Holding a Grudge: Drinking Poison and Expecting the Other Person to Die

Several years ago, I was in a group in which two of the individuals were having conflict. One person wanted resolution and the other did not. All of our best efforts at conflict resolution were of no use. The one individual did not want to budge from their position and were determined that they had done nothing wrong. During my experience in this group, I sat back and felt how this unresolved situation was affecting everyone. As I was observing others and feeling my own feelings, I suddenly remembered an experience from my childhood.


I had only one living grandparent while I was growing up, my father’s father who lived to be ninety-three. My grandfather was in the grain business in Buffalo, New York, and ran a company with his brother for fifty years. According to my father, the business did well and the two brothers got along very harmoniously until, in their seventies, they decided to sell the business. Whatever really happened is a mystery to everyone else, but they did not speak to each other for the rest of their lives. I did not know my grandfather in the period when he and his brother were close. My father told me that his father was a wonderful father and liked to laugh a lot and play with him. I never knew that nice side of him. According to my grandfather, his brother cheated him when they sold the business. My father said that his uncle denied any such thing. But my grandfather was so sure that his brother had cheated him that he refused to talk to him and forbade my father from ever seeing him again. For the next twenty-three years of his life my grandfather never saw or talked to his brother.


My grandfather lived at our family home for perhaps one third of the year. I did not like it when he came. He would sit in our living room each day doing nothing. In order to go up to my room, I had to use the stairs that were on the side of the living room. Even when I was as young as nine, I learned to creep up the stairs hoping my grandfather would not notice me. If I made it to the top I was safe. But if he started to talk to me while I was walking up the stairs, my mother told me I had to walk back down the stairs and sit and listen to him. He always told me the same story including every detail of how his brother cheated him. I was young and had no idea what he was talking about, but I knew it was polite to sit and listen, so I did. When he was done, I could go up to my room. Sometimes I could convince my grandfather to play checkers with me rather than telling me his long and depressing story. Occasionally he would forgo the story for a game of checkers, but he always won so even that wasn’t much fun for me. Other than the occasional checker game, he never played with me or was interested in anything I did. He just wanted to tell the story of his brother. (Fortunately for me, my dad more than made up for my grandfather’s lack of love and enthusiasm.) 
 

One day when I was eleven and my grandfather was eighty-six, my mother received a phone call from my grandfather’s brother. He could hardly speak but in a halting voice told my mother that he was dying and wished to see my grandfather before he died. My mother was very excited and said that she would drive him right over. It was only a distance of fifteen minutes. With much enthusiasm she went to tell my grandfather. From the kitchen I could hear him tell my mother, “I am not going over to see him. He cheated me and I never want to see him.” My mother, who was a very gentle soul, very respectful of elders and never raised her voice, argued with him for the first time and even yelled. She came back into the kitchen with tears in her eyes and called the elderly brother back to tell him that his brother refused to come. She told me later that the brother had cried on the phone with that news.


My mother was so upset that she took my hand and brought me up the stairs to my room, ignoring the unhappy stares from my grandfather. She looked at me with such intensity and said, “Don’t ever let a resentment take hold of you like it has your grandfather. It has been like a poison to his brain. Promise me you will forgive and let go and keep loving people.” I had no idea what she was talking about exactly, but in my innocent way I promised her that I would do as she said. My mother’s words, once I really understood them, had a profound impact on my life. 
 

Someone has said that continued anger and lack of forgiveness toward someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. My grandfather’s grudge and resentment was like a poison for him, robbing him of his joy. It also rippled out to others and personally robbed me of the experience of having a loving grandfather.


Is there someone in your life that you have “written off” or closed your heart to? Is there a resentment that is so strong that it still lives inside of you? This resentment and closed heart toward anyone is poisoning you and affecting those closest to you. I remember when we first started our counseling practice and a woman came to us that had been raped. Her anger at being raped was so intense that she was having trouble working and was losing her friends and even her marriage. She had been in group therapy for over a year and had gotten in touch with her anger and betrayal, and had screamed at kicked at the man through the use of pillows. But she still was left with the poison of resentment. We asked her to try forgiveness and compassion. She looked at us like we were crazy. One month later we received a letter of gratitude. Though difficult, she had practiced forgiveness and compassion in her thoughts about this man, and as she did, the anger and poison melted away and in their place the wonderful loving person returned. 
 

After several months, through forgiveness, compassion and taking responsibility, the two individuals in our group had a complete resolution of their conflict. I could feel the relief within both of them as well as the other members of the group. 
 

Life is too short and precious to let the poison of resentment steal even a bit of our joy, love and enthusiasm.
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