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I'm caring for a dying man who's still bitter toward his own father, who died years ago. He was alcoholic and beat my patient and his siblings. My patient says he'll never forgive his father. I think these feelings are preventing him from finishing his life with any serenity. How can I help him?-R.M., ORE.
Sometimes the act of pardoning requires physical tangibility.
In my private practice I was honored to know Nancy, who was dealing with small cell lung cancer that had metastasized to the mediastinum. Feeling a sense of urgency surrounding her limited life, Nancy hoarsely whispered that she needed me to witness her advance directive. She'd specified no extraordinary measures and wanted to be kept comfortable with analgesics and anxiolytics. Satisfied that her wishes would be honored, she collapsed onto the bed she shared with three devoted dogs.
Once she was settled and breathing easier, I asked if she had any other pressing concerns.
"No," she said softly. "I think I'm in pretty good shape[horizontal ellipsis]for the shape I'm in!!" She laughed, triggering paroxysms of coughing.
"See, last year, I did this thing of forgiveness," she continued after catching her breath. "My therapist recommended it. But when I kept complaining about all the abuse I'd suffered, she said, 'Nancy, they're all dead.' So I finally got it, you know?" I nodded.
"I made a list of all the people who'd hurt me bad. Then I went to this Catholic church and bought $20 worth of candles. I just went down the list, lighting a candle and saying, 'I forgive you.' And when I was done and walked out of that church, I felt like a heavy load had lifted off my back."
Remembering Nancy, I think your patient might benefit from a visit by a skilled chaplain. You're welcome to share Nancy's story (emphasizing of course that abuse is never acceptable). I don't know how the spirit world works, but I do know that in the human world, we heal relationships only through the power of forgiveness.
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