How does one forgive such a horrific experience? How does one grieve well and move forward in the midst of such pain?
In forgiveness we begin with recognizing that an offense or hurt did indeed occur and that this was indeed wrong and painful. We assign appropriate blame to the one who harmed us. Next, we allow ourselves to fully grieve and to grieve well. Too often we cut grief short and shut down feelings because it is so painful. However, allowing the pain to be felt IS one of the ways we grieve and move on. Some remain in the first state of denial and fail to process the range of emotions present.
Often both grief and forgiveness move through 5 significant stages. And we often begin the stages in different places depending on the nature of the loss and the personality. (from Wikipedia).
- Denial — "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me."
Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after death. Denial can be conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, or the reality of the situation. Denial is a defense mechanism and some people can become locked in this stage.
- Anger — "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; '"Who is to blame?"
Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Anger can manifest itself in different ways. People can be angry with themselves, or with others, and especially those who are close to them. It is important to remain detached and nonjudgmental when dealing with a person experiencing anger from grief.
- Bargaining — "I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if..."
The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just do something to buy more time..." People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example "Can we still be friends?.." when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it's a matter of life or death.
- Depression — "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die soon so what's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?"
During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed. Depression could be referred to as the dress rehearsal for the 'aftermath'. It is a kind of acceptance with emotional attachment. It's natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage. Feeling those emotions shows that the person has begun to accept the situation.
- Acceptance — "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."
In this last stage, individuals begin to come to terms with their mortality, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. This stage varies according to the person's situation. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.
Forgiveness also has empathy in which we recognize the evil world and the humanity of the offender. "Hurting people, hurt people and that broken people hurt people." Sometimes mental illness is involved or the actions of a person are the result of serious internal pain. Theologically, we live in a broken world that has been deeply affected by sin. That sin involves sin that affects and hurts others and our own choices to sin. We are both sinned against and we are the ones who sin. We experience hurt and we hurt.
....And God does not author evil. God is the author of Life as the Bible teaches... He partners with human beings to do good, bring life, heal etc... but evil still exists in this world and God calls us to join him in bringing Kingdom life in the midst of our homes, neighborhoods and communities.
Forgiveness is also a process not an event. Forgiveness may begin with an event or a choice to forgive. But the grief process is also a process of forgiveness and at times we experience the cycles of grief.
Forgiveness and grief are complete when acceptance occurs in one's heart. The offense is released, the pain has been processed and people do move beyond the painful event--releasing the offender into the love, care and justice of God.
Forgiveness does not mean we place ourselves in the way of harm or allow that one to hurt us again. We must grow strong and draw boundaries in such situations so that we and others will not be hurt again.
There are other nuances of forgiveness but these are the points that have a lot of meaning for me and the way I process pain.