Forgiving heals hurts and helps right the heart

Wednesday, July 29, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Trish Sullivan
With practiced grace and a smiling face, Trish Sullivan noiselessly entered the cozy conference room. Still without a sound, she delicately placed cans of Coke and bottles of water and juice on the center table.

As a hostess at the downtown law firm of Frost & Jacobs, Trish knows she must work in silence. Attorneys can't be disturbed, so she quietly stocks their conference rooms with beverages.

When it's time for her lunch break, Trish picks an empty conference room with a river view and steals away to reflect on her life, its good times and bad, its problems and their solutions. I got to join her this week for a "Lunch With Cliff."

We sat opposite each other in her favorite spot, Room H, known around the firm as "the little room with the big view." Twenty-two floors above the street, the small conference room, highlighted by the rich, deep browns of its maple and mahogany woodwork, seats four and looks over four bridges, two rivers and big chunks of two states.

Trish loves the view. As she surveys the landscape below, it reminds her of the hills and valleys in her life.

"Up here," she said as she ate a Reuben from Izzy's, "I find peace.

"I collect my thoughts here. I think about my life, where I've been, where I am now, where I'm going. Five years from now, I hope to own my own gift-basket business."

As she spoke, Trish gazed out the window. A string of coal barges made its way up river, the lead barge slicing through the sandy brown waters of the Ohio.

Eyes on the river, Trish slipped into her reflective reverie. "I'm happy right now," she said, "I'm divorced. Have been for years. Dating gets old. But I love my family, my mother, my two children, a son and a daughter, and my two granddaughters. I've had my ups and downs."

She said she's been back in town for only five years. Before she came home, Trish spent 20 years in Los Angeles. But she left California and a receptionist's job at a law firm to return to Cincinnati.

Trish came home to care for her father. He was dying of cancer. It was a difficult homecoming. Trish and her father weren't close.

"He only came by to see me once when I was growing up," she recalled. "And when I was young, I was a hell-raiser with a defiant attitude. So we never bonded."

Safe behind the closed door of the quiet conference room, Trish went deeper into her past and her feelings. We talked about what made her come back to town. Many people would be hard-pressed to give a long-absent father the time of day.

Trish admitted she had those feelings before she left Cincinnati. But her thoughts changed while she was in Los Angeles. She found religion and started reading self-help books that stress accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative.

"I learned to be a giver," Trish said, "not a taker. I got up the strength to say, "I'm sorry,' "Please forgive me' and "I love you.' "

Having such strength gave her the courage to come home and care for her father. Before he died, they had long talks. Old wounds were healed. Slights were forgiven.

"We finally bonded," she said. "I learned to let go of past hurts."

Turning from the window, Trish bared some unresolved pain. She's not close to her own children. Past hurts keep getting in the way.

Lowering her voice, she explained that when she went to Los Angeles, her children stayed behind in Cincinnati with their father. From their point of view, their mother left.

"Both of my kids hold that against me," Trish said. "My son is 32. My daughter is 31. That's too old to hold a grudge."

Taking one last look at the view before leaving the comfort of the conference room for the hubbub of bringing soft drinks into the law firm's meetings, Trish allowed herself one more moment of reflection. She said she believes her family's past hurts will heal if everyone asks to be forgiven.

"It helps make your heart right."

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.