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Forgiveness = Freedom

by Meryl Russo
 ∙ Apr 10 ∙ 6 Min Read

Forgiveness means different things to different people. But in general, FORGIVENESS involves an intentional decision to let go of resentment and anger. To stop blaming or being mad at someone for something that person has done, or not punish them for something.

Story

My Nana died in 1978. I was 18. I barely cried. For 46 years, that was my story.

Backstory

I never liked my Nana. She was my dad’s mom, and I always felt judged by her. 

Most of my childhood memories were pretty unpleasant. Mostly, I remember, when we would visit her every single year in Sarasota, Fl, how she would talk behind our backs very loudly so I could hear all the unkind things she was saying about me, my brother, and my mom. 

To make matters worse, Nana grew up singing opera and acted like she was the female version of Luciano Pavarotti. When my brother and I would visit her and my wonderful Poppa, Nana would break out into operatic song, multiple times a day. As young kids, we unsuccessfully tried our best to hide our laughter, though I am sure it gave my Nana just one more thing to hold against us.

New Story:

In January of this year (2024), a 3-day Campowerment team offsite brought me to Sarasota – a place I hadn’t been since the mid 1970’s, to visit my grandparents.

Driving into town this time, the memories came flooding back, in big waves, like a Florida hurricane. 

There it all was: the sites, the former sites and the memories. There was the famous St. Armand’s Circle, where we would dine at the famous Tail O’ The Pup, now long gone. 

The gorgeous white sands on Lido Beach, where we would watch those breathtaking sunsets. The colorful Ringling Museum. The lively Van Wezel Performing Art Center. 

Seeing it this time, made me feel like time had reversed itself.

During one of the evenings of our offsite, memories fresh, I called my brother. “You know,” Geoff said. “Nana and Poppa are buried in Sarasota.”
The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind.
“Maybe you will go and see them?” He quickly texted me the name of the cemetery.

HMMMMM….

Driving in (Campowerment founder) Tammi’s car the next day, I made mention of this.
“Do you want to go?” Tammi asked me.
My immediate response: “I do.”
Taking not one beat, the answer flew out of my mouth. 

So, just after our meetings wrapped, there we were: the two of us – me and Tammi – with the GPS pointing to Sarasota Memorial Park. On a sunny January Saturday afternoon in 2024. Wow. 

I had no idea what I was going for, what there even was to say; I just knew, deep down, that I needed to see Bertha and Irving in their final resting place.

“You know what, Tammi?” I broke what felt like a long silence. “I am going to forgive my Nana today.”

Just saying those words made me feel lighter, and full of love and compassion: an opening I had never felt or even considered a possibility when it came to my Nana … until now.

The Cemetery Visit

When I found their markers, I lost my breath. 

Bertha and Irving, side by side, resting under the shade of an Oak tree. I could picture them together: My Poppa always went along with my Nana (I think to keep the peace). And I also know he loved her. 

Their headstones were rather dirty, and I felt compelled to tidy them up. Perhaps they had been waiting for my visit? I wiped off the stones and sat. And then we began to chat: me and my Nana:

“I forgive you Nana. I forgive you for not being the kind of Nana my friends had: Warm, loving, fun, and curious about me and my life. Someone I was excited to see.
I forgive you for being mean to my mom, not accepting her, even when they were still married.
I forgive you for saying unkind things about me – and for how badly that made me feel.
I forgive you for not being generous like all the other Nanas.
I know you did the best you could under difficult circumstances, including watching your son, my dad, struggle not just in his marriage, but also in his relationship with us.”

I must have talked for a while.  And cried, tears of sadness, grief, a lost relationship…tears I didn’t know I had, stuck somewhere deep in my soul. 

I released tears I didn’t have to hold anymore, along with a story that no longer served me.

I told my Nana that I loved her. Then, I chatted with my Poppa, which always brought me joy.

Walking back to the car, where Tammi was patiently waiting, I took some steps and abruptly turned around. Apparently, I wasn’t done. 

“And Nana, I apologize. I am so sorry for laughing at you when you sang. It may be a poor excuse, but we were young. You looked funny and you sang SO loud. And we didn’t like opera. Geoff and I couldn’t hide our laughter. I imagine that was hard for you. I imagine it really hurt your feelings.  I am deeply sorry, and I hope you can forgive me.”

Still not done, I shared all about the good things in my life now, and the gratitude in my heart. My three sons. My wonderful husband. All the things she missed. And I told her about my dad. That he found peace in his life. That we had repaired our relationship years and years ago and when he died, there was nothing left unspoken. Only love. 

The Lesson

Forgiveness is a choice. And making it set me free.

Rereading this story, it felt like something was missing. I looked and asked myself – Why forgive my Nana after 46 years? The answer was clear: I found compassion for me; the hurt girl who probably didn’t know any better, didn’t know how to find her voice, and felt invisible, not good enough. Who wanted so much to feel love, but just didn’t. A wounded girl who also felt shame and guilt for not loving my Nana the way I was “supposed” to, because that’s what “good people” do. 

I was able to forgive my Nana because first, I forgave myself, for having these innocent yet natural feelings for a young girl. I had no idea what those feelings would unleash in me.

From Forgiveness: The Result

You don’t really know what you’re carrying until you let it go.

Because I could forgive, there is a shift in my being. I am moving with more ease. I stand taller – something I never expected to come from an afternoon sitting in a cemetery, connecting with myself and my deceased family. By forgiving and letting go, I could find freedom. And when there is true freedom, there is enormous space for love.  

Including for my Nana. Including for me.

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