The power of radical forgiveness

After our son died in a hot car accident, everything I thought I knew about love and forgiveness changed

Published May 2, 2023 8:00AM (EDT)

The author with her husband Kyle and their son Benjamin. (Photo courtesy of the author)
The author with her husband Kyle and their son Benjamin. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Kyle, my husband of 12 years at the time, drove the same road to daycare each day. Every rut in the pavement, stop sign, and tree all memorized in the routine early morning hours. However, on July 7, 2014, on a sweltering hot day in Ridgefield, Connecticut, he experienced a momentary lapse of prospective memory. As the day unfolded, our only son, Benjamin, was gone. Instead of turning left at the end of our road, Kyle turned right that morning, as his habitual memory guided him to the coffee shop and then to work. A normal day ensued for Kyle while Ben lay in the back seat of his car all day, ultimately succumbing to hyperthermia.

I remember Kyle blowing raspberries on Ben's stomach that morning, then bringing him on his hip into the bathroom where I stood looking into the mirror at what I thought to be the happiest family alive. I brushed back Ben's blond hair, which was ruffled from a lazy night's sleep. He pulled away in an independent boyish manner while I ran my hand down his chubby leg. Had I said, "I love you"? I will never be able to uncoil that memory from my brain. I thought we had so much time ahead of us. 

Kyle found Ben in the backseat of his car after realizing in horror, when attempting to pick him up from daycare, that he had not actually dropped him off that morning. As the police drove me to the hospital, I knew. Ben was gone. In the tiny room at the back of the hospital, my known world fell apart when they told me, "Ben didn't make it." As I entered Kyle's room, I saw a vision of a soul torn asunder. I crawled onto his lap, prying his hands off his head, where I saw veins protruding. "I love you. I love you. I love you," I relayed, in disbelief of the instantaneous words falling out of my mouth. My shoulder grew wet with his tears. My reaction was instinct. This was the man I loved on a level that went deeper than my words. Kyle had stood by me through moments I wasn't sure I'd survive, and now the tables had turned. As much as I felt the need to save him, I also felt a repulsion for the reality that his actions had caused. Our son was dead. Everything I thought I knew about love or forgiveness was about to radically change.

In the tiny room at the back of the hospital, my known world fell apart when they told me, "Ben didn't make it."

In 2001, the two of us were an innocent pair. We were 21, living together in Raleigh, North Carolina, shedding our adolescence during our last days of college. I had met Kyle three years earlier through a friend of a friend when he'd carried my boxes into the college apartment. As I watched his chiseled face, strong arms and gentle demeanor, it was love at first sight. Then the Twin Towers crumbled and there was an immediate need to fall into one another, into the metaphysical beauty of human connection, to remind ourselves the world still existed. A few months later we found ourselves standing together in the county clerk's office to be married. That night, as he touched me, I felt a faltering. A slight withholding of all of myself, as if I knew my own world would soon be overrun, testing the very fiber of our love. I watched the moonlight filter in through our window, waiting for the inevitable. 

Within a year the cracks began to form. Subtle at first, then with a fury unbeholden to reason. The early episodes of my manic depression exploded, intense and uncontrollable, leading to multiple hospitalizations in psychiatric wards as doctors struggled to find a diagnosis. On the worst days of agitation, in mixed states, I threw plates at the wall, yelling obscenities at Kyle as he stood helpless. He did not know on the first night we were together that he would be responsible for keeping me alive, fighting for "us," and testing the boundaries of earthly love. One difficult night, as Kyle drove me to Duke University Hospital, manic and suicidal, I tried to jump out of his car, which was steamrolling down the interstate. He grabbed at my jeans trying to keep me inside while I battled, hit, kicked, and screamed at him to release me. He pulled over, taking out his cell phone to call 911, yelling, "I need help. I'm with my wife, and she's sick. She's manic depressive." As I heard those words, I sank deeper into the seat, finally giving up. Only my sobs released into the night sky.

After a suicide attempt, more doctors shuffled through my hospital stays until they finally landed on lithium to quell my unquiet mind. On those many nights, I lay sobbing in Kyle's arms as he held me. I uttered, "Please help me. Please don't leave. Love all of me." He rubbed his hands through my hair and said, "I do. Love all of you. Always and forever." This was a phrase that would be tested beyond anything either of us could imagine in the years to come. 

After Ben's death, I existed in survival mode, putting on my coat of armor to protect our family. The distance between me and Kyle gradually grew into an emotional separation that would last for years to come. I became bent on survival, while Kyle existed in a state of mourning, a mode of emotional nothingness. I could not even call it living. He compartmentalized quickly, rarely talking about Ben, moving on as fast as he could to a normal life with work and our daughters. I could not find true love or forgiveness during this time. The exuberant love of young adulthood had faded and I could not find what was left on the other end. My soul shut down; I needed to feel nothing. The constant zaps of pain and emotion in my body had to be numbed. 

I became bent on survival, while Kyle existed in a state of mourning, a mode of emotional nothingness. I could not even call it living.

On a separate path from Kyle, I fell into oblivion as soon as possible after work, first with benzodiazepines and mood stabilizers as strong as tranquilizers, then over the years moving on to alcohol with the sole purpose of blacking out in a stupor on the weekends, coupled with endless days at work in Big Law. The moments I missed with my children — walks on the beach at nighttime, not watching the sunrise because I was hungover — I can never get back. My state of addiction always came with anger, even at those I loved, yet I could not understand it was really anger toward my life and what it was not. Eventually, something had to change. I would either find love and learn to lean on forgiveness, leave, or remain in a constant state of numbness.

As I enter the final publishing phase of my memoir, which was actually written shortly after Ben's passing, I've noticed myself pulling out of the depths of my addictions. Working on my story has helped me take a step back and see the purpose of my journey more clearly, guiding me to take a leap of faith to walk away from Big Law and become an author and mental health advocate. With all of my battle wounds, today I find myself contemplating the meaning of love again. I have come to understand that my soul is connected to Ben (who will always be with me) and also to Kyle. Since our early days of innocent and light-hearted love, my struggles with manic depression, and even after our tragedy, we have been soul partners. Our energy is bound together throughout time to support and love each other during and beyond the worst life can offer, teaching each other lessons we need to evolve and grow.

As Kyle and I sat on the patio one evening, tears formed as I told him that sometimes I wonder why God made me as I am, in ways that may cause him pain, and I was oftentimes sorry for being me. He grabbed my shoulders and said, "Lindsey, I love all of you, just as you are and always have. There is no regret. There is just life." I believe soul partners encompass love in its various iterations, which are ever-changing. True love need not be wild and tempestuous, or light and effervescent. Sometimes it is quiet and gentle, but it is always unconditional. Our love is God's grace to forgive and a commitment to see it through day in and day out, in the best and worst of times. Quite possibly, our commitment is to save each other over and over again, as many times as it takes, teaching each other the lessons that can only be found through unconditional love and radical forgiveness. We have shown each other that together we can survive the impossible.

 If you are in crisis, please call the 988 Suicide and Crisis  Lifeline by dialing 988, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

By Lindsey Rogers-Seitz

Lindsey Rogers-Seitz is an attorney, speaker, author and mental health advocate and consultant. Her memoir, "The Gift of Ben: Loving through Imperfection" (May 2, 2023) chronicles the death of her son in a hot car accident in 2014.

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