“I Chose to Forgive,” Ensign, June 1997, 62
Thirteen years ago, Tommy, one of my teenage sons, left our home on an October evening to follow a treasure hunt to a dance. While he and his two young friends were driving from the first clue to the second, their car was hit by a drunk driver. The driver of the boys’ car was killed instantly, and Tommy sustained massive internal injuries. The third passenger was only slightly injured.
I stood by Tommy’s hospital bed and took stock of his condition. With tubes attaching him to many machines, he lay unconscious with just a sheet covering him. Besides a bandage on his left knee, Tommy looked very relaxed. His spleen and brain injuries were hidden from sight.
As I stood quietly by, I realized that some would understand if I remained angry and bitter all my life about this. Looking down at my son, I let my righteous indignation turn into anger and then fury. My throat tightened, my breathing became rapid, and my hands clenched into tight fists. How could anyone do this to him!
As these feelings subsided, an interesting thing happened. I began to imagine future holiday scenes: birthdays with cakes and candles, the Thanksgiving table spread with food, and a Christmas tree surrounded by people singing and giving gifts. Strangely, these scenes all lacked any color, warmth, love, or joy.
And then I understood: That was the way my life would be if I allowed myself to be bitter over my son’s accident. Grateful for this spiritual insight, I chose to forgive the driver and pray for him right there by my son’s bedside. Though Tommy died as a result of his injuries, not once in the years since have I questioned my decision to forgive.
A few days after Tommy’s funeral, I felt impressed to write a letter to the driver. I told him that Tommy’s father and I hoped he would accept our complete forgiveness. I explained that our family had been blessed through the Spirit with understanding and peace from our Heavenly Father. Because of our knowledge of the plan of salvation, we knew that Tommy and his friend still lived. We hoped that, after due process of the justice system, the driver would be able to put his life back together, forgive himself, and live in peace.
The driver was found guilty of two counts of involuntary homicide and sentenced to two terms of 5 to 15 years each in the penitentiary. After he had spent some time in prison, his sentence was commuted to a year of maintenance service at a treatment center. We learned that he had no previous offenses, that he was a longtime employee at his place of work, and that he was considered a fine husband, father, and grandfather. He was not a habitual drinker.
When the day of his scheduled release arrived, he had a conversation with the facility’s matron that she later told me about. She complimented him on the way he had conducted himself throughout his sentence and spoke with enthusiasm about his return to his family and a normal life. Reminding him of our letter of forgiveness, she encouraged him to close the door on this period of his life and begin anew. His debt to society would finish being paid at midnight.
The driver, however, did not share the matron’s outlook. He was somber and once again expressed his shame and grief at having caused the death of two boys. He stated his belief that he could never be free of his guilt while he lived on this earth.
At about ten o’clock that night, when one of the facility’s administrators went to the man’s quarters to help him get ready to go home, he discovered that the man had passed away due to a massive heart attack.
I believe that without a testimony of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice, the driver could not understand the forgiveness process. Perhaps his grief overwhelmed him. When I learned of the man’s death, I felt a strong spiritual impression regarding him, a reassurance that he would be taught the gospel in the spirit world, that he would learn of the great blessing of the Atonement—and that then he would receive his long-sought peace.
I am grateful that I followed the Spirit’s guidance and forgave the man instead of feeling bitter toward him.