We often hear of the need for forgiveness, and the necessity to forgive those who have hurt us. In doing so, we find freedom for ourselves. But deep within our human nature we tend to want those who have wronged us to ask us for forgiveness; essentially admit they wronged us and beg for our pardon. This scenario of admission of wrong and request for forgiveness is rarely the case. Forgiveness is often a one-sided choice on the part of the person who feels wronged, without any acknowledgment from the one who caused the harm. But sometimes the gift of forgiveness works to bring peace to both sides in the 11th hour.
I once served a gentleman who had been in the dying process for some days. Honoring his wishes, his family sought only comfort care for Bob (not his real name). It was a mystery to caregivers, both professional and relatives, why Bob continued to linger.
During a visit when this question was again presented, I asked the family if everyone had visited whom Bob needed to hear from before he could go in peace. The gathered relations became quiet and exchanged glances with one another. Finally one of them announced she would say explain the situation. The others soon joined in telling this part of Bob’s story.
According to the family, Bob and his brother had to been extremely close in their early years. Even after they had left home they remain best friends and did everything together. At some point there was a conflict between them that was never resolved. Neither brother wanted to make peace with the other. They had not spoken in many years. Before Bob’s recent decline, he forbid his family to tell his brother of his illness, and told them he did not want him to know he had passed until after the funeral.
Wanting to honor Bob's wishes but also sensing about patient and family a deep void that hungered for peace, I asked the family if they would feel comfortable contacting the his brother and asking him to speak forgiveness to Bob over the phone. (Bob’s brother was struggling with an illness himself, which Bob knew nothing about, and was too ill to travel at the time.) The family quickly agreed this was the right thing to do.
Shortly after the conversation, the family gathered around Bob, called his brother, explained to him that Bob was dying and the need for forgiveness and peace between them. They turned on the speaker on the phone and placed it near Bob’s ear. His brother openly forgave him for their decades-old disagreement, and asked Bob to forgive him in return. He spoke love and peace to Bob, and said he would see him soon. Bob's family seemed relieved and at peace with the transaction. A few hours later, Bob peacefully passed. As stated, his brother followed a short time later.
The need for spoken forgiveness, requested or not, is often such a powerful gift that those at the end of life desperately need before they can make their final transition. It is important to keep this in mind for patients and their families when there is a sense of anxiety and unfinished business between a patient and those they have loved.