Letting Go

You could hear the widower’s anguish as he shared with the other support group members. “What do people mean when they say I have to “let go?” Do I have to let go of my wife?” The listeners shook their heads. They knew where he was going.

“they want me to send all her clothes to Goodwill and to rearrange the house. They want me to go out with other people. But … how could I ever stop loving my wife?”

When people tell us to let go … do they mean forget the old life in order to move on?

Some will-intentioned people have sure-cure tasks for us. They say we should clean out closets, and put away reminders. What they really want is for us to stop hurting. They want us to stop crying, and to stop pacing the floors at night. They want to stop the pain for us. They mean well.

The first step.

This kind of advice seldom helps because our personal grief journey is unique to each of us, as unique as our finger prints. Finding comfort is our first step. Cleaning out the closet was not comforting to this man. So the group encouraged him to wait until the time was right, when he didn’t feel overwhelmed with sadness.

We need the opposite of forgetting.

Comfort comes in remembering, not in forgetting. We remember our times together, good and band, and the struggles and the triumphs. For some, comfort comes from visiting the grave site daily. For others, visiting would be too sad. For some, talking about their loved one is comforting. But finding friends who will listen without trying to hurry you through your grief is difficult.

After some discussion, the group members came to the conclusion that letting go does not mean you have to stop loving. Cleaning a closet only removes the clothes, not the person, and not their love.

If there’s anything we need to let go of, it’s the expectation that grief has a time limit. One widow explained that although her husband died two years ago. “Some days it feels like yesterday, and other days it feels much longer … time is funny.”  The journey takes time. A support group can be invaluable because members are willing to allow for all the questions and grief reactions that you express.

Ideas and thoughts that might help along the way:

  • When you receive advice from well-intentioned family and friends, say “Thank you.” They do care and it is difficult to see your loved one mourn.
  • Find two people who will listen to all the stories about your life and concerns and questions, who do not feel the need to tell you “it’s time to move on.”
  • Empty closets or clean the garage when you feel ready. Allow for tears of anger or sadness or loneliness, they are healing.
  • Remember you never have to let go of your loved one.
  • There is no time limit to grief, there is no finish line.

The process of accepting what your head knows – “My loved one has died,” and what your heart knows, “Please don’t let this be true” – takes time. Give yourself the gift of time.

By Valerie Sanchez, LCSW, CT, – Director of Bereavement