Whether you're grieving the loss of someone who is still alive, yet no longer involved in your life through divorce or by choice, or someone who has passed on, forgiveness during the grieving process is critical. It's not just freeing to you in general. It's also a key part of the grieving and recovery process. By embracing forgiveness, you'll be better able to move on with your own life in spite of the way you've been hurt in the past.
Forgiveness Doesn't Have to Be Direct
When someone has died, you obviously can't confront them about past sins or make an effort to forgive them in person. When someone is alive but estranged, direct forgiveness is equally unnecessary. In fact, a direct attempt at forgiving someone--saying, "I acknowledge that you wronged me in this way, but I choose to forgive you,"--creates more conflict than it resolves. In many cases, it leaves both parties feeling more estranged and isolated than before. Not only that, the natural urge for the other party to defend themselves will rise up and may lead to them turning around and attacking you in turn. As a result, you'll both feel worse than you did before.
Instead of insisting on a direct confrontation with the individual you're forgiving, keep it private. The goal is a sense of completion with the person or events within the relationship. You don't have to communicate with them in order to accomplish it; instead, we suggest you forgive them indirectly. The way to do this is outlined in The Grief Recovery Handbook and also used by our Certified Grief Recovery Specialists when they guide people through The Grief Recovery Method.
Forgiveness is an Action
There are plenty of people who assume that forgiveness is a feeling: a sense of relief, or the lightness that comes when you let go of the past. In reality, however, forgiveness requires action. You can't just expect it to happen; instead, you step forward and make a decision to forgive, regardless of whether or not the other party ever knows about it. Once you've completed the action, forgiveness during the grieving process, you're then able to reap the benefits of the feeling--not the other way around.
Refusal to Forgive Hurts You
When you're unable to forgive, it isn't the other person you're hurting. If they're already dead, they can no longer carry the weight of their actions. If you're grieving the life you had with an ex, they likely have chosen to move on and live their life without the weight of those poor choices in the past. It no longer hurts them that you haven't forgiven them, particularly if you have written each other off completely. It does, however, continue to hurt you!
Many people feel that the decision to forgive "lets the other person off the hook" or condones their past actions. It doesn't! Forgiveness doesn't really have anything to do with the other person at all. Forgiveness is an action that you take for you, so that you can experience the freedom that comes along with letting go. You don't have to approve of what they did. You just have to be willing to move past it and let it go.
It's not necessary for the other person to know that you've forgiven them. In the case of someone who has died, you can't share that information with them even if you want to. Rather, forgiveness is about accepting for yourself that the event has been resolved and that you need no longer carry that burden around with you. Forgiveness doesn't have anything to do with the person being forgiven. Rather, it's a critical piece of the grieving process: letting go of what's gone before so that you can move forward with your own life.
You may also find this related article, Exploring "F" Words - Forgiveness, valuable additional reading.