The Two Hardest Words



My daughter overheard all the unflattering things I said about her. Now I had to apologize . . . but how?


by Gina Keating


Over the past four weeks, life has been sad. Sad because it hasn’t made a difference that I attend Mass each morning or belong to a lay Benedictine group of fantastic human beings or teach the sacraments at my parish.

Or has it?

It was my birthday, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. I fully intended to have a wonderful and happy day. I love celebrating my birthday and it doesn’t make me squirmish to say I’m over fifty, or to take myself out to eat because my husband does not like Thai food.

So, I enjoyed my lunch. Then, I went over to a Christian bookstore in the same strip mall and proceeded to tell the cute little woman there that it was my birthday. We prayed together and she gave me a piece of candy. It was heaven.

Then, it all went south.

My husband and I will be married thirty years this November. We have four children, three of which joined me at our traditional birthday restaurant. Truth be told, I would have enjoyed Japanese, Thai, or Mexican food, but Italian it was. We haven’t used a menu in probably ten years because we order the same exact thing each time.

The argument started over the salad and wings.


My oldest son and youngest daughter—both grown adults by the way—got into a fight over this singer. One thing led to another, and the next thing I know, I’m crying and telling my husband to drive me home.

It was my fourteen-year-old son, the youngest of the bunch, who broke the news to me; I unintentionally “butt-dialed” my daughter and she heard me speaking unflattering words about her. Then, he said something so profound: “Mom, I think God meant for her to hear.”

The very next day, she wanted to talk about the fight but I was leaving for a three-day Catholic Scouting retreat — which I was chairing, of course!

Nothing was making sense to me.

My relationship with Jesus has exploded over the past several years; I made time for Him each and every day. We talk all the time and I listen. At least I think I am listening.

How can this be happening? Why is this happening? What am I supposed to learn from this misery?

On Saturday of the retreat, I went to Reconciliation. I sat with a monsignor I’ve known for decades and blurted out my sins that were choking the life out of me, and my relationship with my daughter.

He had me ponder how I could express myself without using spoken words.

Honestly, I wanted to laugh. I’m a much better writer than speaker. I get sweaty palms and my stomach lurches each time I have to get in front of a group of people. Oftentimes I think about joining Toastmasters to feel more confident. The bit about visualizing people sitting in their underwear just doesn’t work for me.

In addition to receiving the sacrament, I also confided in a beloved priest over breakfast.

With a clean conscience and priestly counseling, I called my daughter the next week to come over.

It was horrible. She talked over me, I talked over her, until I finally jumped up and started doing dishes.

At one point, between all the loud words we were saying to each other, I told her that I was sorry for anything I’ve ever said or did that deeply hurt her.

She made a guttural noise.

That was it. She didn’t accept my apology. And she did not apologize for ruining my birthday.

I went back to God, again. I told Him I couldn’t stand all the irony in my life; it’s the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wants us to forgive and love each other. For crying out loud, I covered his visit to Philadelphia in September for our diocesan newspaper.

I begged Jesus each morning to open my eyes, to soften my heart, and allow me to continue loving through the pain.

It was then I sat and recalled what I tell all the little second graders during their formation to receive First Confession/Celebration of Reconciliation: The two hardest words to say are, “I’m sorry.”

As a large group we discuss how people are afraid, embarrassed or ashamed to say those beautiful words, but what healing and joy we receive when we reconcile with our God and one another.

I tell a story about how one time I wanted to apologize to my 16-year-old daughter but was afraid, so I wrote her a note and left it in her car.

That daughter is the same one I now needed to reconcile with.

So, once again, I found myself writing her a note.

Sometimes in our silence we can hear the written words scribbled on a piece of paper; words we desperately need and want from the person we love.

God hears our prayers and knows our hearts. He loves us so tremendously that He hurts when we are hurting, and he rejoices in our triumphs.

I learned to persevere in prayer and to trust even when it’s the most difficult.

Each day I see myself clinging to the hem of Jesus’ garment, the way Linus, from the comic strip Peanuts, cradles his blanket close to his cheek.

My daughter and I recently reconciled… over a plate of Mexican food.

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