Guest blog Written by Judy Van Niekerk:
Forgiveness is such a misunderstood concept in our society today.
Forgiveness is a journey, a natural by product of healing. A journey that involves so many twists, turns, dead ends and false horizons. With each dead end bringing with it a sense of going deeper into the abyss, and each false horizon a pain and frustration so consuming it threatens to overwhelm you.
Yet, one day, you wake up, wipe the sleep from your eyes, and something is different. You don’t know what it is, but all of a sudden you see colour, vibrancy and there is a light at the end of the tunnel that shows a clear and real horizon.
You have a feeling of inner peace, a connectedness that had been lost for so long, that feels so good to have back and there is hope, faith and excitement for what the future will hold.
Then a situation arises that makes you confront your source of betrayal, whatever form that took, be it abuse, loss, disease, violence – that you realise you feel so different towards it.
You have an ability to let it go. You realise that the person or situation does not have the same hold on you. Not for their sake, but for you, for the sake of your life and your own destiny.
It is then you realise you have forgiven!
Forgiveness does not mean to condone, it is not a judgment on the other person or situation – but a release of their hold on you. This was my experience when a few years ago, I was told by the police Detective that my father, who was serving 54 years in prison, was dying.
The memories of the years of pain, torment, fear and anguish washed over me like a tsunami but I didn’t drown under them, instead I intuitively knew what I must do. Living in South Africa at the time, I got the next flight to Dublin, and I went to see my father in the hospice where he had been transferred to.
It was the hardest, yet easiest thing I have ever done, walk into a room alone and face a man – who had imprisoned me for almost two decades whilst violently and daily raping me, shooting me, making me pregnant several times and conducting brutal home abortions – whilst I was isolated from society, denied schooling or any form of human interaction.
There I was face to face with the man, my father, the press had labeled evil after the court hearing.
I saw a wasted man, consumed by his own agony, still completely oblivious of the harm he brought to me as he continued to be able to right say it to himself and to me, still completely so self absorbed in his last days, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Gratitude that I was able to break away from him, gratitude for everything I had achieved in my life, gratitude for all I had in my life and the life I was yet to live, gratitude that my path was so different to his and finally gratitude for the life he had given me for without it, I surely would not be living the life I have.
With that gratitude came an ability for me to say, thank you Dad for everything, I love you.
That was when I truly understood forgiveness.
It was not for me to judge my father’s journey in this life. Each one of us has our own path to walk. The experiences we encounter on that journey are skills, tools and even gifts that we need to fulfil that journey; and that day, I saw my father, a lonely middle aged man, having been a part of the gift of my life.
I did not need nor did I expect an apology from him, and when you think about it, if I genuinely believed that what he did for me was a gift, then what would he have to apologise for?
As you read this you may be at a very very different part of your journey towards healing, and you may find what I say so incredulous, unbelievable even or even tempted to label me with Stockholm Syndrome, just know that what you are feeling right now – is completely normal and totally understandable.
During some of the dark times on my own healing journey, when I read articles like this, I went out of my mind, I could not comprehend it. But as my journey continued, reading about others experience not only gave me hope, but helped me contextualise my confused web of feelings and emotions.
Although I forgive my father for all he did, I did report him to the police and it was the first ever case of it’s kind in Europe to have been held out of camera, free for the press to report. In his summation the Judge said it was the worst case of child abuse he had ever heard and sentenced my father to 54 years. The incidence of women and girls reporting sexual crimes went up 75% in Ireland at the time.
Forgiveness does not mean we condone, and does not prohibit us from taking action against those that had wronged us – for this is what is necessary in the mortal realm of society. But in the spiritual realm, forgiveness and gratitude is the food and nourishment for our soul.
Written by Judy van Niekerk