My mother was the kind of person who lived her Truth out loud—in a gentle, loving sort of way. As scripture says, she was “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). If someone said or did something offensive, she immediately forgave them, saying, “God bless ’em.”

I did not inherit that gene. I am a ruminator. Occasionally, Mama would catch me ruminating about something that someone said or did, and she would admonish me, “Let that go.” Still, I insisted on replaying the hurt over and over.

Knowing how much she relished her peace, I felt Mama’s uneasiness whenever my siblings and I were not getting along. When I complained, she would tell me to be the bigger person or to just let it go.

Holding on for Peace

In her last days, the hospice caregivers asked our family whether there was something she might be holding on for. She no longer spoke, opened her eyes, or took in nourishment. Shortly before taking her last breath, my brother told Mama that he would take care of her girls in case she was waiting for that.

One of the most important things I’ve learned is that the only way to heal from the past is to forgive in the present.

Her “girls,” my long-since-grown sister and me, seemed to be at odds much of the time. The last time Mama was able to speak, she whispered to me, “I want to go home.” I knew that was her way of letting me know she would be leaving soon, and I would be on my own to figure out how to let go, be the bigger person, and make peace with her death. I was not ready to make peace.

Two months after Mama passed, I had a revelation. My brother had been having some challenges with grief over our mother’s passing. As if Mama were whispering to me to be the bigger person, I was guided to call my sister and arrange for the two of us to pay our brother a visit. The three of us laughed and talked that evening, and I felt Mama’s presence more than ever.

The following day, my sister-in-law arranged for us all to go bowling together. None of us had much practice bowling, but we had a great time cheering each other on as we threw gutter balls, an occasional strike or split, and even when I went sailing down the lane with the ball. I knew Mama was right there with us, cheering us on for letting go of the past and enjoying our time together.

The Healing of Forgiveness

By letting go of old hurts, resentments, blame, shame, guilt, and discouragement, I have been able to stop reliving the past and truly forgive myself and my family. I can hardly believe how good it feels. There were times in my life when I felt defeated and crushed by the criticisms and put-downs from those closest to me.

One of the most important things I’ve learned is that the only way to heal from the past is to forgive in the present. As the saying goes, “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet leaves on the heel that crushed it.” And, oh, how sweet it is to forgive. I now feel freer than ever to be myself.

In Matthew 18:21-22 (NRSV), Peter asks Jesus, “How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

Mama was 101 when she made her transition on November 27, 2021. She taught by example that forgiveness is a healing balm and the key to living an abundant life.

This article first appeared in the Unity booklet In the Flow of Healing.