It’s not a good sign when the first news of the day means dealing with death. But it got me thinking about the huge impact forgiveness can have in our lives. My father’s brother passed away the other night while I was out celebrating the 4th of July with friends.
The two brothers were opinionated men. Both charming, forceful, very smart, and they took on life with maximum force. One went into politics, becoming the mayor of a big city in Germany while I was still living there, and the other, my father, was the CEO of a dairy company in another city.
Growing up our families were close. We visited each other and here and there had a vacation together. After we grew up we lost touch, but on occasion my brother, my sister and I still had contact with our uncle, and my cousins.
Life took a terrible turn for my father when he was fired from his job. Still, he had a pension secured and the strict German laws required the company to pay him out. He would have been set for life, but he wasn’t anywhere near done. My father got into business deals with my uncle and that was the beginning of the end – for both of them.
Nobody is entirely sure what really happened. All we know is that a few very big deals went very wrong. An unscrupulous attorney gave bad advice and promises were made that the law couldn’t support. Finally the media got involved, after all here was a former mayor knee deep in a scandal, and once the newspapers spinned the story that two brothers had gotten involved in shady deals – each and every one fell through. Leaving both brothers with massive losses. My uncle lost a lot but was able to save some in time, whereas my father and ultimately my family lost everything as a result.
My father and uncle never spoke to each other after the deals went awry. Their anger and hurt just seethed through them and turned toxic. My father died in my arms when he was only 70 years old, six weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died a poor man with a pile of debt. I was the closest to my father and I know that he died of shame and a broken heart. He couldn’t bear his life any longer.
At my father’s funeral, I saw my uncle and that side of the family for the first time in many years. To this day I remember my uncle’s facial expression. I have never seen a face so tormented and a man so visibly torn apart inside. My father had refused to make his peace with his brother on his deathbed and it was killing my uncle. (I’ve been fascinated by the power inherent in the act of forgiveness, and I’ve been writing and talking about it for the last several years.)
My father passed away nine years ago on the first day of spring 2004. My uncle passed away July 5, 2013. Both brothers never got over what had happened and neither family was able to put the pieces together – ever.
What pains me most in all of this is a very simple thing. As we get older, as I get older, I realize how precious life is and how in the end only the people matter. Sure we get to amass fortune and fame, but in the end we only get to live on in the memories of the people that we mattered to.
Forgiveness is hard especially when it’s big things. When it cost you money, when you’ve been violated, when you have been abused, physically or mentally tortured, or when someone simply pretends you don’t exist.
As I am reflecting on this feud, I wish that the healing will finally begin. As for my brother, sister, my mother and myself – we have forgiven. Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter anymore. We can’t lose anyone else over this; the price has been too high.
My message for you is, make sure that you do everything in your power to forgive the people who have hurt or betrayed you because it’s not worth the damage done to your spirit.