Vera was neglected as a child. She grew up, married and had to kids. In her marriage she behaves badly, as if she would like to be abandoned and disliked so the story of her past can repeat itself. To change her life, Vera has to forgive the past, and then she has to forgive herself before she can reinvent her life. Forgiving doesn't mean forgetting, nor does it mean that you've given the message that what someone did was okay. It just means that you've let go of the anger or guilt towards someone, or towards yourself.
Gandhi famously said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Holy books, religious texts and scores of literature dwell on the nature of forgiving. How does it feel to do so? Vera should be able to guide you through. She has been through a difficult childhood and adulthood. She is able to dwell on the past without being bogged down by it and feeling hurt.
No doubt this makes the angry resentful mind squirm but a life-threatening disease and a family crisis brought Vera to a search for forgiveness.
Vera’s father died shortly after her birth – tuberculosis, they said. Her mother lacked the funds to care for her and sent the baby to her brother’s home to stay. Vera was unwelcome from the start. She was five when she was given food and made to sit separate from the rest of the family. By the age of ten, she was being beaten severely for the slightest infraction. The girl fared poorly at school and longed to return to her mother.
One day, when Vera was 13 years old, she ran away. Her mother stayed in a ramshackle house and did not appear healthy. She was not in a position to care for her daughter though she knew of the ill-treatment the child was facing. Vera begged her mother to let her stay but her mother was adamant. She could not keep her daughter safely in this place, she argued. Frustrated by her mother’s refusal to keep her and angry with herself for having bothered at all, Vera returned to her uncle’s house. Her uncle had informed the police about her loss and was relieved to know that she was alive though not pleased to see her back. Vera was not happy to be back and seriously contemplated suicide. Something held her back. Her mother died soon afterwards.
Vera married a good man at the age of 25. She had two children and all seemed well, though she was given to bouts of anger and viciousness. The beatings and continued ranting towards the children led to the belief that Vera was mentally unhinged. Her husband’s mother was called in to help Vera take care of the children. Her husband was a mild mannered person and found her behavior quite bewildering. Vera seemed to be particularly hateful of her daughter, the younger of the two children. With her husband out of the house for most of the day, Vera seemed to take great delight in following her daughter around the house and lampooning for imagined mistakes. She would beat the child at the first instance she got.
One day, there was a call from the school and Vera went over to know what was wrong. Her daughter, all of six, had thrashed a child of three in the playground. The girl’s parents wanted the child to be counseled. At the counseling session, it transpired that the child viewed her mother as hateful while she liked her grandmother, father and brother. The elder child concurred that the mother was too harsh and ‘not nice’. Vera had not anticipated the feedback and was stunned by the reaction of her children.
Her husband decided to keep the children away from their mother and filed for divorce. Vera could not fathom the speed with which she was being abandoned once again. She wept and pleaded to be allowed to stay with her family, but her husband was adamant. At this point, Vera was diagnosed with progressive heart disease. Her husband continued to press for a divorce despite her condition though he was financially supportive.
She entered therapy and chose to spend long hours in solitude. She joined a group in the course of her therapy in which she vented her ire against the family that had abandoned her. At first, the hatred she felt towards her uncle and his family and her feelings of pain about her own family overwhelmed her. She resented her husband and children for throwing her out and blamed her husband for being uncaring. She turned to religion for succor but found no peace. Finally, it was her mother-in-law who sat her down and helped her. She explained how things happened to her when she was a child and not in control of the situation. The absence of love at a young age had left her wanting it and not knowing how to get it. She was able to provide a mature and calming perspective that Vera had never received in all the years.
This approach acted as a catalyst for Vera as she realized how she had blamed everyone around her instead of appreciating what they had given her.
First, Vera was taught to stop herself when she was angry. She learnt to stop and check what her real feelings were. Vera realized that when something irritated her, she ceased to think. She felt things were going out of her control and used physical means to control the situation. It was a long while before she realized how alone she was since people were repelled by her behavior. Her husband had not reacted in time and taken a final step when it got too much to bear.
Forgive the past
Sometimes, things happen without being anyone’s fault. Vera’s parents were unable to care for her. Her mother chose to send her to the relatively safe environment of an uncle who was not willing to feed an extra person. Each person had a distinct context for their behavior. Nobody was evil in their intent; they were worried about their own. Vera realized how difficult her own behavior must have made it for her uncle to let her stay in the house. After initial reactions of hatred against her family, she started to realize how the events had unfolded. She saw the times when kindness and love had helped her, though she had failed to see it given her mental state.
This is the most difficult action. Explaining her childhood was relatively easy, the difficulty lay in her acceptance that she had bullied her spouse and children and had in fact behaved abominably drove her to a state of depression. She realized that her husband had disliked her as had her children. She slowly realized how her acceptance of her errors had gone a long way in improving her self-awareness and control.
She was allowed to visit the children and slowly realized how loving and lovable they were. She wept bitterly as she remembered the hurt she had caused when they were younger. They were young and more willing to forgive. Her husband was wary of letting Vera back into his life again. She realized that she had hurt him deeply and that he did not trust her. She stopped trying to get him back and relaxed into accepting her single status. Her mother-in-law gives her regular updates about the children and she is in touch with them on chat and with regular visits. She is aware that as they enter their teens, she will have to face their ire about her past behavior, possibly see the same behavior she exhibited with them.
Her physical health may never recover completely. The stress has been high. But, Vera is now a happier and more fulfilled woman. Better able to accept the vagaries of life and appreciate the good.