We waited for someone to officially find out what the sentence had been. When they told us he had received 2 years less a day for pleading guilty to impaired driving causing death I teared up, turned and walked around the corner. While dearest one and youngest son spent some time talking with the officers I leaned against the brick wall and cried. Even though it's been nearly three years since my brother-in-law died, there was something about hearing the sentence that brought reality right smack dab up in my face. He really was never coming back. And the pain of his death felt as fresh as the day I saw his covered up body on the ground.
There was not a lot of time to deal with the feelings that day. After a shared meal with extended family, one where we were all subdued and numb, dearest one and I went our separate ways. I had a list of things to do before I went on retreat later that day and he was off to help youngest son move the rest of his belongings home. On the way to my chronic pain and fatigue group meeting I stopped at the library. Before I went in I sat in my van and told God that I had until 4 o'clock to deal with my feelings as after that I was going to be part of a retreat team whose focus was to serve others for the next three days. My head felt so full and I was as far away from being able to focus as a person who's lost their glasses. As I walked into the building it felt like the grief of the morning was settling deep within me. I spent a few moments talking with the librarian and as we parted I told her I had come in to see what was on the new books' shelf. She glanced over at it and said, "Not much."
Among the "not much" turned out to be a book called The Grief Club by Melody Beattie. Its chapters cover all kinds of grief from the death of a loved one to the adjustment of having a chronic illness. A bit of hope was renewed in me as I held the book close and made my way to the check out counter.
At the beginning of my weekend, the retreat team gathered in the chapel where we were given a piece of paper in the shape of a cross. We were asked to write on it anything that we needed to let go of in order to be free to serve others that weekend. I scribbled all the pain of the morning onto that little piece of paper. As I sat and meditated I got this mental picture of my brother-in-law resting his head on God's shoulder. Then these words came into my head, "Hope, this is the only place he has ever felt fully loved. He is safe with me. Let him go and be at peace." And the mental picture stayed in my head long enough for me to embrace it.
This morning I finished reading The Grief Club and the final chapter had so much to say to me. Before I quote a chunk of it below I need to share that one day last week I told God that I was ready to forgive myself. That whatever purpose beating myself up had served all these years, and I wasn't sure it served any good purpose, that it was time to let go and move forward. I told God that I didn't know what it looked like to live in that forgiveness and I wasn't even sure I had the courage to, so I prayed for the courage to have courage to walk in it. That is my prayer for the man responsible for the death of my brother-in-law too. And I have the feeling I'm supposed to go tell him that in person. Lord, have mercy.
"I watched a movie about a husband and wife who were wrongfully convicted and spent fourteen years in prison. When their sons grew up, they freed their parents. It was a true story. I cried so hard watching it. I didn't spend a lifetime in prison, but I know what it feels like to be imprisoned by guilt. It dominates you, runs and ruins your life. Like Marge said, "Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving." If feels like it lasts forever. If you even start to feel happy, you wreck your joy. You don't stand up for yourself. You let people walk over you. Who am I to say what I want? you think. You don't believe you seserve peace. "That's my punishment," you think when anything bad happens. God doesn't love me You not only have pain from the loss, you have pain from believing you deserve to lose what you don't have. It takes courage to forgive ourselves."(emphasis added)~ Melody Beattie in The Grief Club