David Bowie died this last week. The many eulogies have been sincere and heartfelt. We can feel empathy and sympathy for those close to him who no longer have him in their lives. Even those who knew him only as an actor, a musician, a cultural figure, even an icon feel a loss and a pain. No more Heroes.
Yet at many times during his life he caused controversy. As much for what he represented as what he actually did or said. He was avant garde and thus threatened established orders. But if such threats continued to his death they no longer do so he has gone; he is forgiven, if such forgiveness be needed.
It is easier to forgive those who are no longer able to challenge, to threaten, to hurt. You do not speak ill of the dead because, in truth you should no longer need to.
But, and here’s the thing, what if the upset, the hurt is in the dying? How does forgiveness manifest itself?
When my father and I fell out over me moving in with my then girlfriend we didn’t speak, not in any meaningful sense for some time, over a year and the rapprochement only came when we announced we were going to marry.
It was silly, petty, Victorian, stubborn, stupid and hurt more than just the two of us. We both acknowledged, over time, our own part in this ridiculous impasse. We apologised and we forgave and, in the forgiving, we created a bond that deepened and strengthened as the years passed. We did what I hope I manage with my children – we became friends first and foremost, enjoying each other’s company.
And then he was diagnosed with cancer and within a year he died.
I was everything you’d expect. I was also bloody furious. With him. It became apparent he had had symptoms for ages and hidden them. Had he divulged them the treatment could have started much earlier and every month would have made a significant difference to the outcome. Today he would have been 88. He could have been 88. I lost a dear friend unnecessarily. Of course I was bloody cross.
The thing is it wasn’t his or anyone else’s fault this. He was private, excruciatingly so. He hated any sign of frailty, of showing weakness. It wasn’t manly and if there was one thing he had to be it was manly. Admitting to a urinary problem, a problem with his most masculine feature would have been huge, an almost intolerable burden and while he could hide it and any accompanying pain, he did so. I could better blame his own upbringing and wartime adolescence than his latter day decision making.
When I think of the old boy it is with affection and humour. They are his gifts to me: love life and love people and always, always see the funny side. It took me time to realise I would be spurning those gifts if I didn’t forgive, if forgiveness were needed, those poorly judged decisions. He could no more have avoided making them than I can avoid breathing.
In a sense I forgave because I wanted to be selfish; I wanted to keep those beautiful memories so I forgave. Isn’t that often the case, though? If you can’t forgive, does that leave you in a better place or just maintain the mutual damage? Forgiving someone else is an act of self compassion and, as such, as valuable a tool as any in ensuring you live the best life – for you, and therefore all those who care for you – that you can.
Try and forgive. For you as much as anyone else.
This post is part to the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. Please check out the website here for a link to more related stories and posts. Each month writers come together to post on compassion often within a theme. This month’s theme is forgiveness.