My mother just called me up to wish me Kung Hei Fat Choy – it’s Chinese New Year. She also had scandal to tell me. In the course of talking to my Chinese grandparents this morning, she was told that the pastor at their church had been having an affair. Said church has the biggest Baptist congregation in their country and follows fundamentalist views – no sex before marriage, no gayness, and unless you love God and give your heart to Jesus, you’re damned to hell etc.
The pastor’s father-in-law, upon uncovering the affair, forced his son-in-law to call an emergency meeting of all 1000 plus church members, make a confession to all of them from the pulpit, and swiftly resign from his post. The congregation were understandably stunned and told not to gossip about it. Of course, my grandmother, being the previous pastor’s wife, gets on the phone and tells everyone she knows. This is where I get my lack of censorship from, clearly, and now I’m writing about it all over the internet.
Hearing about the way this has been handled has angered me because it struck a chord – I cheated on my wife too and have been subject to public humiliation and judgement. Part of me doesn’t want to write about it on this blog for fear of more judgement. I owe no explanation to anybody. You’re not going to get an explanation. Rather, I am writing about it in the context of the importance and power of forgiveness. Forgiveness of self, and of others.
I suffer from bipolar disorder and a few months after my wedding, I went a bit mental, snuck around having what was more of an emotional affair than a physical one, convinced myself I was in love with this other woman, got caught and left my wife for a few weeks. I’m ashamed of it. I cried in the office every single day. I’d regularly call my PA to bring me more tissues and my hands were covered in snot. It must have been nothing compared to the hurt my wife felt. I prayed a lot. An awful lot. For forgiveness, for my wife, for our families.
My wife and I went to therapy. We talked, but then we didn’t talk. We kissed, and we shouted. What’s especially tough is that my wife confessed to me that she also had cheated, she was messaging other women, and was still obsessed with one of them. It really fucking hurt. Had our entire relationship been a lie? Did this stop us from loving one another? No. Absolutely not. Bizarrely, we were still devoted to one another. We were the perfect storm. After a lot of soul searching, we forgave one another. I remember it so clearly when those words came out of her mouth. Oh the relief, and the love. I moved back in. She killed herself the next day – she hung herself in our bedroom, leaving out the love letter she had written to me on our wedding day.
I’ve had to cling on for dear life to the fact that my wife forgave me and that we spent one precious reconciled night together, wrapped in one another’s warm fleece pyjama-ed embrace, noses rubbing, lips gently kissing, with her bringing me a cup of tea in the morning. God, I miss being brought tea and everything about her – even the shit bits like her awful temper and her bitchy tendencies.
As a result of the affair and wife’s epic timing, it was inevitable that many people would blame me for her suicide, especially her family. It hurts. They particularly actively hate me and are far, far away from forgiving me or not blaming me, it seems. Not a jot of consideration was made of my wife’s mental illness and her ticking far too many boxes on the list of factors that make someone more susceptible to suicide. During the course of our separation, my wife had circulated “copies” of emails that my, I guess I should call her, mistress and I had sent to and fro. Like this pastor, I was subject to a very public shaming, and one which went beyond what my wife was envisaging. I’m eloquent and pre-disposed to overuse of hyperbole (get it?!) in my writing so you can imagine what the bipolar fuelled emails said. Circulation did nothing to make it easier for my wife and I to reconcile. How can you get through tough times without friends and family supporting you, let alone actively willing things not to survive? People were talking about us, judging us, sharing the news with people with whom we barely had a connection – exactly what is happening to this pastor right now. I feel for him and his wife, I really do. They have a whole church who, despite all the best Christian wishes in the world, will never be able to let go of the past, forget and 100% forgive. How can the pair of them even attempt to give it a go when the odds are now so stacked against their family unit?
People continue to spread the venom of how I “devastatingly caused the deceased’s death“, as my in-laws’ lawyer put it so cruelly in black and white. An outpouring of venom is common, as I’ve discovered, when there has been the slightest whiff of marital problems around a suicide. My private “love” emails are now on public record because my in laws submitted them to the coroner, as if they would help ascertain cause of death. When something goes wrong, we always want someone to blame; we are not programmed to easily forgive, apart from those we truly, truly love.
Over time, I’ve been able to forgive myself (I’m a bit of a narcissist, clearly) for my affair and, most importantly, forgive my wife for dying. I really do forgive my wife for taking her own life. She continues to be my world – how could I not forgive her? Had she known what this would do to me and our loved ones, I have no doubt that she wouldn’t have harmed herself so irreparably. But, she was mentally ill. She couldn’t see the colours, the life or the opportunities anymore. I was sitting in the amazing Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris crying, praying and half translating while the Eucharist was being said when I realised I was ready to forgive her and myself. It was five months after she died. I literally felt my shoulders and heart lighten. I regained a part of my soul and made space for some joy. That’s the power of self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others. You should try it some time. Sure, I still scream at my wife for leaving me. I cry aloud for her, desperate to hear her cry back. But I forgive her for her “decision”.
What I’m still working very hard at is forgiving those who have been so spiteful. Forgiving the people who want to ransack my home, take every last one of my wife’s belongings (which legally they are entitled to), but not out of sentimental attachment – rather an active will to fucking kick me where it hurts. I want to forgive the people who are demanding tens of thousands of pounds from me for a house that my wife wanted to be mine. People who denied my existence at her funeral, cremated her in her maiden name and omitted me from obituaries. People who, ironically, chose “Make me a Channel of thy Peace” as the first hymn because it apparently meant something to them. People who, until one week ago, held my wedding dress ransom. It’s fucking nuts. I can’t forgive them yet. I’m trying.
I use the word “yet” because I know that, one day, I will be ready to forgive these people. Today I prayed again about forgiveness – for forgiveness of my own sins, and to hopefully soon find myself at a point where I can forgive those who have hurt me with their words and actions. I prayed for comfort and joy to be present in the lives of those whom I’m not yet ready forgive. I regularly pray for this. I can at least wish them that as the family of the woman I love. I hope they can reciprocate. Somehow. When that day comes, I think I’ll lose about a stone in emotional weight.
So what I’m thinking about today is not just the forgiveness I owe, but the entire church congregation who have been rocked by scandal. In turbulent times, people need to rally together. Share love. Share smiles. But they also need to mind their own fucking business and give those who are grieving some space to heal together without any judgement.
I fear that thanks to this public shaming, it is impossible for them, and for me. Only time will tell.