If you have lived very long, you have had those whom you have loved to depart from life as we know it. Many times, when there is the blessing of having time to do so, we struggle with trying to say goodbye, while sometimes it is instead like saying hello. We typically say hello when greeting someone and especially if it is someone whom we have just met. A lot of things that should have been said much earlier sometimes remain unspoken until the last moments of life. It is wonderful when people do have the time to make clear what was muddy.
This last week a patient came in for a visit and took some time after we had addressed his medical concerns to talk about a discussion he had with his ill father recently. The two had a history of disagreeing about many things over the years and their relationship had been strained continually. The father had gotten older and the inevitable problems of aging had taken its toll on his health. The son knew his father was ill and went to visit with him. As they sat and talked, the son recounted the major areas of strife over the years with his father with what previously had been relationship shattering issues then becoming seemingly ever so minor. An apology was offered from the son to the father. The son was then surprised somewhat when his father slowly looked over at him and motioned with one of his arms an aw-don’t-worry-it gesture much like Bill Cosby used to do a lot on his program when brushing aside something that just was not important. The father was telling his son that those issues didn’t matter anymore and that it was okay. That wave of the arm and hand was signification of forgiveness and it touched the son’s heart so much that he had a small tear in his eye when relating the story. The son finally left after giving his father a hug and started heading back toward home. An hour later, the call came that his father had passed away. What had been a visit to say goodbye had become a visit to say hello, for what was old was gone and there was a newness that was granted by that father to his son. There was no better way for them to depart from one another – although that is only temporary anyway for those who know Christ.
There are many health benefits seen in those who make forgiving others a way of life. There are hundreds of studies which have linked forgiveness to improved physical and emotional well-being with researcher Robert Enright of the University of Wisconsin Madison stating, “Forgiveness works.” Among those who practice forgiveness, there are fewer cardiovascular problems and stress-related conditions along with a general feeling of greater happiness. In 2008, the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture reported that people who forgave had decreased risk of depression. A study involving 213 Vietnam veterans found that those who had trouble with forgiveness also had more problems with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mayo Clinic reported in 2008 that holding grudges caused people to have increased blood pressure and heart rates. A study of more than two thousand twins in Virginia showed that forgiveness was related to less nicotine dependence and drug abuse. That chip on the shoulder might sound like it is small, but it is one of the heaviest things you can carry. For better health, it makes a lot of sense to say goodbye to those things of the past and say hello to what can be the new you that is found when you practice forgiveness.