April 22, 2016

Unexpected death helps lead family to forgiveness and reconciliation

A time of great sorrow has led to the life-changing gift of reconciliation for Lynn Lineback, who is pictured here by a cross inside Holy Family Church in Richmond. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

A time of great sorrow has led to the life-changing gift of reconciliation for Lynn Lineback, who is pictured here by a cross inside Holy Family Church in Richmond. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

(Editor’s note: Pope Francis has declared a “Holy Year of Mercy” in the Church that continues through Nov. 20, 2016. As part of the “Year of Mercy,” The Criterion is inviting our readers to share their stories of how their lives have been graced by the mercy of God and other people. Here is the fourth in a continuing series of stories.)

By John Shaughnessy

RICHMOND—In her desire to move closer to God, Lynn Lineback knew she first had to seek forgiveness from one particular person in her life—a person she knew she had caused great pain.

As she considered how she would try to make amends, Lineback also wondered how many people were just like her—people who had let their need to be right overwhelm their ability to reach out in love to someone.

For too many years, Lineback says, she let the distance and the bitter feelings continue between her and her sister-in-law, the second wife of her only surviving sibling.

What began as a small rift turned into a deep divide for more than 30 years.

“There were misunderstandings, unmet expectations, judgments,” says Lineback, a member of Holy Family Parish in Richmond. “I knew in my heart that there were some decisions I made concerning her and her children that caused her great pain.”

Believing she was being nudged by the Holy Spirit, Lineback decided to write her sister-in-law in Texas a letter.

“I asked her to forgive me for all the things said and unsaid, done and undone. I also told her I was willing to do whatever I could to make it up to her.”

Lineback asked her weekly prayer group to pray for their reconciliation, too. And on Aug. 3, 2012, Lineback added her request for forgiveness and reconciliation into the prayer book she keeps.

Then she waited for a response from her sister-in-law.

It didn’t come.

In fact, another three years would pass—and a great loss would have to occur—before a moment that Lineback describes as “miraculous” would happen.

The call that changed everything

During the nearly three years that passed, Lineback and her brother continued a relationship that was never particularly close.

“I was 9 or 10 when he left home to go into the military,” she recalls. “I feel sad that our relationship was never close because of the age difference and him being around the world, serving in the Air Force. I saw him about once a year and talked to him just a little more than that.”

During those visits and conversations, her brother made it clear that his allegiance to his wife was his priority.

“Over those three years, I would ask my brother from time to time if he thought there was any chance she might forgive me,” Lineback says. “He said ‘no.’ He would tell me that when I called, she would walk out of the room.”

Then came the call that started to change everything.

On July 10, 2015, her brother told Lineback that he—a lifelong smoker—had been diagnosed with lung cancer. While Lineback debated whether she should visit her brother, she received another call from Texas on July 27. Her brother’s daughter informed her that he had died that day.

“He only lived 17 days after the diagnosis. We didn’t even have time to process that he had cancer,” Lineback notes. “It happened too fast.”

His military funeral was scheduled for the following week.

“I struggled with whether I should go to the funeral, not wanting to cause more pain for my sister-in-law or her children. I decided to go because he’s my brother. I needed to bring closure for myself with him.

“My niece said I could stay with her and her family. I would see my great nieces for the first time. They are 6 and 8. On the plane ride to Texas, I have to admit I was wondering what would happen with my sister-in-law.”

‘It was a God moment’

When she arrived in Texas, Lineback was greeted by her niece and her niece’s husband.

“We drove directly to my brother’s home. I was very apprehensive,” she recalls.

“Upon entering the house, I looked for my sister-in-law and found her in the computer room. We said nothing to each other, but we put our arms around each other and cried and cried. That moment was everything to me. It was a God moment. It was like a complete release spiritually.”

Her brother’s funeral was on Aug. 3, 2015. Lineback considers that date significant because it was exactly three years after she wrote the request in her prayer book for reconciliation and forgiveness. She also considers the date important because of what happened with her sister-in-law on the day of the funeral.

“We rode together to the funeral. And at the funeral, she reached over on several occasions for my hands,” Lineback says.

“During the remainder of my stay in Texas, we talked. We are still having regular communications. She called on Easter to see how I was doing. She has shared pictures of her grandchildren. We’ve been texting back and forth, and we sent Christmas cards. All those things that are natural occurrences in a family are happening. It’s regrettable that we didn’t have that relationship before my brother died.”

Even with the regrets, Lineback prefers to focus on the reconciliation—what it means for her, and what it could mean for other people in similar situations.

“It’s taught me to never give up on prayer. It’s also taught me to forgive more instantly, to measure the decisions we make. In Luke, chapter 7, verse 47, it says that ‘little is forgiven the one whose love is small.’ What great love our God has given—to provide in the midst of such sorrow such an overwhelming joy of being forgiven.

“Jesus is the great reconciler. To be like Jesus is the goal. He took all the sins of humankind to reconcile us to our father. And all he was asking me to do was to reconcile with my sister-in-law. I thought I had been right about the decisions I made. But being right doesn’t matter. I hurt her, and she cut me out of her life.”

Lineback remembers how this whole journey began with a desire to be closer to God.

“If you want to be closer to God, you have to move closer to the people in your life. When I recognized that, everything started to change. I have an overwhelming gratefulness to God.”

(The Criterion continues to invite our readers to share their stories of how their lives have been graced by the mercy and forgiveness of God and other people—and how that mercy and forgiveness have made a difference. We are also seeking stories from our readers who have shown mercy and forgiveness to others—and how that act of mercy and forgiveness has made a difference to the person offering it. Please send your stories and responses to assistant editor John Shaughnessy by e-mail at jshaughnessy@archindy.org or by mail in care of The Criterion, 1400 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46202. Please include your parish and a daytime phone number where you can be reached.)

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