The concept of “holding on” while “letting go” is counterintuitive. It doesn’t really make sense, especially when you are fearful or apprehensive of what lies ahead. One is reminded of the image of a trapeze artist. The only way forward is to “let go” and trust that he/she will catch the next bar.
The same might be said about the grief journey. There is no magic pill or wand that will take away our pain. We will not “get over” the loss of a loved one, but we will learn how to live with it. We can and will heal, rebuilding our lives around the loss we have suffered. We will be whole again, but we will never be the same.
Sometimes in the grief journey we might be confused about what it means to let go. One person said, letting go seems like I am betraying my husband’s memory. Another widow told the support group, “I don ‘t want to let go because I am afraid that I will forget him.” That’s what memories are for. They are like mini visitations becoming a bridge rather than the pain. Memories heal in grief and keep us connected to those we have lost, while resisting memories can disconnect us from our loved ones and keep us stuck. Holding onto memories is the beginning of letting go. How do you let go? You let yourself go backwards in order to go forwards. This is the opposite of what you would think.
Grief is a time when you review the whole relationship. Another way to look at it is, when we acknowledge our pain, it allows us to hold onto the person and not the pain. To “work your grief” is to process the pain. Crying and other forms of active grieving help move our grief. Recognize that feelings of anger, guilt, sadness, remorse, and relief are all normal responses and help us to heal in our grief.
Healing begins when we allow ourselves to go back and remember. In the early months of grief, it seems that any memory brings tears and pain. It hurts to remember the happy times as much as it hurts to remember the sad times. It just hurts to remember. Embrace your pain rather than fight it. You are doing some of your best grief work as you let yourself remember. Memories heal as they hurt. They become the threads that stitch our broken hearts back together.
By processing the pain and letting it pass through us, it becomes a purer sorrow, freeing you to remember – “holding on while letting go.” Healthy grieving was expressed by a man who said, “I’ve found a place in my heart where I can always access her.” He had moved from missing her so much physically to knowing her in spirit and finding a permanent place of belonging in his heart. This realization helped him to “let go,” freeing him to invest energy in his new life.
Creating rituals is a helpful way to let go of pain. One woman in a support group shared with the group that she was bringing a “dump bag” to the next group meeting. She invited others to deposit objects, thoughts, and other things that they didn’t want to be haunted by.
When we experience healing in the pain, we are freed to remember those we’ve lost with a sense of joy and gratitude and free to live more fully in the present.
We invite you to share your thoughts and/or rituals that allow you to “hold on while letting go” and how that ongoing connection gives purpose and energy for living.
Celeste Miller, MA, LPC, Porter Loring Mortuaries Bereavement Coordinator
Darwin Huartson, M.Div., BCC, Porter Loring Mortuaries Community Coordinator