Traveling seems to elude me now that I’m busy raising two little kids ages five-and-a-half and four. But I have a backlog of trips that left a sweet aftertaste, so much so that I can practically take myself to clear Caribbean seas or to the rainy Scottish highlands for a few minutes. As much as I treasure these trips for the glimpse of “otherworldliness,” the trip that means the most to me only lasted four days.
It was no vacation; in fact, the reason we assembled this past February was to attend my grandfather’s funeral.
Soon as I heard the news- news that makes your heart sink even knowing that it was his time and that his double pneumonia was over-I wondered if I should go. I wanted to.
I’d thought for a long time how much it would mean to be there to pay my respects to my last living grandparent, a man who was so many things to so many people.
To me he was “Pops,” a man who seldom knew how to relax, one who was short on patience, but a long way on love and support. His life was a testimony of devotion:he cared for my grandmother, who suffered with debilitating arthritis for over 40 years. He placed his trust in God and led his family according to His purposes.
His heart was for the poor among us, having worked as a social worker for Catholic Charities and served on the board of Cardinal Hayes Home for the Disabled among other worthy organizations.
But still I wondered if I should go. “This is not about you, Alisa,” went my inner monologue. No, it was for Pops. It was for my Dad that I would go. But I had to think about myself in this decision too.
You see (and without going into all the back story), the last time I’d been to Millbrook it wasn’t for uplifting reasons either.
There was an abrasive family fallout involved, and the individual who wronged me and others was not someone I wanted to see again. Though I’d tried to compartmentalize it, there were still emotions to contend with, among them: betrayal’s fallout, confusion, hurt, sadness. Whenever I came to sections in fellow believers’ testimonies about forgiveness, my reaction was to think “you don’t know the half of it” or “that’s good for you, but not for me.” In other words, I closed that section of their memoirs. Entertaining forgiveness at that time was agreeing to wear a sweater that scratched and burned my skin.
Yet in going back east, God was unknowingly opening the door I needed to step through. (How many times had I read “the only way out is through?)
Stepping out in faith that I was meant to be there, God began to restore what the locusts had eaten away. He didn’t only do this for me, but I’ll leave my other family members’ experiences to their telling.
Pop’s ceremony is one I’ll never forget. Never before have I attended a wake. I was hesitant to see him in the coffin, wanting to remember him as I had last: a mischievous sparkle in his brown eyes,
a question about dinner on the tip of his tongue, a plan for fishing probably in the works. But when everyone else decided to gather together, I entered the room and saw him lying peaceful, knowing
that his spirit was heavenward and that he was gone from this world.
Then the ceremony proceeded. Snippets that I won’t forget: the priest’s reassurance that if Wayne wasn’t in heaven, none of us would get there. Reciting the Lord’s prayer.
The phrase “forgive our trespassers” heavy on my tongue. The wind-tearing walk to St. Andrew’s cemetery. The American flag strewn over his casket, marking his service on the USS Cofer
during WWII. His final resting place beside my grandmother Joan. The unexpected updraft that had us all raise our eyes to see a rare white hawk, the likes of which weren’t often seen around those parts.
But as we finished near the burial site, my thoughts turned to the man who none of us had spoken with yet. He wasn’t looking our way and for understandable reasons.
Were any of us going to say anything to him before we went our separate ways forever?
I wasn’t the first to approach him at the reception. No, my mom was the first to offer what I didn’t know at the time were words of forgiveness.
When I walked to meet him on his way out, I no longer felt so confounded or broken. I was able to look at him, even accept a hug and say, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
It was only a few minutes, and he was gone, but it meant so much to me that that exchange ten years before was not going to be the way it ended.
As I went to sleep that night, I tossed and turned. There was a verse that edged itself on my heart, so to speak. And I couldn’t get it to quit. “As far as the east is from the west, so far are your transgressions
from you.” I felt that God was leading me to take up my pen; He was prompting me to write this relative a letter offering forgiveness. I didn’t want to. But I didn’t travel 3,000 miles
to walk away without resolution on my part. And there was the fact that I felt God leading me to this point .
Eventually I fell asleep, but not before promising Him I’d write a letter if I was able to pull the verse up on the phone the next morning (I’d had spotty cell coverage the entire time I was at my grandparents’ home.Though I know you’re not supposed to bargain with God, this was me asking for confirmation, and He gave it).
The verse appeared on my phone right when I woke up: Psalm 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west, so far are your transgressions from you.” I wrote the letter that God laid on my heart.
As soon as I signed my name, I wish I could tell you I felt relief, instant healing. But I waffled before placing my letters in the hands of the one who would see him next.
Was this really the “strong” thing to do? Would it somehow eradicate his perception of how grave the pain he’d caused? No. No, writing this letter felt like God’s grace offered, and it wouldn’t have weighed so heavily on my heart had I not been meant to do this. I didn’t have to know when she gave it to him, how he responded, or if he even kept the words written on a half-page of journal paper. That was God’s business, not mine.
What that letter gave me was the realization that I could be set free. That I didn’t have to internally ache for wrongs made in the past. That I could have something other than resentment, distress, and anxiety in all its forms for the future. Though I will not ever say I’m grateful for harm caused or that I will ever trust this person again, I will tell you that my faith in Him is renewed and that I’ve tasted a restoration I never knew was possible. He threw the door open for forgiveness to happen. Walking on the other side has given me a peace I’ve never known.