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Forgiveness and justice: not mutually exclusive

Out beyond the anguish and pain there is a place of forgiveness. Many of us have heard of this place. You may have even been there a few times. But when you are faced with complete devastation, where life seems to hold no purpose, it is very difficult to touch that harmonious, peaceful place. Let’s just call that dark, cold place the big “TD” for total devastation. The kind of event you don’t think you can ever come back from.

Fortunately there are many grief counselling services and different types of support for TD losses. One that comes to mind is “Helping Parents Heal”. Connecting with supports helps awaken your polycentric soul; your core, which is able to see any issue from many different perspectives. This is certainly needed in the processing of grief. Reframing trauma and writing new memories of TD incidents is an important aspect of healing, and it takes time.

When processing grief, there may be moments when you are asking “why”. Why did this happen? Who is responsible? How can I forgive that person for the TD event? Do I want to forgive them? Is it possible to forgive and then also want justice?

Let’s examine the “why”? Is it possible to know why life (and death) works the way it does?

Unfortunately for us humans, we may get glimpses, but we don’t see the whole truth of why life and death unfold in the way they do. We simply have to rely on a deeper comfort which embraces the unknowing, the mystery. For some, that comfort is religion, for others, it is faith without religion. Or, you may rely on one or both of these, and alternative ways of making sense of the “why”.

Marcus Aurelius said “Accept whatever comes to you woven into the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs?” Conversely, a near-death experiencer may have come to know they have a “soul agreement”, which outlines the peak lessons in this life, including TD events. A shared-death experiencer may have accompanied a loved one across the veil, and returned to declare they haven’t found the “why”, but they have come to fully accept “the awe, rapture and beauty of death without any fear”. A guru in India may lay out your death-date for you, after reading your soul scroll. There are many ways to navigate the mystery of TD events, all of which help to reduce trauma, process grief, and contribute to a more fulsome understanding of life purpose.

Who is responsible? How can I forgive them?

Loss of life is the ultimate horror in a TD event. Often, it is clear who the “perp” is: the drunk driver, the opioid dealer, the mass shooter. We can become embroiled, tangled and tragically traumatized in how unfair our loss is. This is normal, and we need to give ourselves time to move from numbness to fully feeling the emotions and visceral response of loss.

At some point, when the crushing waves of grief begin to subside, even for moments at a time, there is space for contemplation. Do I really need to forgive? Can I even forgive? If I can’t forgive does that make me a bad person? A flurry of questions my play over and over again in the mind.

It is important to remember forgiveness is not about the other person. It is a very personal process which unshackles you from the constant terror of the loss. So as an answer to “do I want to forgive?” you may consider it a worthy gift to self. You still feel the loss, but when forgiveness is present, there is a freedom and compassion for self which unfolds within. You give yourself the gift to live fully, free of the torment of the challenging emotions which could destroy you. Simply put, forgiveness is allowing the “now” to be as it is: to feel the loss and grief without the hate, rage, and revenge for the guilty party.

I believe we can all forgive; we all have the capacity for forgiveness. However, forgiveness takes time to unfold. If you are not there yet, be patient. Feeling like you can’t forgive is not a matter of being able to forgive, but rather a pathway through a thick jungle of grief. Give yourself time and find resources to help you move forward. For further resources, check out my blog on Forgiveness.

Is justice revenge? Can I forgive and still seek justice?

Justice is only revenge when it is engendered by rage, hate, and a need to “payback” for one’s wrong-doing. Justice is actually a very powerful way to help the guilty party. If there was no justice, there would be no learning.

Justice also provides an opportunity for those who have been wronged, to say their peace, express their sorrow, and anger, in a safe environment. You may not want to seek justice. That is your right. However, impact statements in front of witnesses creates a space for the guilty to have a life-review of that moment in time where their judgement was harmful to others. There are potential benefits for everyone on every side of the TD event when justice is actionable. Justice does not mean you wish emotional or physical harm to the guilty person, you simply want them to become a better human being; and in that way justice is compassion.

Justice, when fairly and reasonably applied, absent emotional or physical harm, is a logical consequence to the actions of the guilty. It allows them time to reflect, while allowing the victim to be supported and validated. Justice, in this form, can actually help in the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness and justice can, and do, co-exist.

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