In the old movie, “Love Story,” the lead character says, “Being in love means never needing to say you’re sorry.” In fact, loving another person means often saying you’re sorry unless you are such a perfect person that you never blunder into a thoughtless talk or fail to show sympathy and support when you should. Forgiveness is one of the great binding forces in marriage, family life, and in love, wherever it occurs.
Forgiving and being forgiven are among the most healing things that we can do, and that can be done for us, perhaps especially in a time of pain and grief. Forgiveness brings wrongs and painful events to a conclusion. It provides a new start and a new life.
We usually think of forgiveness in relation to some specific, real harm that someone has done. The person who has done the harm may have done it deliberately in a moment of anger or jealousy, or it may be a result of mere thoughtlessness.
Forgiveness may come after an apology, and the act of forgiveness may be known to both parties.
But forgiveness may not be reciprocal between two parties; it may be a choice by the person who feels harmed, even if no reply can come from the source of the harm. Forgiveness after the death of your wife is of this kind: if there is something for which you need her forgiveness, she can’t express it, nor can you apologize to her directly and in-person for something you did or failed to do. If there are hurts that now make you angry, you can forgive her in your heart and in that way, let her rest in greater peace than before.
If you have felt anger or guilt about her death, forgiveness is the step you need to truly move on.
You may need to forgive yourself for failings of yours in your marriage that now make you feel guilty. You may need to let forgiveness dissolve anger; you may still have against your wife. Your anger may relate to the cause of your wife’s death, or you may simply be angry at your new situation or God for letting it happen.
As we have seen earlier, there is false guilt as well as real guilt. Both must be dealt with for you to continue your new life freely so that your past now can strengthen you rather than burdening and accusing you.
In the Christian world, forgiveness is essential to becoming a Christian and to practicing the Christian life. Even outside the Christian life, forgiveness is essential for mental health and emotional freedom. The need for forgiveness comes from the recognition of our failings and our basic tendency to do the wrong things. To a Christian, forgiveness begins with God’s forgiveness and then extends to seeking and giving forgiveness to others. Forgiveness is a discipline wherever it occurs, and it can take a lifetime to learn.
If you feel a need for forgiveness from your wife, it may be best to simply assume that she forgives you. If you believe she is in heaven, assume that she has taken on some traits of God, including forgiveness. In that new life of hers, she is wiser and more forgiving than she could have been on earth. Accept her in that new life, and accept her forgiveness.
Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org