THE HEALING POWER OF FORGIVENESS
By Aba Gayle
By all definitions I am a victim for I am the mother of a beautiful young daughter who was brutally murdered. But I have learned that there is another way to live and that I have a choice. I have chosen to stop being a victim. This has not been an easy road to travel!
My story began one early fall day in 1980 with a phone call. The voice said, "Well, what do you think about Catherine being shot?"
I said, "What do you mean? What are you talking about?"
"Well, haven't you heard? Catherine was shot!"
I quickly got off the phone and called the sheriff's department and said, "This is Gayle, mother of Catherine Blount. I hear she has been shot. Where is she? How is she? I must go to her!"
The voice at the other end of the line was obviously embarrassed to have to talk to me. He said, "No, ma'am your daughter hasn't been shot. Your daughter is dead. I will have Sheriff Landry call you right back." I felt insane. All I could do was wait for the phone to ring. My body was tense and tight; there was a tingling pain all over. I paced, drank tea and waited for the phone to ring. Finally, after three long hours, I could wait no longer and called the Sheriff's department. I said, "Someone must speak to me because I'm losing my mind." Finally, Landry got on the line. He was as kind and gentle as possible as he spoke these terrible words, "I'm sorry, but your daughter is dead. Catherine was murdered. She was stabbed to death."
Something in my heart broke. My brain couldn't think. I had to remain calm. None of this was real. Soon I would wake up and the nightmare would be over. But deep down inside, I knew it was real. I couldn't let anyone hug me, I was afraid I would break down. I couldn't cry, someone might hear me. I took a shower running the water full blast and screamed and screamed and screamed.
This was the start of an eight-year period I now call "my time of darkness." In order to survive I did what I had to do to keep my head above water. My method was to be calm and not cause anyone any problems. I had no support system. I had no faith. I did not believe in God. I didn't have a minister, a priest or a rabbi, or anyone who could comfort me and help me. I had to remain strong to help my mother and my other two children. My husband announced that he didn't want to talk about Catherine any more; he stated emphatically that he did not intend to mourn her the rest of his life. With no one to give me the love and encouragement I needed so badly, I became more and more isolated. For a while, I could not even drive my car because, when I was alone, I would cry and I couldn't see the road.
On the surface, I wore a mask. Had you known me then, you wouldn't have known about the dark, ugly cloud I carried around inside me. You would have thought I was getting along just fine. But, inside of me boiled a deep, dark hideous rage. All I wanted was revenge.
The District Attorney told me that they would find the person who murdered Catherine. The DA would put him on trial, get a guilty conviction, and make certain that the murderer got the death penalty. (Douglas Mickey was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 1982.) I was assured that when that horrible villain was executed, I would be healed of my pain and all would be well again. And, because I didn't know any other way to believe, I thought that was true!
THE HEALING BEGINS
After eight long years of a passionate lust for revenge, I unknowingly began my first step toward healing. I learned to meditate. After a time, I was able to sit quietly, be still in my head, and be in the present moment. For the first time in my life, I realized that I did not have to see, touch or even hear something to know that it is real. I learned there is far more to this Universe than our senses perceive.
My mother's failing health left her quite fragile. I felt blessed to be able to live with and care for her. Always looking for ways to help her enjoy the highest quality of life possible, I found us a wonderful Unity Church in Auburn, CA. The church was a 20-minute drive from our home through beautiful country. This church helped me change my life and find my God-self.
In the church bookstore I found books on Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, mythology and the lives and teachings of the great teachers who have come for our enlightenment. I studied my way through that bookstore. I learned I am a beloved child of God; I am one with the Universe; and all of us are here to love each other, without exception. God is a loving God and there is no hell except that which we create in our own minds. I really "got it" that we are all One in Spirit.
My minister, Reverend Billie Blaine introduced me to A Course in Miracles; through a video about it I got my first glimpse of the Healing Power of Forgiveness. There were several interviews with people who studied ACIM. One was a Jewish man, a holocaust survivor, who was able to forgive the German people AND the guards in the camps who had killed every member of his family. Something in me clicked when I heard his testimony. I began to feel that perhaps I could forgive the man who killed Catherine. A seed was planted in my heart.
My mom and I moved to Santa Rosa to be near my daughter and grandchildren. I continued attending a study group for ACIM, which met in the same building as the Santa Rosa Church of Religious Science. So I began attending there and taking classes on "The Science of the Mind" by Ernest Holmes. My teachers, Rev. Mary Murry Shelton and Rev. Karyl Huntley, led many a discussion about forgiveness.
One day I received a letter from a friend in Auburn with a newspaper clipping about Douglas Mickey's execution being scheduled. I immediately called San Quentin and demanded to be allowed in as a witness. But the newspaper had made a mistake; there was no execution scheduled on that date. However, I was instructed to write a letter to the warden and request that I be notified when there was an execution date set. This I did. I put the letter to the warden on my desk and prepared to go to class. That letter never did get mailed.
After many hours of study, prayer and discussion, I thought that perhaps I could forgive the man who murdered Catherine. Perhaps, it would relieve my own frustration and suffering. That evening when a classmate suggested that I should let the murderer know of my intent, I was outraged! Feeling out of sorts because of this idea, I also had a feeling of nervous expectation. Then, as I drove home from class, I distinctly heard a voice say, "YOU MUST FORGIVE HIM AND YOU MUST LET HIM KNOW!" This voice was so loud and so clear and so persuasive that I didn't sleep at all that night. I was literally impelled to get out of bed at four a.m. to type a letter to the man who murdered Catherine. The letter follows:
Dear Mr. Mickey,
Twelve years ago, I had a beautiful daughter named Catherine. She was a young woman of unusual talents and intelligence. She was slender and her skin glowed with health and vitality. She had long naturally wavy hair that framed her sparkling eyes and warm bright smile. She radiated love and joy!
Catherine was living with her friend, Eric, on a fifteen-acre pear ranch. Catherine's greatest love was her animals. She was raising two milk goats, her German shepherd with a new litter of ten puppies and an Arabian mare. She had tried to live with her father and his wife on their property (where there would be room for all her animals) but her stepmother's emotional illness made that impossible and she had just recently moved back with Eric.
Two months after her 19th birthday Catherine left her earthly body and her spirit transitioned to her next stage of life. I know that Catherine is in a better place than we can ever know here on earth. I did not know that when Catherine died. I knew that I had been robbed of my precious child and that she had been robbed of growing into womanhood and achieving all of her potential. The violent way she left this earth was impossible for me to understand. I was saddened beyond belief and felt that I would never be completely happy again. And indeed my loss of Catherine became the point of reference for my entire family. All family history was prefaced as happening either before or after Catherine's death.
I was very angry with you and wanted to see you punished to the limit of the law. You had done irreparable damage to my family and my dreams for the future.
After eight long years of grief and anger I started a journey. I met wonderful teachers and slowly began to learn about my God-self. In the midst of a class studying A Course in Miracles I was surprised to find that I could forgive you. This does not mean that I think you are innocent or that you are blameless for what happened. What I learned is this: You are a divine child of God. You carry the Christ consciousness within you. You are surrounded by God's love even as you sit in your cell. There is no devil; there is only the goodness of God. The Christ in me sends blessings to the Christ in you.
Do not look to me to be a political or social advocate in your behalf. The law of the land will determine your fate. Do not waste your last days on earth with remorse and fear. Death as we know it is really a new beginning. Hell does not exist except in our conscious minds.
I hope that this letter will help you to face your future. There is only love and good in the world regardless of how thing may appear to you now. I am willing to write to you or visit you if you wish. I send blessings to you and to your children.
Gayle, Mother of Catherine
I mailed this letter after receiving hugs of encouragement from my Science of Mind classmates. I can still feel the shivers going up and down my spine as I remember the little click that the hinged mailbox made as I dropped in this letter. The instant I heard that "click", all the anger, rage, and lust for revenge - simply vanished. In its place came the most incredible feeling of Joy and Love and Peace. I was in A State of Grace. In that Holy Instant I knew that I did not need to have anyone executed for me to be healed. I could now get on with my life!
It would not have mattered if Douglas Mickey responded to my letter. I had received a more profound answer. I had been healed by the simple act of offering the gift of forgiveness. However, I did get a letter back. I was totally amazed at the gentleness and kindness of the writer. Douglas wrote back with words of gratitude. He expressed remorse and sorrow for the crime, also stating that he fully understood how empty such words might sound. I could tell from reading his letter that he was intelligent and well read. He had obviously spent years studying for answers himself. He wrote back, "The Christ in me most gratefully accepts and returns blessings of Divine Wisdom, Love and Charity to the Christ in you." He also said, "I would gladly give my life this instant if it would in any way change that terrible night." Douglas enclosed a visiting form. It took 90 days to get permission.
The very first time being even near a prison or jail was my visit to Douglas at San Quentin. Can you picture it? The anticipation of it all had butterflies in my stomach, light perspiration on my palms and a tremor in my knees. What was I doing? This was not what my mother had raised me to do! But the strength I need is always given to me. The road to San Quentin turned out to be a beautiful scenic drive along the edge of the bay. A few old Victorian buildings and some new townhouses lined the way to the gates of the prison.
There were no signs with instructions. At the gates I asked the guard where to go and what to do. He politely directed me to the parking lot. Once more I was struck by the stark contrast of the beautiful bay with sail boats, the sunny freshness of everything, and a glimpse of Nordstrom's and Macy's across the bay. There was a tease of San Francisco when the Larkspur Ferry sailed past. It was surreal. I parked the car, walked up to a rectangular building and entered a long narrow hall that needed a good cleaning. Again, no signs anywhere to show where or how to proceed. There was one door and it was locked. After a few minutes I heard a buzzing sound and found the door would now open. Two guards stood behind a counter. I threw myself on their mercy and announced, "I have never been here before, and I am terrified." They replied, "Don't worry, we'll take care of you." After placing my jewelry and shoes in a wooden box for inspection, I passed easily through the metal detector having been forewarned to not wear anything with metal on it (belt, buttons, under-wire bra, etc.). But I was not on their list as an approved visitor! Luckily I brought my letter of approval with me. They sent me out a side door and I began the long walk to the next gate.
In the visiting room for death row inmates I looked around with surprise. I did not see a single monster in that room. It was filled with ordinary looking men - perhaps neater and quieter than outside. They were sitting with their wives, grandmothers, mothers, children and/or ministers. Everywhere I looked, I saw the face of God.
Douglas came in and said, "Gayle, you do me the greatest honor by paying me this visit." We talked for over three hours and cried together. He is a big, tall, very strong man and he wasn't the least bit embarrassed to be surrounded by other inmates, and openly weep. We talked about Catherine. We talked about Douglas's mother and her death. We talked about his losses. I realized the night Catherine lost her life, Douglas also lost his future.
When I left San Quentin, after only one visit, I knew that I would never stop spreading the word that these men are human beings - not monsters. I knew that I would be a political and social advocate on their behalf. And, I knew that if the State of California ever executed Douglas Mickey, they would be killing my friend.
The time I spend visiting men on death row is my prison ministry. When asked by reporters if any of the men on death row have committed crimes that are just too awful for me to still treat them with compassion, I respond, "I don't deal with their crime. I don't deal with that part of them. I deal with the God spirit within him or her. That is the truth of their being. It is the truth for every one of us."
Before Catherine's murder, I had never thought one way or another about the death penalty. I was a Kappa Kappa Gamma at the University of Wisconsin, raised to be an upper middle-class housewife. My mother certainly didn't raise me to go visit men on death row. For most of the twelve years after Catherine was killed, I would have been insulted if someone had suggested that Douglas Mickey was a human being and not some kind of horrible monster.
I knew when I dropped the letter in the mailbox I must spend the rest of my life demonstrating that killing is not necessary and that violence only begets more violence. What I learned is healing and grace can be achieved by anyone under any circumstance through the miracle of forgiveness. As I began my healing journey it may have seemed to me to be a new paradigm, but it is actually the universal truth that has been given to all people through sacred teachings such as those expressed by Jesus, the Christ, the Buddha and other enlightened beings.
I know my daughter Catherine is happy I am honoring her with this work. She would not want me to go through life full of hate and rage. Love and forgiveness is the way to make our world a kind and safe place.
"The essence of our being is love. And every action is either love or a call for help." The Course in Miracles
For more information please contact:
The Catherine Blount Foundation
Post Office Box 426
Silverton, Oregon 97381
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