Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another. To follow, please leave your email address.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Letting Go


April 8

It doesn’t matter what the death is that tears our world apart. It could be the death of a spouse, a parent, a sibling or a stillborn baby. The loss of someone who was central to our daily existence leaves us wandering around in a daze wondering what we do next.

The model of existence I used to believe was this—if I worked hard and honestly, I would be rewarded with the standard components of a happy life: loving family, nice house, secure retirement. I would arrive at some wonderful place, stay there for decades growing wiser and happier, and die a peaceful death in old age.
But this wasn’t the reality when my wife died in her 40s, and it wasn’t the reality for some of my friends. No matter how hard we worked, no matter how compassionate we were, when one piece of the puzzle was added, one piece was taken away. It seemed that we were never getting any closer to the promised land.

It’s easier for me to deal with grief if I see life as a journey and not a destination, if I realize that good friends will move away and some of them will die, if I understand that there will always be new challenges to face, if I accept that change is the norm to life and not the exception, and if I am grateful for being alive today and do not look too far ahead.

Every death is devastating. When it hits, it challenges our belief in everything we trusted. Often it seems capricious, cruel, or wrong. Grief is not simply a body blow that will heal on its own. Grief is not something that we can ignore and expect it to fade away. Grief cannot be hurried through. Grief is a journey that will take as long as it takes.

Letting go of people we’ve loved, people we expected to have with us for the rest of our lives, is brutally hard because we want to hang on to whatever we have left. It is traumatic to have to take a living relationship, set it into the past, and let it go. These relationships are anchored in our hearts with thousands of ropes. Grief is the process of cutting those ropes, one by one, and letting them go.


As we learn to live with grief, we begin to let go of the expectations that our loved ones will come home from work, that we will see them in the next room, that we will talk with them tomorrow or next week. We let go of the activities we would do together, and try to keep their favorite orchids alive. We let go of everything about our loved ones and hope that what we loved most about them will return.

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