Thursday, October 25, 2012
We lost our Sheba two weeks ago today. After learning that she had cancer, we authorized the vet to do surgery. When he did his exploratory work, he found that the cancer had spread from her spleen throughout her body. There was nothing that could be done to save her. Sheba came into our family one Spring day in 2004. Steve had read on-line about a rescue group in Denton that had German Short-Haired Pointers. I didn’t even know about that breed, so I was open to checking it out. He drove up on his day off and took our younger daughter with him. He had a list of 3 dogs from the rescue center’s website that he wanted to meet. Sheba was not on the list. After seeing one or two of the dogs on his list, our daughter said, “Steve, look at this one. Isn’t she cute?” Sheba immediately turned her attention from Sara to Steve, as if to ask, “Oh, are YOU the decision-maker?” He was instantly smitten with her and he began to rub her ears and interact with her soft and sweet personality. That night, he asked me if I would go with him the next day and meet Sheba. When we drove up, I saw a house, sitting on acreage and lots of dogs running around a fenced yard. Then, I saw her. There was a huge, square picture window and a dog peered out, as if she were smiling to greet an old friend. “That’s her,” said Steve, as we walked up. As we entered the house (the lady had given the dogs the run of the place!) I saw a chair and as I contemplated whether to sit or not, Sheba came up and jumped on me and I sat down, with her in my lap in an instant. She worked her way into my heart immediately. She was sweet, gentle and had these piercing eyes that looked right into my soul. She said, “Love me and I’ll love you back.” Steve and I walked out to the truck to get his check book and she not only followed us, but also jumped up into the truck, as if to say, “OK, I’m ready to go now.” We couldn’t take her, as she had to be tattooed with her special code and there was a two or three day waiting period. Steve drove up a few days later and brought home our girl. We already had another female dog and we introduced them carefully. They were best friends and had many wonderful days together until we brought home a male dog to be a mate for the basenji female. That changed the dynamics of our pack and the basenji was never the same. (This is another story for another time.) Through all of the dogs we’ve had over the 12 years of our life together, Sheba was the constant. She lived with us for 8 years, bringing much joy to our evening TV watching, park walking and errand running. She even abided my crazy Christmas photos with red and green collars, pink dog snugglies and other off-the-wall ideas. In many ways, she was our spiritual companion, too. She saw our relatives, who came to visit, after crossing over. Many times, my grandmother or Steve’s grandfather came to visit and while Steve felt their energy, our sweet girl saw them. She even liked to sleep with a towel over her head. LOL Steve says that he feels that Pappaw and my Granny were there to greet her when she crossed over on that Friday a few weeks ago. So, she is chasing squirrels in heaven and having DQ ice cream every night. She is a sweet little girl. We will miss her.
When people ask me for a way to heal past hurts, I always recommend forgiveness. Many times, we are carrying around the pain of betrayal or the residual feelings from words that hurt us. In some instances, these situations occurred many years ago, but we are still stinging from the pain. In a seminar I recently attended, the speaker gave us an example from his own life. He said that his parents divorced over 30 years ago and yet, to his father, it just happened and “he’s really pissed!” Does this resonate for you? Are you still focusing on something that a sibling did more than a few years ago, just like it was yesterday? When you think of a High School friend who betrayed you, does it hurt like a fresh wound? Or, what about your spouse or partner (substitute BFF, boy/girlfriend or any close relationship here) and something that happened last summer that you didn’t like? Are you still upset over this issue? When we fail to forgive and let go of something that hurt us, we waste energy thinking about it, replaying it in our minds and maybe wishing we had responded differently. All in all, we are wasting precious time on something from our past. Once I read this quote: “If you can’t forgive and forget, pick one.” Robert Brault True words! The old “forgive and forget” is often hard for us. Some people feel that to forgive and forget implies that we condone the person or the act we are forgiving. This is not true! In its most pure sense, forgiveness is for you and really has nothing to do with the other person or persons. Allow me to repeat this: FORGIVENESS IS FOR YOU! Malachy McCourt said “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” How ridiculous! And, yet how many of us harbor old, hurtful feelings against another, because of something that we perceive that was “done” to us many, many years ago. We think somehow that our maintaining our vigil on this hurt is protecting us or honoring ourselves in some way. Yet, the exact opposite is the case. The power of forgiveness lies in our making a choice to forgive and move on. According to University of Wisconsin psychologist Robert D. Enright, who is an expert on the science of forgiveness, it is best that we forgive the perpetrator, wish him or her well and move on. It doesn’t matter whether the perpetrator is sorry or not, according to Enright. He calls this process "making a gesture of goodness" to a wrongdoer and says that you have "to be able to see through to the end." By doing so, by forgiving the person and moving on, you benefit the soul AND the body. People who have been studying forgiveness have been able to document health benefits to forgiveness. According to Dr. Loren Toussaint’s studies, “unforgiving people are at up to 10 times the risk for mental illness as the forgiving and twice the odds of cardiovascular disease as the average population.”(1) Here are a few interesting facts from another study on forgiveness: They have shown that "forgiveness interventions" — often just a couple of short sessions in which the wounded are guided toward positive feelings for an offender — can improve cardiovascular function, diminish chronic pain, relieve depression and boost quality of life among the very ill. An AIDS patient who has forgiven the person presumed to have transmitted the virus is more likely to care for him or herself and less likely to engage in unprotected sex. Those more inclined to pardon the transgressions of others have been found to have lower blood pressure, fewer depressive symptoms and, once they hit late middle age, better overall mental and physical health than those who do not forgive easily. Like proper nutrition and exercise, researchers say, forgiveness appears to be a behavior that a patient can learn, exercise and repeat as needed to prevent disease and preserve health. Dr. Douglas Russell, a Veterans Administration cardiologist who, in a 2003 study, found that the coronary function of patients who had suffered a heart attack improved after a 10-hour course in forgiveness.(2) The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt depression and stress and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and self confidence. Practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health. It also influences our attitude which opens the heart to kindness, beauty, and love.(3) Another one of my mentors, Author Caroline Myss says: "When we harbor negative emotions toward others or toward ourselves, or when we intentionally create pain for others, we poison our own physical and spiritual systems. By far the strongest poison to the human spirit is the inability to forgive oneself or another person. It disables a person's emotional resources.” The second part of the power of forgiveness lies in the ability to forgive oneself. The inability to forgive oneself can be especially toxic to the body, according to Dr. Toussaint: But when anger is turned inward and directed at oneself, lack of forgiveness appears likely to have an ongoing, toxic health effect that might be even more corrosive to physical and mental health than anger directed outward. "Sometimes people hurt us, and we move on, and it might fade," says Toussaint, the psychologist. As he has refined that work with better definitions of forgiveness, however, Toussaint says he has been surprised to learn that those who hold onto self-blame might suffer more. "Forgiveness of self holds the more powerful punch," Toussaint says. "The effects are dramatic." In work not yet published, Toussaint found that men who do not forgive themselves readily are seven times more likely to meet the full diagnostic criteria for clinical depression than men who do. Highly self-forgiving women are three times less likely to have the symptoms of clinical depression — a risk factor for a host of ills — than their sisters who are prone to regret and self-blame. Those more forgiving of themselves also sleep more and are in better overall health, he has found.(4) So, forgive others and forgive yourself . . . you’ll see benefits in both physical and mental health. As the author Jon Krakauer writes in the beautiful book, Into the Wild: "When you forgive, you love - and when you love, God's light shines on you" Footnotes: (1) Ryan Blitstein, Pacific Standard, “Forgive and Get Healthy,” October 5, 2009 (2) Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times, “Forgive and Be Well,” December 31, 2007 (3) Stanford Forgiveness Project http://learningtoforgive.com (4) Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times, “Forgive and Be Well,” December 31, 2007