Teaching the Healing Power of Forgiveness
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 at the other end of the line said, "Well, what do you think about Catherine being shot?"
I said, "What do you mean? What are you talking about?"
"Well, havenít 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 hasnít been shot. Your daughter is dead. I will have Sheriff Landry call you right back."
I now know what it is like to be insane. All I could do was wait for the phone to ring. My body was tense and tight and there was a tingling pain all over. I paced and 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 again. I simply said, "Someone must speak to me because I'm losing my mind." Finally, Detective Landry came on the line. He was as kind and gentle as possible as he spoke these terrible words to me. "I'm sorry, but your daughter, Catherine, is dead. Your daughter 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 day 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 decided to take a shower and with the water running full blast, I screamed and screamed and screamed."
This was the start of a period of 8 years I now call "my time of darkness."
In order to survive in this life you just do what you have to do to keep your head above water. My method of survival 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 everyone else.
My mother was recovering from open-heart surgery and she was very fragile. I had to protect her from my pain; I couldn't allow her to see how much I was suffering. My son and daughter had just left for medical school; I couldn't burden them with my tears -- they had enough to do to put aside their own pain as they began four years of grueling medical training. 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. I found myself more and more isolated with no one to give me the love and encouragement I needed so badly. For a while, I could not even drive my car alone because, when I was alone, I would cry and I couldn't see the road.
On the surface, I carried on the false front. Had you known me at that time, 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, a deep, dark rage began to boil. There was this awful, hideous darkness, and all I wanted was revenge for the death of my beloved child.
The District Attorney told me that the Sheriff's Department would find the person who murdered Catherine. The District Attorney would put him on trial, get a guilty conviction, and make certain that the murderer would receive 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 began taking a course in meditation. After a time, I found myself able to sit quietly, to be still in my head, and to 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 was blessed at this time to be able to live with and care for her. I was always looking for ways to help her enjoy the highest quality of life possible. One way I chose to do this was to take her to church. I found a beautiful little 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.
I discovered the churchís bookstore. Here I found books on Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, mythology and other books on the lives and teachings of the great religious and philosophical teachers who have come to this earth for our enlightenment. I started reading and studying 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.
I was introduced to the book, A Course in Miracles by my minister, Reverend Billie Blaine. It was while watching a video introducing A Course in Miracles that I got my first glimpse of the Healing Power of Forgiveness. The video showed several interviews with people who studied A Course In Miracles. One of the men interviewed was Jewish and a holocaust survivor. He was able to forgive not only the German people, but the actual guards in the camps who had killed every member of his family. Something in me really clicked when I heard that testimony. I began to feel 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 closer to my daughter and grandchildren. I continued attending a study group for The Course in Miracles. Because the study group met in the same building, I also began attending the Santa Rosa Church of Religious Science and began taking classes to study "The Science of the Mind" by Ernest Holmes. My teachers were Rev. Mary Murry Shelton and Rev. Karyl Huntley. We spent a lot of time discussing forgiveness.
One day I received a letter from a friend in Auburn with a newspaper clipping stating that Douglas Mickey's execution was scheduled. I immediately called San Quentin and demanded that I be allowed to be a witness. I discovered the newspaper had made a mistake; there was no execution scheduled on the date stated. However, I was instructed to write a letter to the warden and request I be notified when there was a date set for Mickey's execution. 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 discussions with others, 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!
Still feeling out of sorts at class that night because of the idea suggested by my classmate, I had a feeling of nervous expectation. Then, as I drove home from class, I distinctly heard a voice. It said to me. "YOU MUST FORGIVE HIM AND YOU MUST LET HIM KNOW!" This voice was so loud and so clear and so persuasive that I didnít 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,
I mailed this letter after receiving hugs of encouragement from my classmates in The Science of Mind Foundations Class. 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. When I heard that "click", all the anger, all the rage, all the lust for revenge --- simply vanished in that instant. In its place I was filled with the most incredible feeling of Joy and Love and Peace. I was in A State of Grace. I knew in that Holy Instant 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."
Mickey enclosed a visiting form. It took 90 days to get permission from San Quentin to visit.
The very first time I was even near a prison or jail was when I visited Douglas in the visiting room at San Quentin California State Prison. Can you picture yourself traveling all alone, driving south on Highway 101 from Santa Rosa to San Rafael? It was after the commute time and a weekday so the traffic was relatively light. The anticipation of the meeting 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! I have learned the strength I need is always given to me and I turned into the road marked San Quentin. This turned out to be a beautiful scenic road 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. I drove up to the gates and asked the guard where to go and what to do. He politely directed me to the parking lot down a steep drive. 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 Macys across the bay. There was just the tease of San Francisco so near when the Larkspur Ferry sailed past. It was a surreal experience. I parked the car and walked back up the drive to a rectangular building. I entered a long narrow hall that could use a good cleaning. Again, no signs anywhere to show where or how to proceed. There was one door and I found it was locked. After a few minutes I heard a buzzing sound and found the door would now open. There was a counter with two women guards behind it. I threw myself on their mercy and announced, "I have never been here before, and I am terrified." Their reply was, "donít worry, weíll take care of you." I placed my jewelry and shoes in a wooden box for inspection. I had been forewarned to not wear anything with metal on it (buttons, underwire bra, belt, etc.) I had no problem going through the metal detector. The guards found I had not been listed 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.
When I arrived, 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 grandmothers, or wives or
ministers and/or their children. Everywhere I looked, I saw the face of God."
When I left San Quentin that day, after only one visit, I knew that I would never stop spreading the word that these men were human beings and 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 executes Douglas Mickey, they would be killing my friend.
I now refer to the time I spend visiting men on death row as my mini prison ministry. When asked by reporters if any of the men on death row have committed crimes which are just too awful for me to still treat them with compassion, I respond, "I donít deal with their crime. I donít 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 Catherineís 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 didnít 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. This may have appeared to be a new paradigm to me as I began this healing journey, 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