Saturday, August 11, 2007

Seventy times Seven

At the hospital team rounds this week someone commented, "Is it just me, or are all the patients we have now from dysfunctional families?" We all chuckled, but everyone knew that their own extended family had some dysfunctional members as well. Family secrets are revealed in times of stress and illness, and it would be hard to shock me with anyone's family history after the years I have worked in the hospital and community.

This past week I went to visit a patient in his home and found him lying dead on the floor. He was younger than me. The police and paramedics who arrived were visibly shaken by the unpleasantness of the situation. They solemnly put him in an ambulance to be taken to the hospital and pronounced dead by a physician. I had visited this man several times and he shared some of the circumstances in his life that led him to a self-destructive lifestyle. While I was not surprised by his death, I wept for his wasted life and for his fragmented family.

The father-in-law of one of my co-workers died a few years ago. The obituary in the local paper did not even mention his son, daughter-in-law or grandchildren as family members. The next day there was an additional obituary written by his son, stating his relationship to the deceased and his sorrow that his father had never forgiven him for something that happened in the past.

I have a patient close to 90 years of age who has never forgiven her daughter for something she did when she was 19 years old. Her daughter has tried to mend the relationship, but her mother's pride and bitterness has not allowed this to happen. The old lady needs support now, but has burned many bridges over the years. Will she forgive at this this late stage of life? I hope so, but it seems unlikely to happen.

I could go on and on, and those who read this could add stories of their own. We all are hurt by others from time to time, and those closest to us can hurt us the most. Parents have great expectations for their children, and disappointment in the choices they make can create barriers that are difficult to overcome.

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven..." (Matthew 18:21, 22)

Easy to say, but so hard to do.

Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis
(Double click to enlarge)

I loved this Pearls Before Swine cartoon in today's paper. Goat, the most intellectual character, (who maintains a blog that never has hits!) shares his wise observations in the first two panels. Rat, who is typically insensitive and egotistical does not recognize this description of his own life.

How we live our lives is a day to day challenge. Forgiveness frees us from the past and allows us to move ahead and develop meaningful relationships, even if we are not forgiven by others.

We have today. Anything beyond the present is not a certainty, but is a gift from God.


  1. Amen to your words of wisdom, Ruth. How sad for many people who have never learned to forgive others. I have a sister-in-law like that and I pity her because I can see her as a bitter old woman some day.

  2. Anonymous6:24 am GMT-4

    Wow, Ruth. Heavy stuff today. But you make some very important points... It is especially interesting to me how the people closest to us have the potential to hurt us the deepest... Watching some situations like that right now in my extended family. Don't know what to do to help.

  3. It's so true Ruth. We see the best and the worst in people. So much sadness and tragedy of lives lost, forgiveness withheld... and for what? Your post is a great reminder that we only get to do this once and should make it count and fill it with love and peace.

  4. Ruth,

    This is one of your best posts, I think. I'm sorry you endured a death lately but I'm glad you have a way to express your grief in your blog. Wonderful!

    I'm saddened, too, by family relationships on the edge of disaster when death is near for a parent or close friend.

    You have wisdom. So much. And you share it so well.

    I think I'll call my brother now. My Dad is doing well, but I want to hear it again.

  5. I don't have that problem in my family-probably the opposite-No Expectations!-Interesting and thoughtful post though.

  6. Mary- I feel for your s-i-l too. If only people could look ahead and see the end result of bitterness (or read about Mr. Scrooge) We can change, but it gets harder as we age to do so.

    Jennifer- I know it was a heavy topic. I almost didn't post it, but needed to do so for myself. It is sad to watch situations develop like these, especially when you are powerless to intervene.

    Jayne- I know you are no stranger to the things that come out in the open when people are ill. Yes, we don't get a second chance at life.

    Mary- You are right, this week was hard and the post was therapeutic. I share observations, not solutions, and feel powerless, not wise at times.

    Larry- Count your blessings! There are many wonderful and supportive families out there and you are fortunate to belong to one of them.

  7. Hi Ruth,
    Your post made me sad because I am in the middle of one of these dysfunctional family situations right now and I'm not sure it's ever going to get better....sometimes I wish I could just move away (even though that wouldn't help anything). It's very stressful and I hate it!

  8. Ruthie- I have been there too, and the worst of the situation was played out at my work place. Things never did improve and the rift in the family is ongoing. We cannot be responsible for the attitudes of others and only have to guard our own responses. I hope things do work out for you in your dilemma.

  9. Ruth--
    Amen and amen to your observations about forgiveness. While the spiritual dimension to forgiveness is foremost, medical science can attest to the destructive power of unforgiven grudges that people hold.
    And, I too liked the Pearls Before Swine you showed. I thought it most telling.

  10. I think it wise to accept that we are doomed to disappoint one another in weighty as well as trivial matters. We are human.

    Wisdom begins when we move forward from that awareness - when we become determined to keep knocking at the closed door - to try again, to make amends and forgive when we are wronged.

    How tragic for your old patient that she clings to her sense of aggrievment. Seventy years is a long time to harbor such bitterness.

  11. Indeed.
    My mother died before we could kiss and make up after a fight.
    I will carry that pain for the rest of my life

    But I have learned the lesson and am now softer and kinder and much more accepting of other people

  12. KGMom- You are so right about the physical effects of unforgiveness and bitterness. Pearls before Swine is new to our paper since Foxtrot was discontinued. I am coming to like it very much.

    Cathy- Yes, I have disappointed many people and have to remember that when I am disappointed by others. It is easier to judge the lives of others than our own lives.

    Mouse- So sad about your mother, but at least you recognize the pain and have changed your outlook. I think it is so important to share our struggles and mistakes with our children instead of trying to seem perfect to them. I think there were a lot of issues that were covered up in my family for the sake of appearances.


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