There’s this moment when a relationship ends that we all must bear; a moment after the dust has settled and we’ve finally showered again. A moment when breathing seems possible and remembering seems bearable. It’s the moment when you pack up what isn’t yours and return it to its rightful owner.
If you’re lucky, you simply come home one day and find it sitting at your front door. If you’re not so lucky, you might end up awkwardly seeing that person while hoping like hell that they look worse off than you do. But it’s a moment that all ending relationships must go through.
Relationships, by their very nature, are an exchange. You give pieces of yourselves to each other and it never really occurs to you at the time that you might need to give them back. We trade possessions and vulnerabilities and we do our best to take care of them. You hand over the key to your apartment and the key to your heart, hoping that neither one of them gets left in shambles. But things don’t always work out and when it doesn’t, we fall in line and begin to proceed with the unwritten rule that comes with parting ways; the rule that includes giving stuff back.
It’s never an easy moment between two people; when the space and silence finally takes over. But it’s necessary, because in that cardboard box is more than just a favourite t-shirt and a couple of CDs. In that box, buried beneath all the stuff, is closure. You get handed back parts of yourself that you gave away…and in the most subtle ways, you begin to feel whole again.
But what happens when the closure doesn’t come? What happens when the things you need back don’t fit in a box on your front door step?
A word here about forgiveness…
I don’t know why some people break the way that they do. I don’t know why some people come out of storms virtually unscathed, while others completely shatter. I just don’t know. But I do know this; regardless of what happens to us while we endure the whirlwind of pain that comes with letting go…the only way out of it is through this one word; forgiveness.
I know this because I’ve had to do it. I know this because I’m one of those people who shatter. I know this because I’ve sat there…aching…waiting for someone else to bring me the closure I thought I needed to move on. I know how much it hurts. I know what it’s like to want just one day without being drawn in by the pain. I know what it’s like to wonder why the rules didn’t apply to me.
But here’s the thing…
When the box you’re being handed stops being enough…when the apology stops being enough…when the final goodbye stops being enough…it means that the gaping hole inside of you is no longer about someone else. It means the sadness and the grief and the torment is no longer about losing them.
It means the person you really need to forgive is yourself.
I think throughout our lives, we form certain relationships with people – either through circumstance or through choice – that bring us face to face with the most insecure parts of ourselves. In that connection – for whatever reason – we see our own darkness…our own fears…our own unhealed wounds. And, I believe, when we are confronted with those people, we can unintentionally bring more than just ourselves into the relationship. We can bring the five year old in us that is desperately seeking our parent’s approval; we can bring the twelve year old in us that is being bullied at school; we can bring the twenty-one year old in us that he doesn’t love back.
We can bring our hurts with us. Hurts we didn’t even realize were still there.
And when those already hurt parts of our selves end up wounded again…the closure isn’t in what they need to give us…the closure is in what we need to let go of. Because you can wait for that person to set you free…but that person didn’t chain you up in the first place.
Because that person can’t say, “I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you I was proud of you when you were a little girl…my parents never said it to me either”
That person can’t say, “I’m sorry I made fun of you on the playground when we were young…I was hurting and hurting you made me feel less alone”
That person can’t say, “I’m sorry I was too afraid to tell you how much I cared…my feelings were pretty scary for me”
But you can say those things.
You can stare that beautiful soul of yours in the eyes and say, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry I ever let you believe that you weren’t good enough.”
“I’m sorry that other people took their pain out on you”
“I’m sorry I didn’t stop you from projecting your own hurts onto someone who couldn’t fix them”
“I’m sorry for letting you use a present relationship to try to heal an old wound”
“I’m sorry I never gave you permission to feel hurt when you needed to”
“I’m sorry for holding you hostage to a past that you couldn’t change”
And then you forgive yourself.
You can forgive yourself.
For everything you couldn’t do and everything you couldn’t be.
Because it’s okay. It’s okay to let people in and to be sad when they leave. It’s okay to have pains that instantly take our breath away and it’s okay for them to heal. It’s okay to accept an apology that you weren’t given and it’s okay to give yourself grace even if someone else doesn’t. It’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to wish you had done something differently. It’s okay to want closure and it’s okay to also be afraid of it.
But it’s not okay to keep holding onto a box filled with stuff that isn’t yours.