Voices of Survivors: Part 3 Houda's Story

Houda El-Birani is a graduate of Western University with a BA in Religious Studies, and a graduate of McMaster University with an MA in Western Religious thought. She is currently working as an Administrator for the United Nations World Food Programme, providing aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The Guilt of Forgiveness

Dichotomy has always been a notion that has fascinated me. Two things in front of you that are cast apart as being so different. I lived in a dichotomy. I had my mother, who was the epitome of grace. She was kind and angelic in nature. She had compassion that ultimately cost her life. I had a father that, for all intent and purposes, can be described as the face of evil.

I was taught at a young age that forgiveness was a good thing. In fact, a great thing. Forgiveness helps us let go of anger. It helps us move on from situations and experiences that can bring us immense pain, confusion and sadness.

After murder, anger becomes an integral part of who you are. Anyone who is not angered by murder, at least according to me, is a psychopath. It is a crime with infinite victims. The ripple effect of murder moves through generations and across so many groups. One victim multiplies to many as those surviving walk around for the rest of their lives with facts that are hard to live with.

For example, I know that my mother’s last moments on this earth were terrifying. I know she was scared, I know she was screaming. She was not wrapped in a blanket in bed or killed instantly in a car crash with no time for her mind to fully comprehend where she was headed. My mother bled out. My mother was alive, conscious and functioning when she was attacked. She ran for her life and was tackled to the ground. She was stabbed 25 times in the face, neck and chest. She was in pain. I know these things for sure.

To be burdened with this information is to suffer. It is to suffer on a daily basis. It means that most days, I am angry.

Death leaves hollowed out souls dispersed all over the world that need to be filled. The purpose of life is to fill the holes murder has created in our hearts and souls. Some use drugs, some use art, some use careers, families or anything else we can seek solace in. Forgiveness is supposed to fill one of these holes. What is often not discussed however, is that forgiveness itself can leave another hole behind in the case of murder.

As my grief evolves, I am now experiencing a new hole. I don’t know that all the anger I have will ever truly go away, but it is diminishing. I know my mother wouldn’t want me to be angry, but where does it leave her if I forgive? This new hole emerges from forgiveness, happiness and peace, because with each of these amazing things comes a bit of guilt. It is as if being at peace means I am forgetting her in some way.

New to my grief is guilt. I have not forgiven my father for taking my mother’s life, but my anger is diminishing, leaving me feeling guilty. How can I not hate the man who did this to her? The truth is, I don’t hate him. I think about him rarely and I am indifferent to his experiences, suffering and anything else. My family receives updates on his incarceration, things such as what he does for work and if his location is changed. I have asked not to hear about them. I have no use for the information, no place in my heart for compassion towards him. I am however, my mother’s daughter. I have moments where I think about what he may be going through and compassion floods. It is swiftly followed by guilt. I fight who I am in the struggle to hold to anger that is hurting me because letting it go is terrifying. Letting go might make me feel worse. 

The truth of my experience is that it happened, and I will live with it forever. Another truth is that it will happen to many others and there is nothing I can do to stop it. The system failed us, yes. People failed us, yes. I am angry, I am sad and I am struggling. Some days are less of a struggle than others. I am sure as my grief continues to evolve, as I’m sure it will as time passes, that new emotions will emerge and this newfound guilt may subside. I pray that it does. For now, however this is my experience as a victim of domestic violence, and a homicide survivor. There is no rationalizing it and I have learned to let come what may all the while, praying for peace.

Read Part 1: Maha's Story

Read Part 2: Ahlam's Story