Forgiveness Fridays: Is it too late to forgive someone who has died?

I feel like a guardian of treasure, with the privilege of sharing today’s contribution. It’s raw and moving, as you’ll see. Because of the sensitive nature of the topic, the author will remain anonymous. It’s a stark reminder, especially in the light of the London fire, that we only have today. Please, if you need to, forgive.

A few days ago, my aunt – my mum’s twin – collapsed in the street and died. Apparently she was laughing one moment and dead the next. Her son tried desperately to revive her with CPR, but he and the medics couldn’t bring her back. My brother rang me with the awful news and I fell to my knees, floored with shock, literally. We both sobbed.

I still can’t believe I’ll never see my aunt – who was only in her sixties – again. I still can’t accept it. Hard because even now I am incapable of thinking about and talking about her in the past tense — she is so in-tense. How can one say, “was”? That’s not her. I have so many memories of her laughing. She laughed at everything and we all laughed with her. So many memories…

However there’s a cloud hanging over our grief, because my aunt died in the midst of a family feud and my mum hadn’t fully forgiven her. My aunt’s death is a salient message to all of us about the importance of forgiving our loved ones when they’re alive, because you never know when they’ll be gone.

The feud started off as an argument and quickly turned toxic, embroiling the entire family. It became a fall-out where people took sides, which threatened to split our family up. Apparently, the argument was over a very small amount of money in my grandmother’s will. To this day I’m still not entirely sure of the facts. All I know is that in my opinion it appeared nonsensical. None of my cousins wanted to take sides – but we were quickly dragged into it by the three sisters. I tried to defuse the situation by mediation, but that didn’t work; chiefly because nobody would listen. It’s funny when people argue; ‘facts’ are quickly forgotten while ‘feelings’ are always remembered.

So for the past few years my mother cut off her relationship with her sisters. To say the least, it was heart-breaking. It impacted the relationship with my aunts, cousins and my mum. I became angry at my elders for dragging us into it, as we didn’t want to get involved. It truly felt like a role reversal: we felt like the parents and they were the children.

By Genco Gulan (Own work), Creative Commons

Her twin wanted to make amends, but my mother wouldn’t forgive her. My mum kept bringing up past hurts; she’d unearth every slight and perceived act of betrayal in an effort to condone her stance of unforgiveness. What’s so galling is that before this they were so close. They were twins; confidants. They’d finish each other’s sentences, regale stories and laugh until they hurt with exertion.

So how does a relationship between two people become so sour, so quickly? One of Satan’s favourite tools to cause discord in families is to embed the root of bitterness in us. It happens easily: one person does wrong to another without realising it and then the person who feels wronged holds a grudge. Pretty soon everyone is so busy being bitter towards each other that they forget to love each other.

So for the last four years my mum hardly spoke to my aunt, even though they lived in the same town. I prayed for reconciliation in the family. I tried to reason with my mum; I even bought her a book called Forgiveness: God’s Master Key by Peter Horrobin, founder and international director of Ellel Ministries. But she was immovable. She refused to forgive fully and refused efforts by my aunt to reconcile. And now my aunt is dead.

I’ve learned that if you don’t choose forgiveness, you choose bitterness. Bitterness from unforgiveness turns inwards and in my opinion can cause depression and other physical ailments. I’ve seen my own mother’s bitterness nearly kill her. I said to my mum, “The Bible says if we don’t forgive people, we get turned over to the torturers” – but she still didn’t listen. When I said, “Jesus says bless those who curse you”, she asked, “Why would I want to bless someone who curses me?” Good question. The reality is because of the fallen nature of our own hearts we want to get revenge on people who have hurt us; when we choose to be in revenge and be bitter, we’re actually locking ourselves into what we want the other person to feel. So we’re drinking the poison we want the other person to feel. Peter Horrobin describes this as a ‘Divine Law’ – what we want for other people comes back to us and is the judgement upon us.

When my aunt died, my mum raced to the hospital, wailing in sorrow and grief at her sister’s bedside. She started to shake the lifeless body, begging her to “wake up”. Clearly, she truly cared for and loved her sister. There’s no doubt about that. But had she forgiven her when she was alive, she would have had wonderful memories up until her untimely death. There would be no regrets, no recriminations and no guilt.

Forgiveness is the most powerful prayer on earth. It’s torture to have hateful thoughts toward another person rolling around inside your head. But it’s never too late to forgive. We can still forgive someone who has died knowing that God sees our hearts and knows our thoughts. It delights the Father’s heart when as His children, we let go of our desire to see the offender get punished for the wrong they did to us.

I believe the lesson that needs to be learned from this is: keep short accounts and forgive right away so as to allow no room for regrets. Forgiveness is not a choice. It’s a command. In the Bible, we have no guarantee of tomorrow. To forgive the living or the dead, if we are waiting for the right time, then it is now. If we are waiting for the perfect day, it is today.

Moreover, it is unhealthy to carry all that pain day after day, year after year, when we could have laid it to rest soon after we got hurt. Have you been offended? Then forgive immediately. Forgiveness is an act of grace and mercy. And God forgives us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.

Dear Lord, I thank You for the power of forgiveness, and I choose to forgive everyone who has hurt me. I lift up [name of the person you want to forgive]. Lord I’m sorry for keeping them in bondage. Help me set [name anyone who has offended you] free and release them to You [Romans 12:19]. I forgive them for [tell Him what you want to forgive them for]. Help me bless those who have hurt me [Romans 12:14]. Help me walk in righteousness, peace, and joy, demonstrating Your life here on earth. I choose to be kind and compassionate, forgiving others, just as You forgave me [Ephesians 4:32]. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

6 Responses

  1. Chris Vickery

    My older sister is not speaking to any of us (we are 4 sisters) I wrote to her a few years ago saying sorry if I’d done something to hurt her but she never replied. She has blocked us all on facebook. So sad, but I pray for her every day.

  2. This is a very powerful message. I can relate to it in that for years in my family there was a seeming conspiracy of non-contact between my mother and one of her sisters, which I found incomprehensible and hurtful, and meant we had to visti my aunt (who I liked very much) in secret, ie. keeping it from my mother’s knowledge. I hope they came to some reconciliation before my aunt died. I actually spoke to my parents about it in a very forthright way only a couple of weeks before my aunt died, and hope my words may have had a positive effect. In the ensuing years, I have gained some insight into what my mother might have experienced as a child, and how she might have felt about this. Thank you for this post, It is immensely comforting to think we can still orgive someone even after they have died. I beleive I have done this with my mother. Nevertheless as you say it is far better to forgive immediately, or while the person is still living.

  3. Jane Pointet

    In the words of Jo Cox: ‘We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than that which divides us’.

    In the name of Christ let us truly live and believe that.

  4. This is very touching. I so connect with it too. It is a similar issue that could have caused division between my sister and I but I have always said ‘life is too short’. We aren’t close, never have been, which is mostly her decision but at least we still keep in touch, see each other etc. This sobering story certainly reminds me why. Thanks for the share. Sheila

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