Twelve years ago, Patty O’Reilly’s husband was killed by an intoxicated driver. Now over a decade later, she has made it through a journey from anger and hatred to forgiveness and a new found love of life. She reflects on her experience with Reader’s Digest.
It seemed a normal day for the O’Reilly family. Patty picked the girls up from school and arrived home. 9:30 pm came and went. Then, while letting the family dog out, she noticed a card with the sheriff’s number near the door. Next thing she knew, she was listening to the worst news of her life—her husband Danny had been killed while biking to work by an enraged and drunk driver.
Months later, Patty and her two daughters listened to their father’s killer, Dave, fervently apologize for the damage he had done to their family. He did not excuse himself for his actions, but explained how he was driven by his terrible past filled with sexual abuse leading to his own substance and alcohol abuse as an adult.
On the day of the trial, Patty, full of anger and sorrow, replied to his apology saying “I have lost my best friend … my companion … but I do have the capacity to forgive.”
It was the beginning of a long, emotional and spiritual journey for Patty, her two daughters, and Dave. It was Patty’s eight-year-old daughter who mentioned that she wanted to tell Dave in person how much pain she was in but how she was also ready to forgive.
Her daughter was too young to visit the prison at the time, but Patty understood that this was a message for her to do the same and forgive Dave for what he had done. After six months of emotional preparations, Patty met Dave face to face.
She told Dave stories of her husband and what her family had gone through since that terrible moment two years ago. Dave told her about his troubling past, how the anger he harbored since his early years of abuse at the hands of his own father drove him to substance abuse. He emphasized how none of that pain would ever excuse him from his actions.
After their exchange, Patty asked Dave to turn his life around, engage in Alcoholics Anonymous, continue therapy, and share his story with others. Through their exchange, they both healed and decided to make an impact on others through sharing their own experience.
Patty joyfully claims that her “best qualities—things like patience and gratitude—have been nurtured” through her hard fought journey to forgiveness.
Through restorative justice, Patty and her daughters found peace and healing, and Dave found a way to turn his life around and help others avoid the same mistakes.
Similar to Patty and Dave’s story, there is hope for restoration for both people behind bars and those affected by crime through an awakening to God’s grace and mercy. For more on how you can be a part of restoring others in similar situations, visit our action page.
*Obviously, forgiveness is a very personal journey, and very different for each person harmed by crime. In this situation, it was something Peggy felt led to do. At the same time, Prison Fellowship is aware that everyone’s journey is unique and doesn’t want to imply that forgiveness is an easy or simplistic choice.