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Foregiveness and Imagery

Forgiveness and Imagery by Jann Fredrickson, MS, LICSW

One of my foster father’s died this past week. I say one because I actually had three. Wendell was the last one an also the longest. I lived in his home for three years and then periodically when I was in college. When I heard of his death, my first reaction was, well, how am I supposed to feel about a person I hardly knew? How am I supposed to feel about a man who barely seemed to tolerate me in life? Was I SUPPOSED to be sad? How about his own four children who only recently have reached out to me as an adult? Ho am I supposed to feel when they decide to include me in the ritual of “walking down with the family” that goes on in funerals? Was I supposed to be glad that NOW they finally decide to accept me? To little, too late, was my first reaction. Bitterness and anger, and a very quiet, lingering hurt was the second reaction. Oh, how familiar these emotions are to me whenever I think of all those years in foster homes.

So, what to do? I remember my foster sister who didn’t talk to me the entire three years that I lived at Wendell’s home except through the filter of her parents or by the surreptitious glares across the dinner table at one of my foster mother’s unbelievably find dinners. Or the best one….her completely ignoring me at her wedding and going out of her way to make sure everyone in the family got flowers but me.

Boy, does anyone ever “get over” that nagging, indulgent self-pity that goes with the more subtle forms of abuse? I had no scars. I was well fed, (in this particular home), well-clothed, warm and I had clean sheets. What more could one ask? I kept asking these questions on the solitary drive to Wendell’s funeral, two hours from my home in St. Paul, Minnesota to a small Northern town in Iowa called Northwood.

Wasn’t it time to forgive? And if so, HOW?

Here is the beauty of imagery and the power it provides us in this life of ours. I settled in my mind all the things I would like to say to Wendell and I said them, in the car, alone, and out loud on the drive to Northwood.

Then I drove up to the funeral home. I thought I might be sick. I kept thinking, if I just drive away, no one will know. I would “know”, though. I had to resolve this. I walked in and was greeted effusively by all my relatives and all the people involved in the family. The love and graciousness I felt from them was palatable and I kept thinking, is this what “forgiveness” is about?

And then I saw him. Wendell. Alone, very small in his little casket and so very, very pale. And something broke in me. 30 years of pain and sorrow and anger broke. I began crying so hard, I could barely see him. My emotions took me by surprise. I was not prepared for their intensity. I took his hand and said to him, Wnedll, you provided a home when no one else would. You put up with all my teenaged “sh…” when no one else would. I want to thank you.

And you know what? He spoke back to me. Oh, I don’t mean in any literal way, but in that spirit-way that is imagery. He said, Jann, please forgive me for not being for you what you needed. And I did. I forgave him.

Later, my foster sister gathered me in an uncustomary hug. (We are Norwegians. Norwegians do not hug. It is simply not done.) You cannot know what this meant to me, she said. You just cannot know what it meant to have you drive down here.

And you know what I did? I hugged her back. I REALLY hugged her back.

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