Are You Struggling to Forgive?

Tips for ForgivenessBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

My book of two suspense short stories (called Frozen) is now available for purchase. Today and next Tuesday, I’m going to share with you some of my inspiration for the two stories inside.

I’ve told you the story before of the best friend I lost to a drunk driver when I was only 20.

What I haven’t talked about before is how much I hated the man who killed her. And how much I hated myself.

Amanda called me the Saturday before she died and asked if I wanted to tag along and keep her company while she took her car in for an oil change. I turned her down. It was less than a week post-9/11, and I wanted to stay home and watch the coverage on TV.

Once she died, I couldn’t forgive myself for not going. It wasn’t that I regretted not getting that last day with her (though I did regret it and I’d trade a lot to have it now). It was that the voice inside my head told me I was selfish because I’d put my own desire to watch TV ahead of her desire for companionship. I was a horrible friend.

I didn’t contribute to her accident, and I couldn’t count the hours we’d spent together over the years. My guilt and self-hatred was irrational.

But when we lose someone we love, our emotions aren’t always rational. In fact, they seldom are.

It took me years to work through my guilt and self-hatred.

When I wrote “A Purple Elephant,” one of the suspense short stories in Frozen, it was this dual hatred—for myself and for Amanda’s killer—and the need to forgive and move forward that I tapped in to.

I wanted to explore what would happen if a woman was responsible for the death of her only child and couldn’t forgive herself. What would that do to her mentally and emotionally? What would it do to her relationship with her husband?

And how far would someone go to punish the person they believed killed their child?

Forgiveness is a tricky thing, in part because we hold so many misconceptions about what it really means to forgive. I won’t tell you whether or not Candice and Gerry (the characters in “A Purple Elephant”) learned to forgive or not—no spoilers here! But I will tell you what helped me most to actually forgive the man who killed Amanda.

(You might ask, Why would you even try to forgive someone like that? Well, hating him didn’t change anything that had happened, and I found that hating someone was turning me into a person I didn’t want to be.)

To forgive, I had to figure out what forgiveness isn’t. I had to sort through the myths to find the truth.

Truth #1 – Forgiveness isn’t reconciliation.

Reconciliation has many meanings. When I say forgiveness isn’t reconciliation, I’m talking about when two people reconcile, make amends, and come to some sort of agreement or restore a relationship. They “mend fences.”

At his trial, the man who killed Amanda showed no remorse. Near the end, when given the chance to speak, Amanda’s mother asked him to look into “the face of a mother whose heart you broke by murdering my only child.” By refusing to look up, he also refused to admit any guilt or to try to make amends in any way.

For a long time, I didn’t even try to forgive him. How, I asked myself, could I possibly forgive someone who didn’t want to reconcile with those he’d harmed? The answer? I couldn’t.

A pervasive myth about forgiveness says that to forgive you must also reconcile with the person you’ve forgiven. But forgiveness isn’t based on restoring a broken relationship.  Forgiveness is something that we do internally, not something we need to do externally.

If someone has hurt you, you don’t need to continue a relationship with that person (or form a relationship with that person) in order to forgive them.

Truth #2 – Forgiveness isn’t condoning the harm that was done.

The more I learned about his history, the angrier I became. I was angry that he got into a car drunk that night, angry that his girlfriend gave him her car because his was impounded, and angry that the law doesn’t inflict harsher punishments on first- and second-time DUI offenders. Amanda’s death was his third drunk driving conviction.

I thought that I couldn’t even start to forgive until I was no longer angry. My mind had wrongly yoked forgiveness with condoning sin and excusing him for what had happened.

That was a false connection too. I could still feel that what he’d done was 100% wrong. I could be angry that he’d done it. Yet I could still forgive him for it.

Truth #3 – Forgiveness isn’t pardoning.

In the end, he went to jail for second-degree murder, the first conviction of its kind in Michigan. Relieved at the closure of having the trial over, I tried to figure out what life looked like now without Amanda. I even started to think that I’d forgiven him…until his appeal a year and a half later.

I prayed that his appeal would be denied, but felt guilty for it. If I’d truly forgiven him, shouldn’t I be alright with the possibility of his conviction being overturned? Didn’t forgiveness mean pardoning him?

Any good parent will tell you that isn’t true. Sometimes people still need to suffer the consequences of their actions even after they’ve been forgiven. If an offence against us broke a law, we can forgive while still insisting that the offender receive the full legal repercussions.

Truth #4 – Forgiveness isn’t forgetting.

Thankfully his conviction stood. Time passed, and the “forgive and forget” mantra haunted me. I couldn’t forget what had happened. Did that mean I would never be able to forgive?

When I researched this, I found that the Greek word for “remember” means “to call to mind.” Its opposite is not “to forget.” Instead of “forgetting” the wrongs done to us, what we should seek to do is stop dwelling on them. When we choose to forgive, we’re saying that we want to focus on the good things in our lives and to build from there. We’re not saying that we should or can ever forget what happened.

Have you struggled to forgive someone? Or to forgive yourself? What helped you most?

Frozen: Two Suspense Short StoriesHere are a few more details for you about Frozen.

Twisted sleepwalking.
A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag.
And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.
“A Purple Elephant” is a 2,900-word suspense short story about grief and betrayal.

In “The Replacements,” a prodigal returns home to find that her parents have started a new family, one with no room for her. This disturbing 3,600-word suspense short story is about the lengths to which we’ll go to feel like we’re wanted, and how we don’t always see things the way they really are.

Frozen is currently available at Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. More venues coming soon!

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Image Credit: Laura Glover (via sxc.hu)

I’m Giving Away a Short Story

Purple Cover

Twisted sleepwalking.
A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag.
And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

That’s a peek at “Purple,” the short story I’m giving away starting today as a thank you to anyone who signs up for my brand new newsletter (which I’ll tell you about in just a minute).

“Purple” is a suspense, not the fantasy you might have expected from me, but I’ve chosen to use it as my thank-you gift for one very important reason. I wanted to give you the best I had.

Even though I wrote “Purple” back in 2008, it’s still my favorite piece of work. It’s also the story that I won the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Competition with that year. Because I wanted to be certain I was giving you something I was proud of, it became the obvious choice. I won’t be making it available any other way.

So let’s get the obvious questions out of the way about the newsletter.

If I’m already subscribed to your blog, am I also subscribed to your newsletter?

You’re not. The newsletter and the blog are separate, and I would never violate your trust by signing you up for the newsletter without your permission. If you want to be on my newsletter list, you’ll need to sign up separately.

So what’s the difference between the blog and your newsletter? Why should I sign up for both?

Well, my blog is what you’re used to. I post two to three times a week on science fiction, fantasy, and writing. Everything remains the same for blog subscribers. You’ll continue to receive my blog posts as always. No extra action necessary.

My newsletter will only go out when I have news about new releases (in other words, novels, non-fiction books, and short stories—and you will be seeing all three from me this year if all goes as planned), upcoming courses I’m teaching for writers, exclusive discounts for newsletter subscribers, and freebies. I expect it’ll only go out about once a month. If you want the newsletter too, you need to sign up.

Along with my new newsletter, you may have noticed that things look a little different around here. I want to thank the talented Laird Sapir of Memphis McKay who has been working hard behind the scenes to design this new site for me. I’m very excited to finally be able to show it off. Please bear with me as I finish unpacking. But if you’d like to poke around a little, I have already updated my online courses and editing services pages.

So there you have it. I’d love it if you’d sign up for my newsletter by putting your email in the box below and then share this post. If you enjoy the story, let me know 🙂