Forgiving a ghost

It’s been 20 years since I last saw him. Twenty years since he caused me an unimaginable amount of pain – pain that has stayed with me all this time.

And it’s been 19 years since he died. Nineteen years since that drug-fuelled accident claimed his life; although some had questioned if it was, in fact, an accident.

I don’t know how many years ago I forgave him, or if I ever really did. I just know that I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to forget him – with little success, as his impact on my life was (and is) far-reaching. (The good, the bad, and the ugly!*)

Still, I had mostly managed to forget him – despite never forgetting the pain he caused. And (I think?) I had mostly forgiven him, too. I made excuses for him and his behaviours; I even pitied him for all of the pain he must have been in to have resorted to such a life of drugs and (mostly petty) crime.

But now, 20 years later, there’s an apology. And a written apology, at that!

It seems that, shortly before this man died, he was working toward sobriety. And with sobriety came the realisation of his drug-fuelled actions. So he wrote letters to a small number of people the week before he died, but they were never sent.

When he died, the letters were stashed away by his parents, never to see the light of day until now. For after his parents died, the letters came into the possession of his only brother who opened them hoping for some joyful memories.

Instead, he found words of sorrow and regret to himself, his parents, a couple of friends, and me; words that his parents kept hidden all of these years. Out of shame? Out of anger? Out of confusion? We’ll never know and we can never ask.

His brother, however, didn’t feel that the letters should be kept hidden. He didn’t believe that the words should go unsaid or unread any longer. So he managed to track me down (yay for the Internet?) so that he could pass on the letter – a letter that I wish had never surfaced because now I’m faced with an apology. An apology I never expected, and one I don’t know how to process. I thought I’d made my peace with this man, but now the wounds have been reopened and I don’t know if I have it in me to forgive again – or at least to forgive right now.

How do I forgive a ghost? How do I forgive someone I can’t confront? How do I accept his (presumably sober) apology for his intoxicated trespasses? It’s like forgiving someone for the sins of their twin – the words might be what you want to hear, but they’re from the wrong person.

I suppose that, with time, I will find forgiveness in my heart once more. And, with time, the wounds will heal all over again. And, with time, it will all be forgotten – or at least forgotten most of the time.

The actual letter is on its way to me now. When it was first offered to me I didn’t want it – I didn’t want anything to do with it. But after a couple of emails and phone calls from his brother (one of which included a reading of the letter), I understand that his brother needs me to have it.** So if accepting the letter will help his brother heal, I have to accept it. As for me and what I’ll do with it, I think I’ll burn it. After all, if the letter is gone, I can’t dwell on the words. And maybe that will be a first step to finding forgiveness yet again…

* Despite the pain this man caused, I have to realise that his role in my life really did alter my path – a path that eventually led me to where I am today. It’s not been the smoothest of paths, but life is mostly good these days.
** His brother has agreed to not contact me again and was very apologetic for having tracked me down. I think that he hoped we could find support from each other, but he seemed to accept that his contact is causing me stress. My heart really does go out to him, but I can’t be his mental health professional if I wish to keep my own tenuous grasp on sanity.

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