Healing power of forgiveness

Pauline Constable, above, mother of Timothy; Andrea Krueger, widow of Jens Richardon, below, and Emma and Duncan Woods and son Jacob, the brother of Nayan, bottom.
Pauline Constable, above, mother of Timothy; Andrea Krueger, widow of Jens Richardon, below, and Emma and Duncan Woods and son Jacob, the brother of Nayan, bottom.

The past 12 months have seen powerful displays of forgiveness by families torn apart by tragedy.

When Christchurch mum Emma Woods expressed forgiveness to the teenager who killed her four-year-old son many struggled to understand how she could take such a merciful stance.

But Woods is not the only person in the past 12 months to opt for forgiveness over hate. In other amazing displays of forgiveness:

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The family of Jack Edwin McMurtrie, 82 – killed by a disqualified driver – told the court they forgave him and did not wish him imprisoned.

Pauline Constable, the mother of Christchurch murder victim Timothy Constable, hugged Adam Gempton, the man convicted of killing her son, as he stood in the dock and spoke to him in hushed words. She told the court in her victim impact statement: "I choose love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." Malcolm Ives, the father of Rose Ives, who was accidentally shot and killed by a hunter while on a camping trip, said in had no room in his heart for anger towards the man who shot his daughter. "My hope for this man is that out of tragedy may come a better, wiser person; one who can positively influence others in the future. I sincerely hope this accident does not destroy him," he said.

A 20-year-old drunk driver who killed a Blenheim grandmother after fleeing police was forgiven by her victim's son.

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The family of an English couple killed after a car crash near Mossburn said they forgave the Israeli driver of the car that veered into them.

Christchurch community worker Joanne Nelson, 67, who was raped in 2003 by Ihaia Mack Moeau in her Riccarton home, supported him in his parole bid. She speaks to her attacker every day and visits him in prison once a week.

Andrea Krueger, the widow of Jens Richardon, who was cycling in Canterbury when a car being driven by drunk driver Phillip Hamilton, smashed into him, spoke of her forgiveness as she read her victim impact statement and gave him a hug during his sentencing over the death of her husband.

The family of a King Country motorcyclist killed in a head-on collision embraced the French tourist responsible for his death.

The husband of one of three Waikato cyclists killed when they were struck by a car said he did not "hate" the driver and was open to a request for a restorative justice conference.

Auckland lawyer and restorative justice advocate Helen Bowen, who is just about the begin a master's thesis on the subject of compassion in the criminal justice system, sees forgiveness as something that helps the victim.

"If you talk to those who have been through a process where forgiveness has occurred, there is a sense of relief and completion, a certain lightness which seems to help people move on to the next stage of the grieving," said Bowen, citing a case in which a mother had chosen to forgive the drunk driver who killed her teenage daughter. "[She] had worked out in advance that she did not need to carry the hatred ... in addition to the lifelong loss of her daughter. She saw this as something that essentially worked for her," Bowen said.

Forgiveness often came from unexpected places, and even the most hardened of victims who sought only revenge could be helped by listening to the person who harmed them and having certain questions answered. "Often they gain something from that experience even if they do not experience forgiveness," Bowen said.

The Anglican bishop of Christchurch, Victoria Matthews, said she believed more people were showing forgiveness because they realised that harbouring hate and anger would cause only further hurt to themselves.

She cited the example of former South African president Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years.

"When asked why he had forgiven the people who had argued for the death penalty for him, and his prison guards, and the politicians who had so oppressed his people, Mandela said that if he had not he would still be in prison. He would be in the prison of resentment and anger that holds so many people in bondage," Matthews said.

Sunday Star Times