Death and Forgiveness
- Joan Greland-Goldstein
"We need to leave. Joan's father just died."
My husband, Richard, our newborn baby, Andy, and I were in Binghamton, New York, where Richard was interviewing for a postdoctoral fellowship.
I had been in our host's guest room nursing Andy when someone called Richard to the phone. As I overheard Richard's words, my consciousness split in half. One part registered the information with dismay. The other continued cooing to Andy, enchanted that he had just awarded me his first smile.
"That was your brother," Richard said. "Your dad died this morning from a heart attack."
Numbly I nodded. Not wanting to cry, I stoically focused on the tasks at hand: packing our belongings, gathering together the baby paraphernalia, wrapping Andy.
It was only when we started the car ride to my parents' home in Pennsylvania that I felt ready to hear more.
"He went to the hospital on Friday with a heart attack but seemed stable. Then he had another this morning, and they couldn't revive him."
"I should have been there!" I sobbed.
"There wasn't anything you could have done. It was totally unexpected."
"I could have seen him. I didn't have a chance to say good-bye."
"The doctors tried their best, but it was too late. It happened quickly. He didn't suffer."
All my grief, regrets and guilt crystallized into a white-hot ball of rage directed at Richard. How dare you say he didn't suffer! You have no idea what happens during a resuscitation attempt. Daddy would have been mortified lying there naked while strangers pounded on his chest.
But as usual, I stifled my fury.
Slowly, life returned to normal and my grief started to fade. But I neither forgot nor forgave Richard's comment. Even though I knew he had been trying to comfort me, nursing my grievance toward him grew too satisfying to let it go. Of the many factors that contributed to our divorce, high among them was my fury with Richard about that statement.
Twenty years after our divorce, I was finally able to forgive Richard, let go of all my anger and resentment, and acknowledge that he had been doing the best he could in a tense situation.
At Andy's wedding, I approached Richard and said, "I'm so sorry for my part in all that went wrong in our life together." He graciously extended a similar apology to me.
It was good to finally have closure.
Walnut Creek, California