Hadley and Gentry Eddings have forgiven the man implicated in the deaths of their sons Dobbs, 2 (above, with his parents), and Reed, 38 weeks—and they urge family and friends to do the same. (Photo: GoFundMe)
It was a heart-wrenching accident that captured news headlines across the nation: over Memorial Day weekend, a car driven by Hadley Eddings, a young, 8-months-pregnant mom, was hit by a truck that had failed to stop at a red light on a North Carolina highway.
The impact was so severe that her 2-year-old son, Dobbs Eddings, who was strapped into a car seat in the back seat, had to be cut out of the wreckage by first responders. Dobbs died on the way to the hospital.
Hadley was rushed to the ER for an emergency C-section. Baby Reed was born at 38 weeks, but he only survived a few days. Hadley’s husband and the boys’ father, Gentry Eddings, was driving a car ahead of Hadley’s that was also struck by the truck. He sustained minor injuries.
The loss of two boys in such a senseless accident is an unimaginable tragedy. It wouldn’t be hard to sympathize with the Eddings if they expressed deep anger and hatred toward truck driver Matthew Deans, whose actions reportedly led to the death of Dobbs and Reed. (Deans was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle and failure to reduce speed.)
Yet amazingly, Gentry and Hadley have taken a different tack. At a celebration of life ceremony held at the North Carolina church where Eddings has been a worship leader for several years, Gentry shared stories about Dobbs, then proclaimed to the crowd of 800 that he and his wife have forgiven Deans.
“We have, in our hearts, forgiven the man who did this,” Eddings said during the service, reported the Charlotte Observer, adding that other mourners should forgive Deans “and forgive anyone in your life who you hold anything against.”
“Gentry said that forgiving the driver was the hardest thing to do but also the easiest,” Stacey Martin, director of Forest Hill Church, where the ceremony was held, tells Yahoo Parenting. “His human side is grieving and having trouble dealing with it.” But his religious side knows it’s the right move. “He implored the congregation to do the same,” she adds.
From a spiritual or secular standpoint, grief experts say that forgiveness — the conscious act of releasing anger and vengeance toward someone who hurt you— is crucial when it comes to processing loss.
“Without a doubt the most painful human experience is when a parent loses their child,” family therapist Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., tells Yahoo Parenting. “In counseling parents who have experienced such profound and irrational loss, I don’t pretend that they will ever completely get over the tragedy. They can, however, incorporate the loss into the narrative of their lives in a way that gives purpose to their existence and honors the spirit of their child.” The best way to do this is to forgive, he says.
Why is forgiveness so powerful? First, it’s a gesture of grace that detoxes victims of anger. Says Hokemeyer: “Rather than remaining trapped in the depth of despair and resentment, it provides parents with a way to be out in the world in a place of service towards others.”
Forgiveness is also a coping mechanism that helps the bereaved escape the pain of grief and fill the emptiness caused by the loss of a loved one. “Otherwise the pain just grows and grows until it robs us of anything of value,” says Hokemeyer. Studies even show that people who manage to forgive rack up health benefits: they live longer, have lower blood pressure levels, and are less likely to be stressed.
Of course, forgiving someone can be easier said than done. How do you actively forgive someone who robbed you of something as precious as your children? The first step involves simply wanting to forgive. “Even if you believe in your deepest of hearts that you can never forgive, just entertain the notion of it and become willing to be willing to forgive,” says Hokemeyer. “In this way, the door that is slammed shut, locking out all the air of life, will be opened ever so slightly.”
As the Eddings have demonstrated, in time, as the door continues to open, you can consciously decide to let the anger go, even if the person doesn’t deserve or appreciate your forgiveness.