Editor’s Note: This week we are printing a response to last week’s “Loss of a Child — Choosing to Forgive,” Dr. Neimeyer’s answer to a mother whose child died tragically. The author, Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP has written for AfterTalk several times in the past, and we value her thoughts. Below is the original question from “Miriam” and a link to Dr. Neimeyer’s response, followed by Ms. Mary Jane Hurley Brant’s response.
Dear Dr. Neimeyer,
How do I forgive the person who dumped my first-born son unconscious out of his car and left him to die? I lost my son almost three years ago; someone left him unconscious and he died in an empty parking lot alone. He was an organ donor and saved five different lives.
And to this day, we don’t know what happened to him. His criminal case has been closed. We are devastated, our family is broken, and everyone seems to be moving on, except for me. Each day I miss him more and more! I am angry and sad and I don’t think I will ever be able to move on. Do you think there will ever be healing and recovery from this tragic loss?
Link to Dr. Robert Neimeyer’s response: CLICK HERE
Response by Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP
Dear Dr. Neimeyer,
Poor Miriam, what a terrible sorrow to bear, her child thrown mercilessly from a car in an unconscious state. I’m glad she wrote to you about her son’s death. As we both know, everything changes when we lose a child, everything. Many bereaved mothers and fathers question if they will even be able to go on. Sometimes in their bewildered state they question their own identity. “Who am I, now that my child is no longer here?” They second-guess their choices, “Could I have prevented my child from dying? Did my child suffer in those last minutes?” These persistent ruminations and what ifs torture the minds of parents who have lost a child.
This sad mother sees her family managing better than she and that comparison – to her own grief journey – causes her self-doubt. And now, pressure from others (or voices from within herself) to ‘forgive’ the perpetrator seems to add an even heavier burden. I’m glad you offered the word ‘pardon’ as a choice over ‘forgiving.’ Pardon seems to embody a strength, a clear act of will, rather than ‘forgive’ which hints at some moral prompting. Grieving parents shoulder a heavy enough cross without further pressure to forgive a perpetrator in a crime-related child death.
Sometimes others think an act of forgiveness can magically lift the parents’ sorrow. I don’t think so. I think missing and longing for our deceased child remains – like love – in perpetuity. John O’Donohue, scholar, philosopher and poet, writes that our grief and longing for our beloveds are what keep our communion alive with them. I love that thought and it consoles me. I use it often with bereaved parents I work with and it consoles them, too.
If Miriam’s situation were a case of addiction, we know that she or any bereaved parent would not feel any less sorrowful when their child died. Parents often carry a terrible shame if addictions or suicide were connected to their child’s death. These parents keep details from every discussion about their loss so they won’t be judged or have their child judged. They become even more isolated in their grief. Parents of addicted children have loved their child with everything they had and always with the hope that their son or daughter would win that battle. But, even with Olympian efforts, we cannot always save our beautiful children no matter what cause of death took them from us.
We’ve all been given a life and search we do and search we must for meaning and ways to be courageous like Miriam did to honor her son’s wishes to be a donor. Now five people have been helped and given extra time in their lives. That is so extraordinary and generous and soul-touching.
Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP