Forgiveness at the End of a Life

Post by Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW

Forgiveness at the End of a Life

One of the most difficult things about death can be the experience of unresolved conflict. When we’ve had a turbulent relationship with the person we are grieving for, it can really complicate our feelings. Forgiveness is a good goal, but it can be hard to navigate.

When a Person is Dying

It may be that a person who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is moving toward the end of life wants to tend to unfinished business. They may feel remorse, or have a strong desire to make amends and set things right. If this is the case, it may be that you welcome their overtures and feel ready to forgive them.

If you don’t feel ready, you are not obligated to forgive. Some damage is deep, with far-reaching consequences. Your healing will not necessarily happen on a timeline that works with the time that is left to the dying person who seeks forgiveness.

Alternately, it may be that you want to forgive their actions and look for opportunities to mend the rifts but they continue whatever attitude and behaviour caused the wounds you feel. It’s important to know that some people do not seek to redeem themselves in response to impending death. That is not your fault and you can’t control it. You can still do the work of releasing yourself from the cycle that has harmed you.

When a Person has Died

When someone dies suddenly, there may be no opportunity for conversations or actions that might have happened to help heal emotional wounds in a relationship. You’re left with unsettled feelings that may include anger, guilt, regret and shame, with no way to address them directly with the person.

Finding Forgiveness

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.
Mark Twain

It may be helpful to remember that forgiveness is for you. It is a personal process of releasing the pain of past wrongs against you. Forgiveness can happen whether or not the other person shows regrets or tries to make up for past wrongs.

Acknowledge your pain.

Accept it as your response to the other person, and allow yourself to feel the wound.

Seek some understanding of their motivation. What led them to those hurtful attitudes and behaviours?

Consider the possibility that they were doing the best that they could, even if their best was not very good and may have caused you to feel quite hurt.

Release yourself from the pain.

Give yourself permission to forgive them.

When you are ready, forgiveness is a great gift that you give to yourself.

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