by Joy Loverde
What’s the fewest number of people I can make mad at me today? This question used to occupy my thoughts most days when I was caring for my elderly father. Every time I turned around, somebody was angry at me for something.
From people who loved me dearly (including my father) to neighbors and distant relatives, I was constantly on the receiving end of nasty and irate remarks. They would say... Quit your job and stay home with your father. You’re not doing enough for him. Can’t you do something about the way he’s dressed? The soup’s cold. The house is dirty. I felt like a punching bag by the end of the day.
Negative comments persisted to the very end. At the funeral home where my father was waked, one of his long-time friends took me aside and insisted that I could have done something to prevent his untimely death (Dad had died unexpectedly from heart failure while vacationing on a cruise ship, and I was faulted for allowing him to travel alone in the first place.). As shespoke, I immediately squelched the desire to scream at the top of my lungs, “Are you crazy?” Instead, I took a long, deep breath, looked deep into her grieving eyes, and softly said, “I know that Dad’s death is particularly hard on you.” Walking away I prayed, “God, please forgive her.” This strategy (forgiving offenders right then and there) is a far cry from the days when I would verbally duke it out on the spot, and hold grudges for months on end.
I don’t recall precisely the moment when I realized the world does not revolve around me; but this fact has proven to be an invaluable guiding principle when it comes to the act of forgiveness. Years of caregiving experience have taught me that what most people are angry about has little or nothing to do with me and what’s happening in real time.
Physical pain, haunted memories, unresolved historical grievances and relationship conflicts that existed long before I came on the scene are often at the core of aggressive behavior, and consequently rear their ugly head in the form of insults, name calling, blaming, criticizing, and guilt trips. Add present-day complex, emotional eldercare issues to the equation and a more perfect environment for angry outbursts simply does not exist.
Forgiveness is a choice, and choices we make on a moment-to-moment basis literally define the direction of our life. Choosing bitterness erodes joy. Cling to anger and resentment and we wreck havoc on our heath. Choose grudges and we leave our well being in the hands of our offenders.
Forgiving others also is an act of courage since there are no guarantees of the outcome. We may fear that the situation at hand will not be laid to rest or the relationship will not be restored to what it used to be. Even so, choosing forgiveness releases us from the burden of anger and pain no matter how the story ends.
We may wonder from time to time whether or not the act of forgiveness is worth the effort, and all we need to do is recall past situations when we have hurt others and were forgiven. Priceless isn’t it?
Caregivers must take care to avoid such stress. I’ll be writing more about forgiveness soon and I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.