When my husband died, I didn't immediately launch into "getting over" the loss or letting go of the past.
Yes, he was dead but the grief I was experiencing was very present. For a long time it was also my future as I worked to integrate the past I had shared with my beloved with a new relationship we were both exploring on opposite sides of the veil between worlds.
What I did commence mere days after his passing was a cycle of change that is ongoing. Actually, that's called living. Our illusion of stability is a very helpful myth that allows us to function in the chaotic plain of time and space. It's really all about change. And sometimes that means releasing things that no longer fit with our current reality. It also means releasing people who are finished here.
But releasing people we have loved is not like taking them to the drop-off bin at Goodwill. In fact, I think it's much healthier to not think about letting go at all. Because—even in the best of circumstance—it carries a subtle message of, "You should be getting on with things now" or "I just want the pain to stop."
I saw this so clearly last weekend. I attended the first of a series of half-day sessions on "Death as a Spiritual Teacher." There are about 25 people in the group and most of them are in the deep pain of recent and dramatic loss.
One woman lost her husband, her father, her cat, and her job in the last three months. She also moved from out of state during the same time frame. I do not know how she is functioning. She has a battered look of a tornado survivor and is concentrating on simply taking one painful step at a time. What courage she shows in seeking out a group of strangers to hold her in a safe space of unconditional acceptance.
I think that safe space is what we need most—especially in the early days of grief. My friend Kathleen and I did that for each other because our losses were so close together in time. We had also shared a spiritual path for years. So we were able to grieve in a similar context—even as we honored the differences as well as the similarities in our journey.
In short, we held each other. And, when I see these dear souls in the abject pain I remember so well, I think that holding is so much more important than letting go. Especially if we can think of holding as cherishing what still exists rather than clutching at what was and is no more.
But what exactly do we hold?
In order for holding not to be grasping we must also hold (or conduct) a conversation with the Unknown that begins with what we think we know and journeys into the misty realms of the present and future that do not readily identify themselves.
In the midst of that gentle conversation that can whisper its comfort in a heart that is open to learning, I held on to many things. Or perhaps they held me. Photos of Stephen and me together. The precious portrait that a friend drew for his memorial service. Some of his clothes. For a year, his woodworking equipment. His books.
So many things that he had touched and used and loved. I held them gently because they created a sort of surrogate structure in which my grieving could feel safe to unfold. They reminded me of ways in which Stephen grounded me. And by holding them in honor and love, I somehow assimilated them. And then they began to fall away on their own.
I think if I had consciously worked to let them go I would have broken into a thousand pieces. Instead, I now feel solid from the inside out. I have simplified my life as things have let me go. I have allowed life to become more complex as new treasures have taken the place of old ones.
But I am not wounded from letting go too soon. I let nature take its course. Which it will do in its own lovely, mysterious way—if we allow ourselves to be held in the embrace of that which we do yet not know but that knows us and our needs very, very well.
Cheryl Eckl's new book, A Beautiful Grief: Reflections on Letting Go, is now available for pre-order at www.ABeautifulGrief.com
Copyright 2012 Cheryl Eckl Communications, Inc.