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.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Letting Go

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, good job, 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. 

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, another piece was invariably taken away. It seemed that we were never getting any closer to this promised land just running in place, as fast as we can, like the Queen of Hearts.

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 what 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. It is traumatic to have to take a living relationship, set it in the past, and let go because these relationships are anchored in our hearts with thousands of ropes. 

As we learn to live with grief, we begin to let go of the expectations of seeing our loved ones come home from work, or listening to music in the next room, or that we will talk with them. We let go of the activities we would do together (but I will try to keep Evelyn's orchids alive). 

We let go of everything about our loved ones and hope that what we loved most about them will return.


  1. Thank you for these words. My husband died suddenly last September and I am struggling to let go and fighting to hold on. I needed this today.

    1. Oh Robin, I'm so sorry for your loss, and that it happened last September means that you're dealing with all of the turmoil that comes with the first year anniversary. It takes such a long time to let go and reach the point where we turn from focusing on death to rejoining life. Then the sweet things that we loved about the ones who died begin to return. At least it was for me. I'll hold you in my heart today.

  2. Thank you for this, Mark. Letting go is the hardest part. Sometimes we cling to them because we are afraid we will forget. But letting go allows them to settle into a place in our hearts. I love this one. Thanks.

    1. Thank you, Tricia. Yes we are afraid about forgetting them, and we worry about losing what little we have left if we let go. But letting go allows them to live in us again. Thank you for your words on this part of grief's journey.