I am angry. White-hot angry. It’s the kind of anger I want to hold onto, because behind it I know there is a wave of sadness and a sense of betrayal that I just don’t feel capable of handling at the moment.
My father, alav hashalom, died on April 16 of this year. He had been ill for years with diabetes and related complications. My sister and I made it clear to his widow that we wanted to be informed any time he was hospitalized.
He had two checking accounts in his name alone. In his Will, he left one account to my sister, and one to me. There are two checks that are dated the day before his death, one written on each account, made out to his widow. These checks, which were promptly cashed, total $35,000 and virtually cleared out both accounts.
When I think about these two checks, what my mind keeps turning to is the High Holy Days, which seem far away and yet are approaching with the steady, inexorable turning of the earth.
As we prepare for the High Holy Days, we are supposed to consider what has happened over the past year. God, the liturgy says, will forgive us for sins against God, but we will not be forgiven for our sins against another human being until we have sincerely attempted to make peace with them.
Trying to make peace with someone we have wronged can be difficult, sometimes impossible. The good news is, there is a cosmic “out,” a way to find forgiveness, or at least redemption, if we can’t bring ourselves to try to make peace with the other person. Tshuvah, t’filla, tzedakah – repentance, prayer and righteous giving – says the liturgy, will temper the harsh decree.
That’s all well and good if you’re the one who has done the wrong, but what if you’re the one to whom the wrong has been done? There is a parallel part to the prayer book in which we say we forgive all those who have wronged us, and ask God that they not be punished on our account.
But when we keep reading, there is no parallel “out” if we can’t find it in our hearts to forgive. What are we supposed to do if the other person has not asked for forgiveness and, indeed, we feel that perhaps we wouldn’t be able to forgive them even if they did?
Although I will never know what really happened, I would prefer it if the two checks clearing out my father’s bank accounts had been fraudulently written shortly after his death, and back-dated to make it look like they were written when he was still alive.
Because although I don’t suspect my sister and I will ever get the money back either way, it’s the possibility that they were written less than one full day before he died that makes me so profoundly angry and sad.
You see, it’s not about the money. If the checks were written to his widow right before he died, then she knew he was dying. Whether he willingly wrote the checks because he suddenly decided he wanted her to have all the money and it was too late to change his Will, or she wrote the checks fraudulently to give herself the money before he died, it doesn’t matter.
Either way, she knew he was about to die. And the thing I’m afraid I won’t be able to forgive is that she didn’t call or email either my sister or me to tell us he was dying. The important thing is not whether she stole the money. What I care about is being robbed of the chance to say goodbye, to speak with him on the phone one last time, or, if she knew even earlier in the week, the chance to travel out there to see him.
So, although I don’t want God to punish her on my account, how do I stand before God on the High Holy Days and proclaim that I forgive all those who have trespassed against me? What she has stolen from me is too precious, and can never be replaced.
Susan- I am so moved by your post and saddened by the ways in which your father’s dying was “stolen” from you. I hope you find comfort in the High Holiday liturgy and the community of friends you have here at Rodef Sholom. Best, Eileen
Thank you for your beautiful writing.
Thanks, both of you. I appreciate it.
I am so sorry for your loss. May G-d comfort you. And I wish you much, much strength in dealing with your difficult situation on top of your mourning.
Something that has helped me in a situation where something unforgivable has occurred is to try and internalize that, for whatever unfathomable reason, this is how things happened, and that I was supposed to go through this challenge. It was meant to be this way. And that once I come out of it, I will be stronger, better, and perhaps even more sensitive for it.
This was a hard thing for me to internalize emotionally, even though intellectually I understood it. However, once I crossed over that hump, I did experience a higher level of peace with the situation. The pain doesn’t quite go away, I think, and it’s a constant struggle to not let the feelings of rage and indignation fester, but the more time and distance which is put between the initial hurt, the easier it is to manage, and the more feasible forgiveness seems.
As you said, there’s no “out” for us who have been wronged. We have to somehow find a way to forgive, and I guess that means that it’s not impossible, even if it seems like it.
I hope that helps, and I wish you much much success and peace.
I am very sorry for your loss, and that you were not able to say good-bye to your father.
“how do I stand before God on the High Holy Days and proclaim that I forgive all those who have trespassed against me?”
You cannot, and you should not. Trying to do otherwise would mean lying to yourself first and foremost, and lying in front of G-d.
There are wounds that do not heal, there are deeds that cannot be forgiven, and there are losses that cannot be compensated for. And maybe that is why there is nothing in the prayer book for those who are being asked to forgive. And maybe that is why the Yahrzeit prayer affirms our believe in G-d, but never once mentions the deceased.
Perhaps this will turn into another messenger to wrestle in the night.