong mother struggle.
That conversation was the turning point for us.
This past year, my mom had another stroke. Again, she showed her strength and determination in recovery. And this time, my brother was there. We were together, supporting my parents. He brought up our conversation from Mom’s first stroke. He said it really stuck with him hearing my side of things. I told him what he said had stuck with me as well.
We were able to bridge a very painful chapter in our lives. By listening to each other’s point of view, we now have a greater understanding for one another. He will help lift some of the caregiving burdens from me, and I will walk beside him and listen when he wants to share his fears.
Colossians 3: 13 (NIV) says: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
This was a good lesson. Whether I agree or disagree, I can listen, and then find the common ground of understanding.
All of which leads to forgiveness.