I have spent a fair bit of time in the last week thinking about what forgiveness means to me and how much better my life has been since I decided a few years back to start forgiving folks for my own good. I wasn’t particularly concerned with how it made them feel, and in most cases, they aren’t even aware that they were forgiven for their trespasses against me.
I wrote a few months back about a horrific accident that occurred here in the country that I call home and my own survivor’s perspective of the aftermath of these sort of events. I was focused mostly on the hope that all the support the boys and their families had following the accident, would continue through the years to come.
This past week it was announced that the driver of the semi that struck the bus has been charged with 16 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. The general consensus seems to be that he blew through a stop sign. He will have his day in court, or many, and based on the comments I have read (don’t ever read the comments section!) he will likely be far safer in jail or prison than he will ever be out on the streets again, unless he changes his appearance drastically. That saddened me. Really saddened me and brought up feelings I have long held onto related to my own “accident”.
Prison will not be the worst punishment he endures- not even close.
While I was never charged with anything following mine, my passenger in the car with me died that afternoon. She was very young- only 20. So, I am in the unique position of actually somewhat understanding what is going through that man’s head right now- and none of it is good. The only reason I didn’t receive criminal charges was because it was a known trouble spot of an intersection, and following my crash, the transportation safety board removed that particular vehicle crossing and made a new entrance. Here, it takes so many accidents/deaths by number, before they will make changes like that.
I was sued twice following – once by the step-father of my passenger, and once by the train conductor- each request was for a million dollars. I had been warned it would likely happen, as in the case of family members who lose a loved one, it is pretty standard practice. In my relative naivety, until the insurance company contacted me, I thought I was personally responsible for paying those millions, as I received my copy of the first letter prior to the insurance company receiving theirs.
I was still recuperating physically and hadn’t even begun the work on my psychological wounds when I received the letter from the step-father. I was in a pretty dark place and only dealing with those things that were absolutely necessary, like finding someone to drive to grocery store with my bank card to buy food for my kids, and doing my best to wake up alive every morning.
Every night/morning for over a year, I would jerk awake sometime between 1 and 3 hearing the horns and the screams and tasting the blood and smelling the gasoline, and feeling the weight of April’s body slamming into mine as that train hit us. Every single sense I had, wide awake and stabbing at me like unforgiving needles.
Not one inch of my body or mind was spared on those nights.
I would lay there and look up at the ceiling after the terrors and wonder if this was why I had been spared death, and not her. I wondered about suffering and retribution and about heaven and hell and how we all pay the piper in our own ways and in our own time.
I would try to understand the why’s.
Why her? Because she was pure and full of light and love and her journey here was over. She had done everything she was sent here to do. She had taught and learned the lessons and fulfilled her contracts with others.
Why not me? Because I deserved to suffer and be in pain. I had run and dodged and slipped my way through every dangerous event and place I had allowed myself to be a part of. Now I had taken a life. I had murdered a young girl with my stupidity and inattention to my surroundings. Only the good died young, as my mother used to say, so I was pretty damn sure I was left here with the purpose to feel this pain for the rest of my days.
I worked with a psychologist who specialized in PTSD, and slowly started to heal. She utilized EMDR therapy on me, which was exhausting emotionally, but was extremely successful with my psychological trauma. It was the first and only time in my life that I went in search of help of that kind, having been brought up in a home where we kept our private problems in-house, and not to be shared with outsiders. During my time with Robin, other things came out that I had long forgotten, so it turned into much, much more than it had originally been meant to be. I saw her until my extended health benefits dried up. She had provided me with the tools I needed to take my first steps onto the path of actually living again.
Not surviving, not healing, not enduring- actually wanting to move forward and live again, for my sons and even for myself.
I will always hold a special place in my heart for her help in showing me the way through it all to the other side. At the end of our last session, she gave me a big hug and told me I needed to truly forgive myself or I would never recover fully.
5 years after my accident, I received a letter from a psychologist that was treating the mother of my passenger. He asked me if I would allow him to send me numbered questions from his patient, who was struggling to move forward with her own life following the loss of her daughter. He was working with her on forgiveness. On forgiving herself for past events during the time she was raising her daughter, and on forgiving me, in order to let go of the hate she held in her heart.
I sat on a chair in my kitchen for over an hour, holding that letter in my hand.
I traced my fingertip over and over the stamp edging, round and round, while my mind wandered to how I was going to deal with this request. In the days following, I asked my son, and my mother for their advice on what they thought I should do.
They both told me to not respond at all; their concern was for me and the progress I had made, and they worried that I would slide back if I had to relive any of it again.
What neither of them knew, was that I had never stopped living it. Not for one moment of the time since it had occurred. It was so entrenched in every part of me, it was now cellular.
Like the blood flowing through my heart, or the oxygen moving through my lungs.
I wore it like a branding on my soul and always would.
I ended up answering her questions and sent them back to the psychologist. I was more concerned with her healing than I was with my own. Some of them were very difficult to answer.
I lied on the ones that I thought would only hurt her more. Questions about her relationship with her stepfather. Questions about why she left home. Questions about if she had ever shared information with me about her mother’s decision to side with her stepfather, rather than with her. I lied about her forgiving her mother for that. I lied and said she told me only a day earlier that she loved and missed her mother very much.
I answered truthfully on the questions that related to the accident itself.
She was dead instantly- she didn’t linger or suffer- she didn’t cry out in pain.
In the moments leading up to the impact, she was laughing and singing and excited and full of life and love.
I licked the envelope when I was done answering her questions, and walked the letter to the nearest mailbox.
I remember sitting on a rock after and looking at the clouds in the sky, through teary eyes, watching them slowly move and morph in shape as they drifted lazily above me. The sun was in the exact position it was in on that day in June, casting the same warmth, blinding me with the same dazzling rays, but this time I was alone.
While I was sitting there, a white butterfly caught my eye, and I watched as it fluttered and danced and flew closer and closer to me. From blade of grass to tree branch, to post, eventually landing on the top of my hand.
Its wings were transparent in the sunlight and I slowed my breathing and sat perfectly still, watching it settle in on my hand, twitching its wings softly on my skin. Seeing the flesh of my hand through its wings- watching in wonder as it sat there on my warm hand.
It stayed with me for as long as I needed it to and then flew away up towards the clouds in the blue sky.
I watched it until it disappeared from my sight and then got up and headed home to my children.