"The Strength Of Forgiveness" is a short story I wrote, that was published in the 2019 Mother's Day edition of Chicken Soup For The Soul. It's not just a Mother's Day story though, it's also a poignant tale of a daughter repairing a broken relationship with her step-father, thanks to her Mother's example.
The phone was ringing as I walked through the door, just home from work. My mother’s voice crackled with sadness as she explained to me that she and my stepfather were getting divorced. I knew I should feel sad, but all I felt was a sense of relief.
For the first three years of my life it was just Mom and I, after my father was killed by a drunk driver when I was nine weeks old. At nineteen, Mom was a newlywed, new mother and a widow. After several months of being consumed by grief, my mother decided to enroll in the local university. That’s where she met Stephen and by the time I was three, they were married.
Although my mother and I were extremely close, my stepfather was extremely hard on me and I never felt loved or accepted by him. Those feelings soon turned into apathy and that apathy turned into an all-out hatred when, at the end of my junior year of high school, he informed us that he was quitting his job and opening a small business in a town 250 miles away. I felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under me. I was just about to start my senior year and I wanted to graduate with the friends I had gone to school with since kindergarten. The day we moved, he literally dragged me kicking and screaming out of the house. I vowed that day that I would never forgive him.
For the next ten years, it seemed like our family had dissolved into nothing. We all went our separate ways. My parents dated other people during their divorce, but it never turned into anything serious. After many years of loneliness, they started dating each other again. They started by attending church together and dedicating their lives and their relationship to God and it flourished from there. After a year of dating, they remarried. I was thankful I was 2,000 miles away, so I didn’t have to pretend to be happy for them. Just because my mother could forgive him, didn’t mean I could.
My mother tried to explain to me why she had allowed my stepdad back into her life. She told me why forgiveness is so important. “I didn’t just forgive him for him,” she said to me one day, “I forgave him for me. Because the unforgiveness was too much to bear.” She explained how important it is to let go of resentment and live in love and forgiveness instead. I didn’t listen and I continued to wear my armor of discontent.
In 2011, my mother was diagnosed with an extremely rare brain disease called Corticobasal Degeneration. It started with her losing her balance and progressed to her being confined to a wheelchair and living in a nursing home.
Mom had been in the nursing home for six months, when I came to visit her. I didn’t want to stay with my stepdad during my visit, but couldn’t afford an extended stay in a hotel, so I decided to put my feelings aside and make the best of it, for my mother’s sake.
I had planned on only staying three weeks, but when I witnessed how gravely ill my momma was, I promised her I’d stay until the end. The first few months were extremely uncomfortable at best. My stepdad and I had many scuffles and although we learned how to get along, my resentment kept the wall up between us.
Every day I would visit mom, she would ask me how my dad and I were getting along. I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I made it sound like we were getting along better than we were. Many times over the next several months, Mom would ask me to reconsider forgiving my stepdad as she did, but I ignored her.
Recently, my mother became extremely ill with a virus and was moved to a local Hospice facility, Family flew in from all over to say their goodbyes. During one of my visits, Mom reached out and took my hand. Her voice was weak, but she spoke with strength when she told me it was time to let go and open my heart up to my stepfather. “I want to leave this world knowing that you still have a parent that you love and can rely on,” she said.
She told me stories of how he was a different man now. He was the one who built the wheelchair ramp in front of their house, so Mom could stay in her own home a little longer. He was the one who helped her dress, bathe and get her to doctor appointments. He was the one who cooked for her and cared for her. And after she was admitted to the nursing home, he never missed a day’s visit.
She told me that he was the one who encouraged her when she wanted to give up, comforted her when she was in pain and showed her, as well as told her, how much he loved her every day. “This is the man I forgave and fell in love with again,” she said. “The man you hate doesn’t exist anymore.”
When I walked in the door that night, my stepdad was sitting in the living room with his cat on his lap reading the bible. In that moment, I saw the man my mother saw and I realized she had been right all along, and I was flooded with love for a man I had despised all my life. He looked up at me and saw I had been crying. With a fearful look he said, “Is your mom okay?” I told him she was sleeping comfortably when I left and then the words I had kept locked up for years tumbled out of me.
I thanked him for taking such good care of my mother throughout her illness. I thanked him for allowing me to stay with him indefinitely so I could be with her. I told him I was sorry for all the years of distance and animosity. His eyes filled with tears as he spoke his words of apology, for the times he was cruel to me when I was a child, for moving me away from our home and friends and for never being the father I needed and yearned for. And he told me how much he loved my mother, how much he had always loved her and how sorry he was for his part in the failure of their marriage.
My mother didn’t die that day. She’s still in the nursing home and every day is a struggle, but my Dad (no longer stepdad in my eyes) and I work as a team to care for her and I now consider him to be one of my closest friends. I’m so thankful my mother didn’t just tell me how important forgiveness is – she showed me. I feel as if I’ve shed a ton of bricks and lightened my soul. Proof that Mom really does know best.
Mom passed away March 29, 2019, just a couple months before this story was published. She did read my story submission though – in fact, she edited it for me.
The night before my mother went unresponsive, I was sitting next to her bed where she had been dozing off and on. She looked at me with a furrowed brow and a saddened shadow on her face. I asked her what was wrong and she told me she was worried about Dad. “Who will look after him, after I’m gone?” she asked. That’s when I promised her, that I wouldn’t leave and that I would stay and take care of Dad and I’m so thankful I did.
Since Mom’s passing, Dad has fallen several times and has faced some health problems of his own. It was then, I realized how much I loved this man and for the first time in my life, I know what it’s like to have a loving father.
We have our moments, but our relationship is based on the most important thing we have in common – a pure and undying love for my mother.
After over a half a century on earth, I know what it’s like to have a Dad to celebrate Father’s Day with.