Adapted from Transformational Inquiry: Working on Mothers and Others
(Today I am reminded of my mother, Pearl Skolnick, who passed away ten years ago on April 14, 1998. This post is dedicated to her with love.)
How can you heal a relationship after someone has died? While attending The School for The Work for the second time, I found myself working on my mother issues for most of the week. I was more than a little frustrated; some people I knew were cleaning up their relationships with their mothers, sharing their turnarounds with them, asking their mothers to tell them their truth, and really listening to them without defense. I realized how one-sided my work was; since my mother had died several years before, there was no way for me to do the equivalent. Or was there?
If everyone is our projection, they continue to live where they always lived: between our ears, in our minds and memories. Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate and possible do do The Work on thoughts about someone who has passed away. It is even possible to make amends to that person after their death. Amends are, after all, for us; forgiveness most benefits the one doing the forgiving. It's never comfortable to resent another; in making amends we are letting ourselves off the hatred hook.
Here's an exercise based on one from The School for The Work: once you've done some work on someone who has died--in other words, once you can do this with sincerity--try writing a letter of amends to them, in which you own your part in any misunderstanding between you.
In this letter--which, naturally, you're not going to be able to send--you
can enumerate the things you are sorry for (if you are truly sorry), the things you admired about this person, what you learned from him or her, and what you are grateful to them for. Sign off with love, if that feels genuine.
Once you have written the letter, cross out the person's name and the word "you" and insert your name and "I." Notice how much of your letter remarkably still
applies in this turnaround exercise. Gently take in what you have written and heal your relationship with yourself.
Eight years after my mother's death, I wrote a letter of amends to her
while attending a weekend workshop with Byron Katie. I had done this exercise several times before, but this was the letter I felt most deeply, the one that changed my life, past and present, and gave me back my mother.
Looking back on our relationship, I wish I had been more understanding of you; kinder and more patient. I know you were doing the best you could and I was selfish to expect you to be different.
I am so sorry I tried to force you into parting with your belongings when you were sick and defenseless...to have yelled at you and disrespected you in public. I am sorry for having been so ashamed of you, and I am most sorry for that hesitation I had when the doctor asked if I wanted to put you on life support. I blamed you for not telling me beforehand what you wanted. I realize now that you were not able to discuss these things with me.
Throughout my life, I blamed you for my unhappiness. If you were here today I would make it up to you in whatever way you wanted. Since you are not here now, how can I live my life in a way that honors you for who you truly were?
I see now that you were a courageous woman to raise a child when you were grappling with so many demons. You saw to it that I had what I needed. You let me know I was smart and capable and able to take care of myself...and you gave me that opportunity at an early age. It's a gift that I could not appreciate until now.
Thank you for giving me a life, a home and a strong foundation. You continue to support me even now.
I love you very much, Mommy. You acted as if you didn't like to hear that, and it must be said: I love you.
As you might imagine, turning this letter around as if written by me, to me, was most powerful.
©2008 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.