In grief, we sometimes carry extra baggage we’re unaware of. Wounds from the past can exert their influence and complicate the present. Grief is tough enough, without this extra weight.
A mountain of regret
Years ago, I had a serious conversation with a gentleman named Sam. He told me his life history. It wasn’t pretty.
Sam grew up in an abusive, violent home. He ran to drugs, alcohol, and crime at an early age. His life was riddled with pain, frustration, and anger.
Sam summed up his life philosophy this way: “Do to others as they’ve done to you.’”
Sam grew up surrounded by the don’t-get-mad-get-even mindset, so he naturally saw life through those lenses. Exact your own form of justice. Get them before they get you.
As a result, Sam had accumulated a massive pile of regrets. The mountain was so high he couldn’t imagine being able to climb it. Now, his closest friend had died, and this sent him over the emotional edge. The pain hijacked his heart.
When the past drives the present
If we’re not careful, the pain of the past can secretly drive the present, creating all kinds of havoc. Our grieving hearts can’t afford that, and neither can our relationships.
Most of us have unresolved stuff out there:
- A deep wound like abuse, abandonment, or neglect
- A relationship gone wrong and never put right
- Things said and done we wish we could delete
- Things not said or done we believe should have been
- Losses with no closure, where we had no chance to say goodbye
I picture regrets and unfinished business as a filing cabinet in my heart. The more that’s in there, the more it weighs me down. Then more hurt occurs. Perhaps another loss hits. I open a drawer and file away another wound. Soon, the cabinet is overflowing.
Unfinished business exerts constant pressure. Grudges and regret leak out all over the place. They create anxiety and can lead to depression and all sorts of mental health concerns. That heavy old filing cabinet can raise our blood pressure and create all manner of physical health issues.
The secret to handling unfinished business
If we want to grieve well, recover and heal, we need to unload whatever excess baggage we can. The big key to doing that is forgiveness.
Here are some truths about forgiveness:
- Forgiveness isn’t saying it didn’t matter.
- Forgiveness is saying it did matter, it hurt, and I choose to release my heart from being controlled by it any longer.
- Lack of forgiveness keeps past pain alive and gives it power in the present.
- Lack of forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.
- Forgiveness is not weakness or being a doormat. It takes courage and strength.
- Forgiveness releases us to go on living and grieving in healthy ways.
- Forgiveness is a choice. We don’t need permission to forgive.
Unfinished business also includes the hurt we’ve caused. In order to unload our filing cabinet, we have to begin to take responsibility for what we did and said. Perhaps we need to ask forgiveness. Maybe we need to attempt to make things right.
And we certainly need for forgive ourselves. This can be the toughest of all.
“Forgive them, and yourself, and do it now.”
I met with Sam several times over a period of months. He was able to resolve many wounds from his past. He began to see how the past had invaded and fueled his anger about the recent death of his friend. He grieved heavily, and in healthy ways. He unpacked his filing cabinet and experienced significant peace of mind and heart.
When I asked him what advice he would give others, he said, “Forgive them, and yourself, and do it now.”
Open your filing cabinet.
Begin to clean out what you find there.
Keep the cabinet as light as possible by making forgiveness a continual priority.
Yes, grief is heavy enough, without the extra weight of unfinished business. It would be nice to be able to grieve our current loss, without being distracted or crushed by what happened or didn’t happen along the way.
Here’s to lighter filing cabinets.
Quick, pass the shredder.
Are there “extras” from the past complicating your grief process? Is there a “next step” you sense you need to take in dealing with them?