I Forgave My Cousin's Killer: How Forgiveness Can Change And Shape Your Entire Life

by Cashie Rohaly

I have always found it interesting to think about how much of an impact one person can make on other people. Celebrities, political figures and everyday individuals can unknowingly touch the lives of complete strangers.

The way individuals can shape another person's perspective has always been a fascinating concept to me. It carries a very significant weight to know that you can make a positive difference in another life as well as your own.

I feel like sharing this story could possibly do for someone else what was done for me years ago: learning why we should forgive others for their mistakes, even when it seems impossible to do.

After a September day of turning blue jeans into a mud canvas at the park, I walked into my house without a care in the world as most 8-year-olds do. It was 2002, and my biggest problem was how I was going to obtain my multiplication license.

This quickly changed as I was informed that my cousin, Ryan, was dead. Ryan and I were never close, simply because of our age difference; he was 22 years old.

With as much ease as a parent can have when explaining such a fragile situation to a child, my Dad told me that he wasn’t sick and he didn’t get into an accident; he was killed by another man.

You know the feeling you get when you stub your toe? That inability to vocalize the immense pain you’re in? I would go on to feel that way for about a year. There was a small mass of fear that inhabited my mind and body.

Along with that fear was distrust in humanity and absolute loathing for the person who had caused my family so much heartache: Ryan’s murderer, Pete*.

I never wanted to see the face of this monster, hear his slimy voice or even know that I was in the same vicinity as him. However, I had to face this reality when my parents told me we were going to Pete’s trial. It was on the last day at court that my perception completely changed.

My cousin had given a testimony on behalf of her mother. At one point she said, “That was my baby; he took my baby away from me.” That wasn’t right, I knew that. Just as Pete was about to give his final testimony, a baby in the courtroom began crying, and the judge asked that the child be removed from the room immediately.

Someone behind me whispered that it was Pete’s baby. Tears filled Pete’s eyes, and in that moment, I forgave him for what he did.

On the rare occasion I share this story with others, the first question they ask is, “Why? Why did you forgive him?” I forgave him because holding on to the hatred I had inside me did no good for either of us.

When I forgave, I let go of the notion that this man controlled my life and how I lived it. At the end of the day, he was just human. Not a monster, but a human who, like my Aunt, was separated from his child.

I know that people make mistakes, some bigger than others. Nonetheless, these mistakes are inevitable and they are something we can learn from, even if they aren’t our own.

The follow up question is, “How? How did you forgive him for what he did?” I did not excuse his actions, and I am not saying what he did is right.

What he did to Ryan and my family is something I would never wish upon anyone else in this world. The heartbreak and fear that Pete brought into the lives of my family was petrifying.

We can no longer experience a September that isn’t accompanied by an essence of sadness, and I will never forget walking into a bedroom on Christmas to find my aunt clutching the Bible with tear-filled eyes.

I am not happy about any of this, but forgiveness does not mean that you will automatically be content with whatever action caused you to have to forgive somebody.

I forgave because Pete earned it. He had to suffer, just as we did, and I am sure he still suffers today, just as we do. There was nothing else that could be done at that point in my life, and forgiveness did not only allow him to start over; it just allowed me to begin living my life with sincerity once again.

I was just 9 years old at the time I decided to forgive Pete. Some may think I was just a naïve child to do so, but I stand by my decision to forgive to this day. Forgiveness is a crucial component to living a happy life.

To truly to forgive is to give a chance, and that is the best thing you can give to anyone, yourself included. It is incredibly difficult to forgive, especially when you think someone doesn’t deserve this precious gift.

Still, once forgiveness is paid, it is like removing poison from your system. We remove fear, hostility and anger and replace it with peace of mind.

We learn how to love better from our failed relationships. We become better cooks after we burn the pasta, which, believe it or not, can happen. We develop a sense of ourselves once we forgive others for their mistakes. Without faults, there would be no forgiveness.

Forgiveness was created so that when we unsurprisingly f*ck up, we know there is a light at the end of the tunnel to our actions. However, how willing we are to obtain forgiveness is entirely up to us.

We cannot be unapologetic; showing remorse is the first step to receiving forgiveness. Once received, we must take this pardon for our actions as a message that we can better ourselves and not make the same mistake again. It is easy to forget that forgiveness is not a one-way street, but it truly is.

It all comes back to that immense impact that one person can have on many others. Once you forgive someone, he or she is capable of showing the same kind of mercy on somebody else.

It’s a chain reaction that can make such a lasting impression on humanity. You don’t have to forget moments in your life where you were wronged, but you should try to forgive.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It