I volunteered at a community event this weekend held for the residents of Newtown to come together in a day of healing. Nearly 18 months ago, this community suffered the unspeakable horror of the killings of 20 first grade children and six teachers during a school shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. This event brought together people from throughout the country who had suffered their own losses secondary to school violence at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech and at the Nickle Mines Amish School.
It was profoundly humbling to listen to their stories and impressive to witness their openness which was painful for them at times. I was most struck by the parents in a forgiveness workshop who talked of their choice and their need to choose to forgive the shooters in order to find peace in their lives. The Nickle Mines Amish parents often travel with the mother of the shooter, she shared her story and remorse. There were several in attendance who struggled to understand or appreciate how someone could make such a choice for the killer of their child, myself included. The honesty in which the Amish parents spoke in response to questioning stilled the room. For them, they spoke of forgiveness as a choice that began with compassion. It is also a choice they have had to repeatedly make as their anger and hurt resurfaced.
One younger Amish father spoke of forgiveness as a process that could only be tolerated with compassion. Another father who lost his son at the Virginia Tech incident followed a different path to forgiveness. His path was filled with resentment, anger and bitterness which lead him to become “sick with bitterness”. It was only at his daughter’s urging that he began to open his heart to forgiveness.
I often speak in my practice, which focuses on trauma about the need for forgiveness – not for the act or of the person who committed it – but for the freedom it would bring to the victim. Honestly, my understanding and appreciation of forgiveness as a choice has deepened tremendously after my experiences this weekend. It has helped me to see withholding of forgiveness as a form of self-punishment which is perhaps complicated by survivor’s guilt. With this clarity, I intend to be more present with the struggle of making the choice of forgiveness in my practice and in my life.
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully is a counselor and writer who focuses on healing the mind, body and spirit. She specializes in PTSD, Chronic pain and mood disorders. For more information: www.anschealthandwellness.com.