A place for your title 1

It seems reasonable enough when someone tells you to forgive yourself.

You provided the best care you could have under the circumstances.

You loved in all the best ways you knew how to love under the circumstances.

You provided the best food you could under the circumstances.

You were the best friend and partner you could be under the circumstances.

You made the most compassionate decision you could under the circumstances.

So why is it so hard? Why is it that we get hung up on what we could have done differently or how things might have changed if we had known this or hadn't been away for work or had more money?

I think the way we look at forgiveness could use a revision. I tend to think of forgiveness as this grand impossibility (because I am a grudge-holding champion) where I release the other (or in this case, myself) from the shackles of wrongdoing. In this way, forgiving feels like me erasing my emotional turmoil for not liking what the other has done (again, that other is me) and absolving the other from that emotional harm. Which I don't want to do, because that other (still me) deserves all kinds of bad things for messing up.

If this is at all relatable, I feel you. I have done this so many times with myself regarding the care I've provided to family members. Did I do too much? Did I do enough? Did I wait too long? Did I wait long enough? It is a nasty spiral of doubt, disdain, disgust, and other things that I direct at myself. I go from telling myself that I am the best person for them when they are alive, and that I am being responsive and empathetic and considering their comfort first to abusing myself for the decisions I made after they have died.

It feels awful. I know you know. And with this model or understanding of forgiveness, I can't seem to forgive myself. I don't want to, because I want those sharp bits to stick out in my memory so I can learn from them. Apparently I need things to be pointy and jabby for them to have a lasting impact on my learning.

I am trying a new view of forgiveness. It's something I learned from Jack Kornfield, and he explained in a talk that forgiveness is letting go of the idea that the past could have been different.

I like that so very much.

He points out that forgiveness requires that you identify the hurt and betrayal you've felt, and you work to make sure it never happens in that way again. Forgiveness is courageous, wise, and strong. It does not condone the behavior.

Forgiveness does not condone the behavior. I feel like I need to repeat that for myself.

And truly, when we are talking about end-of-life decisions and the care and treatment for our family members, we are absolutely doing the best we are able to do. Of course we are. There is zero malevolence. The choices we make that we question later are the ones we made because the thought of being without those family members by our sides felt crushing. Because we wanted to do whatever we could do for them to stay with us.

Can I forgive myself for loving this way? Yes. I think I can.

Can I forgive myself for knowing that decisions I made in love may have been painful for someone else? Yes, I can do that because I know that recognizing those decisions will help me make more compassionate choices next time.

I hope that when it feels good for you, you can forgive yourself.