The Legacy Of Forgiveness
We wrote legacy letters asking others for forgiveness for our actions and forgiving others in a recent workshop,
On her way out at the conclusion of the workshop, a young woman told me she’d done it wrong. I assured her that there’s no right or wrong in legacy writing. Then she explained that she’d written to her father, I replied that legacy letters can be written to future generations (as in a letter written by a teen to future generations apologizing about the ruined environment our generation is leaving them). And that legitimate legacy letters can be written to older generations as well as to people of our own generation. She then informed me that her father was dead. I acknowledged her struggle and pointed out that relationships aren’t finished because one person is here and the other not. After a moment of reflection, she relaxed, looking relieved: smiled, thanked me, and revealed that she couldn’t have written the letter when her father was alive!
Just this month I heard a talk by a woman whose teen son was murdered by a young man. After 12 years of grieving, she began visiting the murderer in prison, and eventually forgave him. After 17 years she has included him as part of her family! I don’t think I have that much capacity to forgive, but I am in awe that some people can.
Sharon Strassfeld in her book, Everything I Know, wrote an amend to her daughter as she was leaving home for college: “I have no way to lessen for you the pain you suffered in having been an acutely sensitive child in the hands of a strong and assertive mother. But I will tell you that always, always, I gave you the best that I had available to give. And sometimes my best was simply not good enough. I’m sorry for that.”
Our written apologies and regrets are acts of love that will be appreciated now and long after we’re gone.
The purpose for this category of legacy letter is to repair a relationship in which we have wronged another and need to acknowledge what we did, make an apology, and ask for forgiveness. Making an amend reduces the clutter we carry as part of our personal baggage. It can release us from guilt. It may as well make us more forgiving and compassionate of others.
Is really to remember
That nobody is perfect
That each of us stumbles when we want so much to stay upright
That each of us says things we wish we had never said
That we can all forget that love
Is more important than being right.
“You’re lying on your deathbed. You have one hour to live. Who is it, exactly, you have needed all these years to forgive?” – Margaret Atwood
- List 3 people – or more – to whom you want to offer an amend or ask forgiveness (they can be living or not).
- Next to each name write a short description of the harm(s) you’ve done.
- Choose one person from your list and write your reasons for seeking resolution.
- Write a 15 minute letter to that person focused on your description of the harm you did and your amend.
- Put the letter away at least overnight, and then reread it; decide whether and when you will send it. If you decide “not now” put the letter with your personal papers, and bring it out regularly to reconsider your decision.
- Repeat this practice with the other two people on your list, and add as many as you wish.
“May your reflection and writing grow your respect and compassion for yourself and those you love.”
Rachael Freed, LICSW, senior fellow, Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, University of Minnesota, is the author of Your Legacy Matters, Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies and Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient. Rachael Freed firstname.lastname@example.org and www.life-legacies.com