About Forgiveness and Empathy


Back during my Christmas break in the sunshine, I mulled over in my head this issue with my parents, or rather my relationship with them.

On day two of the holidays, as I was laying on my sun lounger relaxing one morning, thoughts appeared about the situation and prompted me to hand write a letter to them, explaining my issues, and giving some kind of ultimatum, either we sort things out or we go our separate way.

After I wrote the letter, I laid down again and tears started to roll from my eyes, I really wasn’t happy with this state of affair and I really didn’t know what to do – the letter had only served at getting my frustrations and anger out however I felt it wouldn’t achieve the results I had wanted: a good relationship with my parents.

As I laid there, I asked for help in my thoughts – a sign, something that would guide me towards a better solution.

A little while later, the lady who was staying in the appartment next door came out and introduced herself, asking me what I was up to.

Well, she asked, so I told her all my confused thoughts and feelings towards my parents, in particular my mum, and I just didn’t know what to do anymore.

She said, “Have you tried forgiveness?”

I paused…and said no I haven’t, and I am not sure I can forgive.

I thought about it during the day and decided I would try that way as a last resort, completely unsure how to do it but I added it to my Mind Map as something to revisit with regards to my parents.

mind map 2

The problem I had with forgiveness is I cannot forgive what I cannot understand. And I couldn’t understand how my mum could be so unloving towards my brother.

Later on in the day, when I saw the lady again, Margaret, I thanked her for her advice and told her I would try the forgiveness route.

Her response was classic : “Well it isn’t my advice as such, it’s just what they say you should do” – it seems she had thought more about the situation as I had explained it to her and she too was having difficulties  accepting my mum’s behaviour.

In short, as it runs deep, the problem I have with my mum is she has never showed much love towards my brother, who is disabled due to a mistake she made (taking him to Morocco before he was vaccinated against Polio and him catching the disease and rendering him unable to use his legs).

She often puts him down when she speaks to me, and gives me the feeling he is a big disappointment to her (my brother, like most men, has a poor connection with his mother, not behaving the way she thinks he ought to, ie loving and caring), never has a nice word to say about him. And I find it hard to let that go.

Last Sunday, after hearing yet another derogatory comment about my brother (I can’t even recall which exactly), I decided enough was enough and emailed her to let her know how uncomfortable I am hearing how she speaks about my brother, giving her various examples of what she had said in the past month and how it had come across to me, and asking her to think about it.

On Monday night she phones me, I am not in the right mood to talk about it (shattered from my first day at my new job) but she brings it up. I listen, too tired to think about it.

As she explains and talks, suddenly, she comes to a conclusion:

“The problem is we see your brother differently, you see him as disabled whereas I don’t”

I say thanks for talking about it, we say good bye and I promptly fall asleep, relieved this conversation is over (I had been worried about how she would respond, fact I had also mentioned in my email “I don’t want to hurt you and this is why I am finding it hard to talk to you about it and preferred putting it in an email”).

A few hours later, I wake up and see all this with such clarity.

Indeed there lies the problem: our perceptions of my brother are completely different.

I know I have the real perception, my brother afterall IS disabled, and hers is completely skewed.

However, I completely understand her now.

I completely understand how she has felt the best way to deal with having a disabled child was to ignore his disability and treat him as a “normal” child. To keep pushing through all the evidence that he wasn’t a normal child (and there were many), not worrying whether this would hurt him in the process (in her mind, it was for his own good) and that eventually, surely, with enough pushing, she would convince herself he was “normal”, and possibly stop feeling guilty or resentful (she told me four years ago she had turned her back on God after this happened, being angry that he (God) would inflict this on her) that this has happened to her.

Whether her behaviour is right or wrong is not for me to judge. It is enough for me to understand what drives her to be so cold with and demanding of my brother.

I actually have empathy for her now. That something so traumatic has happened to her that she would rather not see reality than actually deal with it.

And so now I can forgive.



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