What do you do when you have wronged someone in your past and they are no longer alive to make amends to? I had that situation when I was in my twenties. When I was in Junior High, I walked to school with a cousin who was just a little older than me. However, for selfish reasons, we would split up a couple of blocks before we got to school. My reason, she was bullied and I didn’t want to be bullied too. While I never participated in her bullying, I did nothing to stop it.
We hear so much about bullying in the news today. The internet has taken bullying to a whole new level. When I was a child, long before the internet, bullying was done in person. Bully’s didn’t hide behind a screen as an added dimension of abuse. I am thankful that cyber bullying didn’t exist when I was a child because when I was in grade school, I was bullied. Kids used to follow me and my siblings throwing rocks at us, calling us names, refusing to play with us, and just generally making our lives miserable. But none of that compared to what was done to my cousin.
She was a couple of years older than me but only one grade ahead of me in school. I can only remember attending the same school with her when I was in 7th grade and she was in 8th. My cousin didn’t dress in the latest style. Her dark hair was long and kind of scraggly. She had a humped back from curvature of the spine. She was very thin. And obviously poor. Her family was close to each other, a great family. They were very poor and looked down on in our community for that reason. Kids being kids, they teamed up to pick on her. They called her names. They spit on her. I remember being in one class with her, I sat behind her and the kids put tacks on her chair so when she sat down, she sat on the tacks. They all laughed hysterically when she screamed and jumped up. She would scream at them in frustration which just seemed to make them worse. All through school, she was picked on like this.
I never once stood up for her, never once told the bullies to stop. I was so afraid they would then turn on me. I had already been bullied. I was just plain scared of going back to that type of painful isolation again. So, I did nothing to stop it. But I did something worse.
Her house was on the way to school so in the morning, I would stop at her house and she would walk with me to school. Except we always separated a couple of blocks from school so no one would see me with her. I could be her friend as long as no one from school knew it. I didn’t acknowledge her at school and she didn’t acknowledge me. I think she was protecting me. In mine, I was protecting myself for sure.
As the years went by, we lost touch completely. I knew the school years remained hard ones for her and was glad for her when she was no longer in school. My mom told me she had married someone who loved her a lot. I was so happy that she had finally found happiness and acceptance. She lived far away with her husband. Then I heard she had a child and was even happier for her.
Shortly after she had her child, she died of cancer. She was still in her twenties. She had a very few short years of being loved wholeheartedly for who she was. After she died, the guilt came storming in for how I had treated her. I couldn’t apologize to her. She was gone. After several days of shame and pain, I knew I had to do something. I wrote her a letter. In the letter, I told her how sorry I was for not sticking up for her. I apologized for making her separate from me before we got to school. I told her how glad for her I was when she married and had her baby.
A letter had to be enough. I couldn’t even go to her grave. It was too far away. About the same time, I accepted the Lord as my Savior. I had heard she had as well before she died. I asked Jesus to tell her I was sorry.
For years I held on to that guilt. I confessed it to Jesus and know He forgave me but I couldn’t forgive myself. I knew my cousin wouldn’t hold it against me. But I felt I had to punish myself. Finally, I understood, I was forgiven. I had to let go of the guilt. I have talked to my grandchildren about what I did and how I felt about it. I want them to be strong enough to stand up to bullies. Stronger than I was. I also want them to know that I made mistakes and am not perfect. I want them to know it’s best to make amends while you still can. But if that’s not possible, you can still find peace.
If you have something you did that eats at you, then make amends where you can. If you can’t do that, then write them a letter and share your feelings honestly and completely and apologize. You could burn the letter as a sign of letting go of the guilt. The task is to express what you did, apologize for their pain, ask for forgiveness, then let go of the pain. Do not keep carrying it around. You can’t go back and change the past. You can only change your feelings about the past. Accept forgiveness and move on.
I would rather have talked in person to my cousin. I can’t do that. But I did what I could. And I am forgiven. Someday I will see her again and I suspect I will get a huge hug from her. No condemnation. What a day that will be.
UPDATE: Since posting this, I have received comments about how special my cousin was. She was truly kind and had a big heart.