Forgiveness as a spiritual tool in palliative care

– Ms. R. Vijayalakshmi, Chennai

A lady in her mid sixties with a diagnosis of advanced cancer, came to our clinic for symptom management. When I enquired about her family, she spoke about her daughters and her son. It was evident that she was yearning to establish contact with her son, with whom she shared a fractured relationship due to a trivial property dispute between her husband and their son. I learnt that this conflict had kept mother and son apart for the last 25 years. Her wifely duties coupled with her devotion towards her husband overshadowed her maternal feelings when she chose to suppress her craving to re-connect with her son.

To her misfortune, her health started deteriorating rapidly within a few months. One day she was brought in with severe breathlessness and it looked like she had only a few hours left. The family initiated conversations about formalities, rituals and planning for logistics to take her back to her village, where she could spend the last few moments of her life. I noticed that she was getting upset as she began realizing the implications of returning to her village. She would most certainly never get to meet her son again.

In the meanwhile, her husband enquired if there was anything that we could do to ensure that she was comfortable and in peace. I said that we could help manage her breathlessness and extend support in arranging for an ambulance with oxygen etc. for her journey back to their village, which was not too far. However, I knew that for her to be mentally at peace, ‘he’ had a role to play. ‘He’ had to re-establish contact with his son to forgive him and inform him of the gravity of the situation. While he understood his wife’s wishes and feelings, his pride, ego and anger, prevented him from giving in.

I continued to counsel him despite the limited time available before the ambulance could arrive. We finally achieved break through when he reconciled after recognizing and acknowledging the sacrifices his wife had made over the years, to stand by him despite her own interests. Though reluctant, he put her needs over his and finally made ‘THE CALL’. It took the son just a few minutes to get to the hospital, even after being estranged for 25 years.

A conflict, a disagreement and the silence that lasted for 25 years, all dissipated in just one act of forgiveness.

Mother and son were finally reunited as she held his hands firmly with eyes full of tears. She was both ecstatic and visibly nervous as her eyes kept scanning the room for her husband. I went looking for her husband who remained outside the room as he was still reluctant to meet his son. After a few minutes of persuasion, something finally hit him and he held my wrist tightly as he walked up to his wife’s room. Once he got in there, he let go of me and put his arm around his son’s shoulder as he told his wife, “Here is your son”.

Her face lit up with contentment. She was smiling and tears rolled down her eyes. This was her moment of true happiness, peace and contentment. The family was finally together again, after all these years.

The family then took her back to her village. We later learnt that they visited a temple and that the three of them spent quality time together. Father and son made sure that her soul was at complete peace. We had anticipated that she would possibly live for only a few hours since being discharged. However, we were pleasantly surprised to know that she lived for 2 whole weeks; in her village, with her son and the rest of the family.

This, is what, a simple act of forgiveness can do. It helps conserve energy which we no longer spend on holding grudges. Forgiveness helps us to heal ourselves as our mind is now serene and at peace.

About the author:

Ms. R. Vijayalakshmi is a Counsellor at Lakshmi Pain and Palliative Care Trust, Chennai.

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