But what does it really mean, and how do we know if we’re doing it?
The answer may lie within loss itself.
It creates a mandatory letting go that is more a break than a graceful slipping away from a thought, belief, person, or thing we have cherished.
To cherish something is to hold it dear—and hold we do. We invest enormous amounts of energy to keep this precious thing close. So when it is stripped from us by circumstances, there is pain. But then, if we are paying attention, something amazing can happen. Even in our grief, there may follow relief and a release of energy—because the force we were using to hold on is now available for what’s next.
Of course, there are levels to this dynamic of loss, pain, and relief. Initially, we may feel only the painful emptiness that follows separation. The disbelief and trauma that accompany sudden loss may overshadow all other feelings—resulting in futile attempts to fill the gaping hole in our hearts with all manner of additions that neither resolve nor heal our suffering.
At many points in the process, others (or we ourselves) may scold that it’s time to move on. Get on with life. Stop being so weepy and wounded. Let go the victim image. Get over it.
We’d like to—but sometimes we just can’t. That’s because letting go does not mean making an inconvenient thought or feeling go away. In fact, the harder we try to make attachments disappear, the more tenaciously they hold on.
It’s like trying to make flowers bloom faster than their natural cycle. Even if we grow them in a greenhouse, it is the environment that creates the bloom, not the strength of our will. In the end, we must surrender to nature’s process and accept the fact that we cannot rush the bud. Fruit falls from the tree only when ripe.
Such is the way of letting go. Attachments naturally fall away when they have ripened. Instead of our deciding what is “long enough,” the wise flow of grief will reveal its perfect timing if we allow it to work. The key here is to be more dedicated to listening for grief’s promptings than to either attachments or intentions to let go and move on.
If we indulge ourselves too much in the things of the past, we’ll get stuck in denial, anger, regret, and self-pity. If we focus too much on being brave, keeping it together, and moving on, we’ll torture ourselves with guilt when we fail—as we are sure to do. But by listening for the voice of grief (which comes with both tears and comfort) we will stay in the “beautiful middle of nowhere” where healing actually happens.
Listening can feel like wandering in the wilderness without a road map or a lantern. It can seem dark and ambiguous, unformed and uncertain. But, if we trust that others have successfully navigated this lonesome road, we may discover that the still, small voice emanating from within actually does point the way to what’s next.Just as we can encourage flowers to bloom inside during the winter, we can add light, warmth, and nourishment that will strengthen the voice that speaks of both grief and healing. One way is through some kind of daily practice that feeds us at deep levels of body, mind, and spirit. Perhaps we do yoga or walk. We keep our minds active at work and in relationship to others.
We read inspirational literature or stories of other people who have gone before us.
Whatever we do, we focus on taking care of ourselves in a way that replenishes our energy on all levels of being. And this is absolutely essential because it is this renewed vitality that begins to call us forward—to ripen as the new self we are becoming.
Then, as if by magic, when that new self gets strong enough, the ways of the past begin to drop away. This is not to say the process is painless. It’s not. Each dropping away comes with its own tears of separation. But now there is a certain “rightness” about the event.
That was my experience when I realized it was time to stop wearing my wedding ring. And then when the day came to take Stephen’s ashes up the mountain to their final place of rest. In each instance, I grieved the realization that here was one more piece of my relationship with this darling man that was complete. I also felt relief and release.
It was these two experiences that really clued me in to the letting go process. So now I don’t worry about where I am in my grief. In many ways, it has transformed into feelings of peace, even joy. The deep longings for the past have turned into a profound sense of gratitude for the journey I have walked. Of course, I still have my lonely times. And when those feelings arise, I honor them. I let the tears flow because they are another sign that I’m continuing to let go, that I am surrendering to the realities of my path, that another flower in the garden of my life is blooming.
Being in the flow of this process is a profound relief because I find myself daily schooled in the ways of wise grief that are simply not up to me. My job is to listen and respond. The letting go then takes care of itself. And that, for me, is letting God.
A Miracle in Kildare
Loving Your Way Through Loss
Webinar: “Processing Grief in Our Homes and Classrooms”—presented by Age of Montessori
A Beautiful Grief: Reflections on Letting Go – The Book
Cheryl Eckl reads the opening chapter: “The Music of What’s Happening”
Copyright © 2017 Cheryl Eckl and CherylEckl.com. All rights reserved.