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Sometimes it’s just not possible to make that visit to a sickbed or deathbed because of past hurt, anger, or due to a difficult family situation. People who are dying may have been abusive, a violent addict who was not safe to be around, or someone who abandoned you, OR someone YOU abandoned or abused. Family situations are not always loving and welcoming before or during a death.
I know of parents who were afraid of their own children or children’s spouses; children who were afraid of their parents or former spouses; people who did not want to see relatives or former friends who had abused or hurt them.
The seeking or offering of forgiveness at a deathbed is a fiction crafted by writers of books and plays and movies. This is real life and it is rarely, if ever, a good idea to wait until someone is dying to confront them to offer or ask for forgiveness. Such confrontations usually result in more pain, not less, for all involved.
Please know this: you do NOT have to forgive someone who has abused you. See the post When Your Abuser or Abandoner Dies: How to Cope for ideas on how to physically and emotionally deal with the death of an abuser.
Here are some ideas and suggestions to consider if you are angry with the person who is dying for past abuse, or emotional pain they caused, or their abandonment of you, OR if they are angry with you.
A deathbed or sickbed visit is not the time for anger – yours or theirs. If you are angry with the person who is ill or dying, OR they are angry with you, seek counseling with a friend, a professional, or someone who can help you with those emotions.
If you do not feel you can control your emotions at the deathbed or sickbed, or if you know for certain that the person would not want to see you, then do not go to visit.
Whether they hurt you, or you hurt them, or the pain was mutually inflicted, write a note to them, handwritten on paper, please do NOT write an EMAIL or a Text! If you can, tell them you wish them peace, that you hope they are not suffering, but that you cannot be present with them. It is up to you whether you mail that note or not.
How do you write such a note?
I suggest you take a long walk, or sit and sip a cup of tea or coffee (NOT alcohol as you want to stay mentally clear, as painful as that may be), and take a time out from your day to think about your experience of this person and how knowing them has changed you, even enlightened you.
Then write a note, the old fashioned way – get a piece of paper and a pen or pencil, write the words out of you! Describe your walk or your time thinking of them and of your past relationship. Find the words to tell them what knowing them has meant in your life:
- maybe you protect yourself better in relationships with others after your experience with them;
- maybe you learned to love with an open heart because you were denied love by them; or
- maybe you got help for your issues and you never treated anyone the way you treated them.
Whatever it is, just acknowledge how you grew or changed who you are because of your experience of knowing them.
Sometimes just the act of manually writing such a note on paper can be healing.
If you decide not to mail the note, then let me suggest that you burn it, safely. There are many spiritual traditions that believe that by burning these kinds of intensely personal, handwritten notes you are sending the words out into the universe where, eventually, the other person’s soul may encounter them.
The act of burning these notes also gives you an endpoint. You wrote the note, you’ve set the words free into the universe, so maybe, just maybe, you can let go and move forward in your life with slightly less of the burden of this anger, hurt, or guilt that is weighing on you.
If you do decide to go to the deathbed of someone who abused you, let me offer you an example of such a visit that was handled with great care.
A young man I know quite well visited his mother on her deathbed after 10 years of not seeing or speaking to her. She had done horrific things to him.
He sought counseling before going to see her from his father and close family friends, and he set his goals for the visit very clearly. He wanted to tell his mother that he was doing well, that he is happy in his life, and that he hoped she would not suffer. Those were the only messages he wanted to convey – no rehashing of their past, no accusations. He only wanted her to see the happy and fulfilled young man he had become.
He grounded himself in the full knowledge that he was loved by his beautiful wife, his father and sister and brother, and many, many friends, and that he was proud of himself for who he had become.
He made a plan that nothing his mother said to him on her deathbed would or could change how he felt about himself, his life or the love he shared every day with those closest to him.
He was then able to go and see his mother and interact with her with a sense of peace and compassion that carried him through her death and beyond.
It’s your choice to make – to go or not to go to a deathbed of someone who hurt you, or who you hurt. I only suggest here that you know your reasons for your decision, that you put together a plan, and that you don’t let anyone else tell you what you “must” do in these situations. Only you know what is right for you, for your soul, for your happiness and your safety.
As my friend Jim would say, take good care.