During a rather passionate discussion on the multidimensional aspects of grief, a friend and I recently determined that we would have to agree to disagree. Our issue of contention? The idea of letting go.
Frank had lost his wife four years ago after a long and arduous fight with cancer. They had been happily married for 29 years and he felt truly lost in the wake of her death. Now after three years of walking in the wilderness of grief, learning the lessons only loss can teach, Frank felt it was time to let his beloved wife, Julia, go.
“I feel as if I’ve made a new life for myself. But I miss her and think of her still, though admittedly not as often. Why can’t I just let her go and get on with life?” he pleaded.
His hope, I suspect, was that as he did his grief work and found his new course in life without her by his side, her memory would be laid to rest never to surface again.
I have learned that our in psychologically-savvy culture, with its new age lexicon, we are sometimes led to believe that letting go means never having to revisit the issue again. By definition letting go requires a release of sorts. But while releasing pain is one of the goals of healing work, loss has its own agenda. Unfortunately, that only becomes clear years after the convoluted road of grief has been navigated successfully, with understanding and compassion.
In my experience with loss I have found that even after the years of grief I charted following the death of my husband, Trent, that certain situations would unexpectedly draw grief to the surface of my heart. I had consciously created a new life for my girls where I felt confident and secure. I believed I had “let Trent go.”
But I soon discovered that no matter the timeline, I would revisit my grief when it was called for naturally. On one occasion I found myself bursting with pride while weeping with undiluted grief at all that was missing as my sweet daughter graduated from high school. Then uncharacteristic rage surprised me when I was faced with a complex car repair — this because Trent was always my go-to car man — and where was he now that I needed him? You get the picture.
With those situations came a distress over my feeling that I must not have grieved well or let him go if I was still revisiting my grief. Over time however, I learned that as we mourn the loss of a dear one in healthy and appropriate ways, that grief and the memory of our loved one finds their rightful place in our lives. The intensity of grief diminishes as our hearts heal, but our loss is forever. We will never forget them.
Fortunately we are designed to live life to its fullest and the pain of loss does soften over time as we mourn. But I don’t believe to live fully again after loss requires a complete release of our memories or our past. On the contrary, I have come to believe complete release in grief is not possible. For me, as fully engaged in life as I am now, there will always be situations that occur even 22 years after his death when I will miss Trent, revisit my grief and readjust my worldview once again. And that’s okay.
I have recently become familiar with the wisdom of the principle of giving over. At first glance it may seem a matter of semantics when the concepts of letting go and giving over are set side by side. But with a closer look we can begin to see the truth for ourselves.
Letting go requires a release of all that is the issue, a somewhat final determination. Giving over only asked that as we do, we accept a sharing of the burden that we carry, knowing that, though healing is taking place, it is an on going and natural process. Because our loss is forever, we will revisit our feelings of grief when the occasion calls for it.
I like this new idea of giving over. Shared grief is a lifted burden. I’ll always remember Trent, but my grief over his loss does not drive my life any longer. It only visits occasionally when there is a need. And I can live with that.
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