The Gifts of Forgiveness: A Personal Story
By Karen Long
NOTE FROM EILEEN: Recently my editor, Karen Long, shared with me a story of forgiveness from her own life, and I asked her to tell it here. With the permission of her son and his father, Karen tells the story of how the three of them created a comfortable and easygoing co-parenting relationship after divorce, through the liberation of forgiveness.
As I was editing chapter two of Eileen’s forthcoming book, Healing Hate in America, I read this passage, “To be free of that anger would be liberating, and that freedom is what we call forgiveness.” I was swept up in gratitude because I’d personally experienced the liberation and healing power of forgiveness.
In 2021 when my son went away to college, both his father and I were there to help him move in. Darryl and I had separated in 2007 when Kellen was five, and yet, here we all were together, carrying boxes, bags, backpacks and Kellen’s monstera plant up to his new dorm room, laughing and joking the whole time without a trace of awkwardness. Afterwards we all went out for lunch, and Kellen posted a picture of the three of us to his Instagram story with the caption, “Moving in featuring my makers.”
It wasn’t always like this. When Darryl and I started the discussions that led to our divorce, I was blindsided — although I shouldn’t have been. While I knew things weren’t good between us, I vaguely figured that things would get better, or eventually we’d work on our issues. But I didn’t have the communication skills to initiate the conversations that needed to happen. The previous year we had moved to Amsterdam for Darryl’s job and, of all the outcomes I envisioned, becoming a single mother was not one of them. Still, we made a commitment to each other to put Kellen’s interests first, as well as our own agreement to practice openness and honesty — both within ourselves and towards each other — something we hadn’t been able to do while married.
When Darryl moved back to Los Angeles, I remained in Amsterdam with Kellen, with the agreement that we’d all talk on Skype once a week on Saturdays. Sitting a five-year-old in front of the webcam every week and facilitating a conversation between him and my estranged husband was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. Many times I was holding back tears while holding it together for Kellen. But all three of showed up every single week, 52 times a year, and bit by bit it became easier. Eventually Kellen and I moved back to my home town of Wichita, Kansas. By that point, at the end of our web chats instead of weeping I’d say to Kellen: “That was a pretty good talk wasn’t it?”
While I’d taken responsibility for my own role in the end of my marriage to Darryl, I knew I also needed to forgive him. But how? The hurt was an inflamed ball in my core eating away at me. With the support of friends, spiritual mentors and various modes of body work over the years I went on to have several major breakthroughs in forgiveness, peeling away the layers like an onion, as so often happens with emotional healing. One of my most important realizations was that forgiveness is a process, with its own ups and down — what’s important is your commitment to it, even when you’re feeling your most resentful and unforgiving.
Over the years, Kellen, Darryl, and I continued our weekly Saturday chats through Kellen’s Boy Scout years, karate belt ceremonies, piano recitals, middle school science fairs, birthdays and holidays. While Darryl and I still had occasional tense moments between ourselves, our Saturday chats became easier and easier, until the vast majority of them were “good conversations.”
When Kellen was 13, he and I ran up against a stark difference of opinion on which high school he should attend; we called an emergency family meeting and Darryl supported my decision. Kellen went on to have a great high school experience and was accepted into every college he applied to, and I was immensely grateful his dad and I had the kind of relationship where we could work through these life issues together.
I’m not gonna lie: The forgiveness process was painful, especially in the beginning, full of ups and downs and seeming reversals. But I’m proud of all three of us for meeting our individual emotional journeys head on, and for showing up week after week for the Saturday webcam chats — which was the most important thing. At some point the Saturday chats became Sunday chats, and when Kellen was packing to go away to college, he was the one who said, “We’re going to continue our talks when I’m at college right.” It was also his idea for us to watch the entire Star Wars saga together, in chronological order, so we’ve added an hour of Disney Plus GroupWatch to our weekly schedule, and engage in rollicking discussions about the episodes afterwards. Whenever Darryl comes to visit Kellen and his side of the family in Wichita, he also makes a point to get together with me and my side of the family.
The three of us appreciate the free and supportive family dynamic we’ve cultivated to support Kellen through 15 years of life’s celebrations and crises. Reading Eileen’s chapter, I became overwhelmingly grateful for the liberation of knowing that trend would continue into Kellen’s future: As Kellen goes through grad school applications, career milestones, relationships and possibly starting his own family, Darryl and I will both be there for him in full joy and power. Without tension, without awkwardness, without our own drama distracting from Kellen.
And the forgiveness arc still brings surprises. Last Christmas Darryl sent Kellen and me a mystery box in Wichita, not to be opened until we got together on Christmas Eve to open our gifts to each other. On the webcam that evening I was startled to find that Darryl had bought all of us matching red-and-black buffalo-print pajamas. And candles.
“We can all wear our pajamas and light our candles while we open our gifts!” Darryl said.
This was not a family tradition we’d ever celebrated when we all lived under one roof, nor was it anything I’d ever dreamed of in my wildest forgiveness fantasies. When I committed to the forgiveness journey years ago, I had no idea of the liberation, healing, and empowerment it could bring, bordering on the miraculous.
I’m excited to see where it takes us next.