by Mari McKee
A mother forgives the murderer of her child
Eighteenth century English poet, Alexander Pope, wrote in his “Essay on Criticism” the famous line, “To err is human, to forgive, divine”. In 1929, Mohandas Gandhi wrote “Hate the sin and not the sinner” in his autobiography.
Many people harbor ill will towards someone who committed an act that caused physical or emotional pain, embarrassment or offended them. They will never forget nor forgive the offender. These people forget that they, themselves, have committed acts that caused hurt. Everyone has made poor choices that affect others because all people are fallible and imperfect. Sometimes the person who was hurt will seek retribution as a form of “pay back” with malicious gossip, or physically harming them or their property. Some people simply lack morals and ethics.
Other people learn to forgive others for heinous crimes. Marietta Jaeger-Lane and her family were on a camping trip when her youngest daughter, Susie, was abducted from their camp site. The authorities had no leads as to who kidnapped the child. Marietta did not know if Susie was alive or dead. The kidnapper called Marietta at home on the one year anniversary of Susie’s kidnapping; his sole purpose was to torment her. What he didn’t know was that Marietta had forgiven him and was praying for him. He broke down when she told him. They talked for an hour and the authorities were able to gather enough information from the call to track down David Meirhoffer. The police, however, had no evidence to link him to Susie’s kidnapping. They asked Marietta to meet with Meirhoffer. She met Meirhoffer face to face and he confessed to her that he had kidnapped Susie, molested her, and then choked Susie to death. He also confessed to three other murders. Within hours of his confessions, he committed suicide in his cell by hanging himself.
How had a mother forgiven the worst kind of criminal who molested and killed her seven year old daughter? In interviews, Marietta said that following Susie’s kidnapping, she was consumed with rage and a desire for revenge. She said she could “choke him with my own hands and a smile on my face”.
But her hatred was making her sick, both emotionally and physically. She realized her hatred would consume and destroy her. Raised as a Roman Catholic, she was taught to forgive her enemies. She made a commitment to forgive him. She asked God to help to move her heart from fury to forgiveness. She began thinking positive thoughts for him. Marietta had forgiven Meirhoffer. After his suicide, Marietta reached out to his mother. Each has accompanied the other to their children’s graves. Marietta now works with victim’s families and lectures at universities and churches on forgiveness and reconciliation. "Those victims who will not relinquish a vindictive mindset end up giving the offender another victim — themselves," she said. She also has fought against the death penalty.
If a mother can forgive her child’s murderer, shouldn’t we be able to forgive someone who angered or hurt us involving something insignificant in the grand scheme of things? Forgiveness lessens depression, anger and anxiety. People who forgive are happier and are physically healthier. Research has shown a strong correlation between forgiveness and strengthened immunity in AIDS patients. Clinging to hurt and betrayal is bad for the body and the mind. One can learn how to forgive and move on with their lives. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. It takes courage to get past anger. A quote that is alleged to come from Buddha says, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Ultimately, forgiveness is a gift for the offender and for you.
“Loved ones, wrenched from our lives by violent crimes, deserve more beautiful, noble and honorable memorials than premeditated, state-sanctioned killings.” Marietta Jaeger-Lane