Letting go is a difficult skill to acquire, and yet we are offered no option but to practice.
Dealing with loss is difficult.
This past summer the challenges came in bunches. I don’t know why but they did. We would begin to get over one thing and suddenly be in the throes of another.
Loss of any kind (one’s health; employment; financial security; a relationship; disappointments; community tragedies; death of a loved one; and so on) are reminders of how tenuous life is and how quickly it can turn on a dime. It doesn’t seem to matter how many losses I experience; they come when I don’t expect it and leave their impact on me. Perhaps I should be used to it by now, but I’m not.
The changes and losses of the past summer which included deaths in the family, were not ones I welcomed but in their own way they needed to be embraced and looked in the eye, before being relinquished. In making sense of it all I have called this time the Summer of Letting Go. Loss reminds me that certainty is a myth- everything and everyone is temporary. There is really nothing that is ours to keep. What are we to make of this?
People assume the greatest hurdles to deal with are when we lose a loved one, for we are saying good bye. This is true, but other kinds of losses that we bear can be equally difficult and yet not always fully acknowledged. These include horrific acts of violence, environmental disasters, vicarious trauma, a loss of faith in possibilities, and those very personal disappointments that only we ourselves know about.
Loss makes clear what I love and cherish. It also reminds me that much as I want things to stay the same, it is not to be. The Third Stage of Life, in which we are increasingly witness to a range of losses calls on each of us to come to terms with this reality. This past summer was a clear reminder.
Moving through sorrow is both deeply personal and a shared experience. It takes time. Sometimes a long time. The challenge is how to both honour your own pace and find a way through without getting stuck in the quicksand of grief. How do we reconcile all of this? I don’t know.
I do know we have to be with our grief for a time and not make too many demands on ourselves. Often, we can only deal with what we experience in the present. Last summer, I found it was difficult to see beyond the day at hand, much less weeks or months ahead.
In learning to let go (and I am very much learning), I try to relinquish the “what if’s” and “why’s”, the expectations, and everything that really does not matter. It is not easy.
The most difficult part is resisting the urge to be busy and get on with things that always await us in order to get through. And yet what ultimately has been most helpful is to pause. Letting go for me has been helped along by finding a park bench so I can gaze at the trees and sky; read poetry in the early morning; write about disparate thoughts and conflicting emotions in my journal and then put the journal away; relive fine memories, and express thanks for what was, what is, and what will be. I weep and I smile. It is in the silence and solitude, faced with what is, that I imagine letting go.
Letting go in its own way is freeing. No shackles to keep us tethered to this or that. Released of the need to respond in a particular way. Grateful for the present. Surprised by joy. Surely what we all need is compassion for ourselves and from others, so we can have faith in whatever lies ahead and know we are not alone. Francis Weller, in his book The Wild Edge of Sorrow goes on to add:
“Letting go is not a passive state of acceptance but a recognition of the brevity of all things. This realization invites us to love more fully now, in this moment, when what we love is here.” (p. 135)
Loss is part of the fabric of life. In thinking about the Summer of Letting Go, I am reminded to do those things that make me laugh, ignite a sense of wonder, and bring joy; to love deeply and wholeheartedly; to live with integrity; and to connect with this wonderful world of which I am a part. Loss invites us to live.
This post, a start to the conversation on loss, was informed by my own experiences and the writings of Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow and Miriam Silf’s The Other Side of Chaos. Francis Weller’s book is a moving account of the experience of grief and I highly recommend it.