Jessica walked with some difficulty across the room, brimming with smiles as her mother clapped excitedly. It had been a long road to recovery for her baby girl, as she called Jessica. The most important thing was that Jessica was alive and well, steadily getting better by the day and they were grateful for all of it.
Her 5-year old twin granddaughters were literally dancing around their mother. It was the first time in 1 year that she had been out of the wheelchair and 3 years since Jessica’s husband had disappeared with another woman after clearing out their joint account and selling their house.
Mrs Alero, Jessica’s mother vividly remembered the first time she had met Mark, her estranged son-in-law 8 years ago. Her daughter had suddenly become starry-eyed and gone on to inform her that she had found the man she wanted to settle down with. Since her husband had passed on and her older children lived in another country, she had met with Mark alone.
Her instincts had told her that something was ‘off’ about Mark and she had mentioned it to Jessica who’d waved it off, saying her mother was being over-protective. After a whirlwind romance, they had gotten married and then the stories of abuse and financial recklessness started pouring in. Her daughter had gone from a bright, vivacious girl to this withdrawn stranger that she didn’t know.
Within a few years of the marriage, the illnesses also started. She had developed hypertension, chronic back pain and had difficulty sleeping, while also being managed for depression. It was as though she was watching her daughter’s life slowly ebb away.
The final straw was the disappearance of Mark for a week, followed by the visit by the ‘new owners’ of the house who wanted to take immediate possession. Jessica had suffered a stroke and was in hospital for weeks. She had sworn never to forgive her husband for all the stress he caused her. However, her health continued to deteriorate.
Jessica and her daughters had moved back in with her mother who often found her lost in thought or crying. Her performance at work had worsened over time and it wasn’t long before she lost her job. She also was tired most of the time and hardly moved around because of the increasing body and joint pains. Her blood pressure was barely under control and her doctor was worried that she was going to have another stroke as there was little improvement in spite of the medications she was taking.
They decided to seek a second opinion and her new doctor scheduled an appointment with a psychologist for her, where she was told that what she was experiencing was the result of unforgiveness. Now, that was shocking! What did her decision to never forgive her husband have to do with her health conditions?
Unforgiveness happens when we are unwilling or unable to let off or pardon people who have offended or hurt us. While it may be viewed as a justifiable or protective response, it creates a chronic stress state in the body which may manifest as physical sickness including hypertension, some cancers, chronic body and joint pain, coronary artery disease and untimely death. It can also cause mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, hostility, bitterness, anger and substance abuse. All of these lead to a reduced quality of life.
Like Jessica later found out during therapy, forgiveness was not to be pursued because of the offender who may never apologise, but had to be a conscious choice by the offended party to maintain health and well-being. Choosing to forgive as quickly as possible has protective health benefits and helps to ensure psychological stability, which is required for productivity and good interpersonal relationships.
As she started her conscious journey of forgiveness, her health issues began to resolve by themselves. She started noticing and being present in the lives of her loved ones, and even though she had not worked in a while, she had started looking forward to getting back to active work. She was even looking forward to finding love again. Her life had become so much better. Even though forgiveness did not change any of the past, her future was bright and she was hopeful.