Hard to Forgive
A Family in Crisis
Throughout 17 years of living under the brutal shadow of domestic violence, I never thought about divorcing my husband. And even as my husband’s addiction to gambling sank the family into heavy debt, and I was injured severely from his wild beatings, I never complained to my children. Time and time again, I chose to forgive. Only after a neighbor called the police and my husband was arrested did my children, who were teenagers at the time, realize the real situation with their troubled parents.
My ex-husband’s actions hurt the three of us deeply—each in our own way. For me, the hurt was about our marriage. It had started well but had ended in chaos. My innocent children had witnessed their father beating their mother so often that even my son had to call the police to protect his mother. During the time my ex-husband was in jail, my son and daughter and I faced our daily lives together, fighting hard against the worst financial hardship we ever imagined.
As my children matured, they understood from clear evidence the enormous debts their father’s addiction to gambling at casinos had created. Our daughter, brought up as “Daddy’s little girl,” tried to block out all the gossip she heard about her dad. But as she began to understand her father’s wrongdoing, she hated him with extreme resentment. Even so, both children did well in school. After high school graduation, our son was admitted to Cornell University, and a few years later, our daughter pursued her studies at M.I.T. I divorced my husband and took multiple jobs in order to pay off his heavy debts.
A Dying Dad
In 2010, through various channels, my ex-husband revealed to me and our son that he was in a hospice facility, dying with late-stage Parkinson’s disease. In previous years, he had tried to contact us, but we chose not to respond. He always spoke harshly with the children and always asked for money. Even when our children got married, neither of them notified their father for fear of the trouble he could bring to their marriage. Our daughter, a practicing lawyer, had cut off all relationship with her father, never writing his name when completing forms but using my surname instead.
As soon as our son got news that his dad was critically ill, he phoned his sister to tell her that their dad was facing the end time soon. He asked if she wanted to go see him, imploring: “We should all go to see him to ask if he is willing to forgive us, and we should also forgive him.”
Our daughter replied: “Ask him for forgiveness? What have we done that we should ask pardon from him? Everything he did was totally wrong!”
“You’re right!” My son responded. “We have suffered a lot. But right now, our situation in life is good. We should be grateful for everything!”
At that time, our son was 32 years old. While studying at Cornell University, he had attended a campus Christian fellowship. After graduation, he got a job and met his future wife, who was also a Christian. During their courtship and later marriage, he was enormously impacted by his wife who always reminded him to forgive. In his earlier years, he had seen his father’s brutality—how he beat his mother to lame her legs and chased her with the intent to kill. But as he and his wife prayed together, the grudges against his father gradually vanished. He had a lucrative job and a harmonious family of his own. His sister was a lawyer, and his mother’s legs had healed so she could walk again and hold down an excellent job. As far as my son could tell, everything about our lives looked perfect!
But he could not stop thinking: “I have only one father on earth. No matter how wrong he has been, he is still the one who gave me life.” He felt he should go visit his father. My son-in-law graciously offered to go with him, but my daughter thought it was not best since her husband would be an outsider. With a newborn baby to care for, my daughter-in-law was not able to travel with her husband. So, with the intent of seeking forgiveness for not contacting his father for so many years in the past, my son decided to go see his father by himself.
Our son called me to tell me his plans and asked me to pray for him. I first thought I should take leave from work to go with him, but he remarked: “Mom, you have already divorced him. Now you know nothing about his present situation. What if he suddenly bursts into a violent rage like before and starts again to torture you? You better not go!”
Our son flew to Las Vegas and found his aged father in the hospice facility dying with terminal stage Parkinson’s disease. His internal organs were deteriorating, which resulted in exhaustive multiple failures. He had pain all over his body which required injections of morphine. At the appearance of his son whom he has not seen for more than 10 years, my ex-husband was shocked immensely! To maintain his pride, he started yelling vehemently: “You have ignored me for so many years, hurting me so much, and now coming here, causing me misery...” He continued to utter words that blamed the whole world for wronging him. My son tried to explain that he had come to seek pardon and offer forgiveness—that he wanted to restore the father/son relationship. But his father only shouted curses and refused to listen. With a heavy heart, our son left his dad.
Receiving such a negative response from his father during the visit, my son called his wife to say he was leaving right away, rather than the third day as he had originally planned. His wife advised him to first rest a bit in his hotel, get a bite to eat, try to sleep well through the night, and wait to determine the next step the following day.
He accepted the suggestion from his wife and the next morning decided to visit his father once again. On the first day when his father kept cursing him, he had had no chance to hand over the Bible I had given him to bring to his father. It was a gift from a pastor, with a verse marked to share with his father: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8, RSV)
On this second visit, his father continued to yell hostile words at him, so my son handed over the Bible, saying: “Because of your cursing, I really don’t know how to communicate with you. I’m married and have a son. You have a grandson! Your daughter just got married too! That is what I want to tell you! Now I’m leaving!” He then placed a photo of his son alongside the Bible against the headboard of his father’s bed and left the hospice facility in tears, determined that he would not see his father again.
Again, his wife encouraged him to eat lunch and take a stroll in the vicinity. Afterwards, he returned to visit his father for the third time. When his father ordered him to leave, he told the hospice nurse: “I’m giving up. Even though I’m his son, I am totally frustrated. Tomorrow morning, I’m flying home. I leave everything to your care.”
Returning to the hotel, he called his wife and prayed with her again. She encouraged him again: “You’ve already spent two nights there, showing great perseverance as you’ve tried to be reconciled to your father. We each have just one lifetime. So, before your father dies, you’d better go for one last time to see him. Please pray hard for him, and we will pray for him as well.”
A Final Goodbye
The next morning before our son headed to the airport, he went again to visit his father. Arriving at the hospice facility, the nurse said to him: “I’m really happy you came again. Last night your father asked me if I could buy a photo frame to put his grandson’s photo in.” Unbelievably, this time, his father uttered words that were positive. He confessed: “I have made two mistakes in my life: one is that I have told lies and been unfaithful; the other is that I am responsible for domestic violence to my wife.”
However, he did not admit his fault in gambling addiction, and the huge debt he left for his family to repay. Following his confession, many other positive words came out of his mouth. The tone of his voice was completely changed!
Recounting this experience later, my son said that after his father admitted the two mistakes he had made, his facial expression was completely different from his previous demeanor. He looked completely relaxed. Holding each other’s hands, father and son looked each other in the eyes, and tears flowed. They both knew this would be the last time they’d see each other on this earth.
Needing to get to the airport, my son said his final goodbye to his father. Extremely tired, and with a heavy heart, he drove to the airport.
Forgiveness and Release
The next day following my son’s arrival back home, I drove to his house where my daughter and her husband had also assembled. After describing his encounter with his father, each of us embraced the others with tears of heightened joy. Knowing that his father was in extreme physical pain, he suggested that we pray. Leading us, my son prayed: “Dear God, take our father home as soon as possible.” After the prayer, he explained that since his father had repented of his wrongdoing, he believed that he was released from the bondage of sin to which he had been enslaved. We continued our fervent prayers for the children’s father and my ex-husband until the telephone rang. We were informed that my ex-husband had just died.
Later, expressing his gratitude to his wife for her encouragement and support through prayer, and to Jesus for strengthening and energizing him to try four times to see his father, my son admitted that some anger still lingered inside because his father was the source of our family’s brokenness and the immense tribulations we had faced. Because of one man’s mistakes, the entire family had suffered negative consequences.
Then he continued: “Though I am unable to penetrate into Father’s inner feelings, I sensed from his facial expression that he was completely relieved from the bondage of sin. I learned so much from seeing clearly what liberation and forgiveness meant to him at the moment of his repentance. I saw him humble himself and admit his mistakes. This is a good thing. Let God be the judge of whatever confessions my father made and how much redemptive effort he was willing to make!”
That day our son was due to return to work, but he immediately called his company to request a leave of absence. He booked a plane ticket to Las Vegas with the intention of taking care of funeral matters for his father. He advised me to stay in New Jersey to continue praying for everything. After finishing all the funeral arrangements for his father, he brought the ashes of his father to Taiwan and returned to New Jersey in a state of complete exhaustion!
What a relief it was to our family to forgive the man who had caused the enormous adversities we faced. It is naturally easy to love those who show love to us. But our Lord Jesus teaches us to love people of the world, even our enemies, and to recognize that we are all sinners. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We can only love fully and forgive fully when we know God.