Regret, Peace and Forgiveness: A Case to Consider
How do we forgive acts that may seem unforgivable?
Posted Mar 09, 2011
The other day I received the following inquiry from a reader that may provoke further discussion and reflection on the topic of "regret and how to make peace with oneself," which was the focus of my previous two blogs:
"This information was helpful. I have a question. A son accidently killed his mother by a freak accident, no criminal charges just a very tragic circumstance, the son was also injured. The dad is angry at the son and doesn't want to aide his son in his recovery or have anything to do with the son at this time if ever. Is this normal? And what can be done do help both of them?"
My first reaction is that my heart goes out to this family, what a traumatic event. Specifically with regard to the regrets aspect of this situation, I imagine that a big part of the son's recovery process is trying to deal with intense feelings of guilt, self-blame, remorse, and loss. Even though the tragedy was accidental, my sense is that the son still feels responsible. Making peace with himself will be no easy task, though my hope is that in time he will be able to start the healing process.
One thought I had is that the son may be looking for his father's forgiveness, but right now the father may not be ready to forgive. In order for the son to work through his regret and find peace, he may first have to forgive himself. This is independent of whether or not his father forgives him today, tomorrow, or ever. Having said that, for the father to make peace with himself, he ultimately may need to forgive his son. The father's feelings of anger are a very natural part of the grieving process, and he must work through that anger before he is able to get to the point of forgiveness.
In a chapter called "Take a Mulligan" in my book No More Regrets!, I talk about the concept of second chances. The story I tell is about my conversation with Wally Armstrong, coauthor of The Mulligan: A Parable of Second Chances (with Ken Blanchard), and in that sequence there are some thoughts about forgiveness that may be relevant here. One of the key messages is that true forgiveness must come from the heart, and this can only happen if the heart is ready to forgive.
If this discussion interests you, I also recommend checking out (or revisiting) the Kübler-Ross phases of grief model (1973; 2005), which includes the following five stages:
Denial - "This isn't really happening." "It can't be true."
Anger -"This isn't fair." "I don't deserve this." "Someone else is to blame."
Bargaining -"I'm not ready for this, I need more time." "I'll do anything to make this go away." "Please have mercy on me."
Depression -"I can't deal with this anymore." "There's no hope." "There's no point in going on." "I am so alone."
Acceptance -"I'm coming to terms with this." "I will survive this." "I surrender."
Here's a few questions for you to consider:
• What are your reactions to the story above?
• What is a time in your life when you experienced regret, including feelings of guilt or remorse, as part of losing someone or something special to you?
• How did you work through this loss and were you able to make peace with yourself?
Kübler-Ross, E. (1973) On Death and Dying, Routledge, ISBN 0415040159
Kübler-Ross, E. (2005) On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, Simon & Schuster Ltd, ISBN 0743263448