July 3, 2012
As the birthday of a particular close family member approaches, I am faced with a painful dilemma. In past years, because we share a close bond but are separated by distance, I would have called with good wishes and excitement for the excuse to chat.
This year, however, I’m not sure what to do.
What is troubling me is that, due to a falling out we had in early 2011, it seems that this person has chosen to write me off. She has not actually said this to me, but since I have not heard from her in over a year, I think its a safe assumption.
The stress on our relationship came in the wake of a tragic event in her life in which she felt I did not support her in the way she needed me to. At the height of her crisis, I tried to be there for her as best I could, given that we live at opposite ends of the country. We spoke every day, sometimes several times a day, but there came a time when I was up north with no phone charger and I could not be reached. I had told her I would call her but I wasn’t able to. She had been trying to contact me for two days.
It makes sense to me that she would have become very upset not being able to reach me. I was one of her lifelines at a time when her entire world was falling apart. I imagine she must have felt scared, hurt, alone and abandoned and I feel terrible thinking of what she must have gone through. When I returned to the city and was unable to find her for a few more days I became quite alarmed and concerned for her well being, but when we finally spoke, she told me how upsetting it was to not be able to reach me. I did my best to apologize to her but at the same time, I needed her to understand that it was never my intention to hurt her. I hoped she would be able to see that it was an unfortunate circumstance and recognize that I tried to reconnect as soon as I could. We discussed it off and on for the next few weeks and I thought we had come to a mutual understanding. But, in the months that followed, she replied to my inquiries less and less and eventually, around April of last year, she stopped responding altogether. I still messaged her a birthday greeting in July, hoping she would be more receptive, but she did not respond and since then, I have not reached out any further.
Now, before you come to any conclusions, I should add that this person has been one of the most supportive people in my life. When I was going through my divorce (one of the worst periods of my life), she was unwaivering in her dedication to me and helped to get me through some unbelievably tough times. She was relentless when it came to checking in when she was worried about me and she was encouraging, comforting and incredibly resourceful. I am eternally grateful to her and when her world fell apart, I wanted to be there for her, as she was for me. I really thought I was doing that, which makes it so much harder for me to come to terms with what has happened between us.
I guess I am writing this, in part, because I’m angry. I’m angry at myself for not handling this issue better. I should know better. I should BE better. But I’m also angry at her for her extreme and final reaction to it. It seems so out of proportion to me and so unfair. I have the ability to see many sides of any issue and I am constantly making sure that I put myself in others’ shoes before I make up my mind about any situation. I find it really hard to relate to people who can’t understand the complexity of an issue and the importance of seeing things from another perspective. And so, true to form, that’s another reason that I’m writing this. To gain further clarity about what lessons are in this for me that I have not considered.
What else could I have done to repair the rift in the early days? Should I have kept calling and texting her even though she told me repeatedly she didn’t want to talk about it? When I am hurting, I often withdraw into my own process, not wanting to be bothered but I resurface eventually and, when I do, I try not to blame others for misinterpreting or not knowing how to handle my moods. I try to take responsibility for my own feelings, even if they are provoked by external influences and I hold myself accountable for being honest and addressing any issues with others that are causing me to have residual negative feelings. If she had unresolved issues with me, it was up to her to address them with me directly. I am not making excuses, but that is how I justified my decision to step back at the time. I don’t know how my retreat was interpreted by her because I was given no opportunity for any further dialogue.
Perhaps I was being stubborn (Maybe I still am) and maybe I should have risen above my own feelings at the time (maybe I still should), but I guess have been hurt, too, and I’m trying to protect myself from the shame of being rebuffed again. However, I am a firm believer that our mistakes are what teach us how to do better next time and I sincerely hope that I will be able to grow as a result of this experience. Sadly, the chance to heal this relationship may have already passed without me realizing it. And that is a painful truth to live with.
So the question is:
How does one move on without the forgiveness of another?
As many of you know, I believe that the key to healing relationships is through restoring connection and, to do this, the individuals must be willing to stay open, vulnerable and create ongoing opportunities for dialogue. When the opportunity for dialogue is not offered, however, there is very little one or both people can do to regain a safe connection. The longer the silence, the further away they drift. What’s left is two people, each with their own feelings of pain and no safe place in which to be heard. And what happens then? How do they move on?
For now, all I know is this: Based on the information I have, there is nothing that I am prepared to do that I have not done already. She may feel that there is more for me to do to redeem myself, or she may feel it is best for her to have me out of her life but I have nothing to go on except silence. I see no way of moving forward together unless we are both willing to talk about it within a safe, structured dialogue.
Either way, her forgiveness is not in my control. Without a clear understanding of what it is that needs to be addressed, I must accept the silence for what it is and grieve the relationship. Continuing to carry the burden of her disappointment is not the answer. If it were, this would have been resolved by now. I have to let it go, keep an open heart and surrender.
The bottom line is what I have known all along. That the only forgiveness that really matters is that which we give to ourselves. Forgiveness is not “for” anyone but the forgiver. It is a gift that we bestow upon ourselves in order to release us from the burden of blame toward ourselves or another.
In this case, I have done much soul searching and have looked at what happened from every angle I can think of. I am able to admit that I made some choices that may have been interpreted as hurtful, and if it were in my power to take that pain away, I would. But I also know what is in my heart and what my truth is. I care very deeply for this person and I want the best for her, yet I failed her somehow. I was not able to give her what she needed. Maybe I didn’t understand what she needed. Maybe I underestimated her needs. I am flawed, as we all are, and I have regrets for the mistakes I have made that have hurt others. However, given another opportunity, I am not sure that I could have done it any differently under the circumstances. Maybe I would today and maybe I wouldn’t. I was trusting my judgement then, and I would do the same today. What more can any of us do? We can’t be different than we are, no matter how much someone else needs us to be. Had I known then what I know now, I may have been able to avoid these consequences but I didn’t. It took an experience like this to educate me. I can’t turn back the clock. I can only move forward with new information and continue to trust myself, knowing that I am doing the best I can.
For those reasons, I am learning to be at peace with my decisions.
I am moving toward forgiving myself.
And yet, that doesn’t resolve things, does it? There is still another person in this equation who has made a choice based on what she feels is right. And even though I’m hurt, how can I blame her? Her experience and the feelings that came as a result of it are valid. So, I must forgive her, too, and trust that, if a resolution is in our highest good, it will happen some day.