open hand, maggie mcreynolds blog

Learning to Let Go

When we’ve lost something really big, something important, something meaningful, the last thing we want to do is let go of anything else. So we hold on to what we’ve got left just a little bit tighter.

It’s a natural response. And it works—at first. Our friends rally ’round. Family is supportive. Unemployment checks kick in. The potato chip bag feels like a friend.

But after a while, those people we’re clinging to for dear life start to get, well, itchy. Our friends have their own stuff to deal with. Family members want some breathing room. The unemployment checks eventually stop. The potato chip bag morphs into a frenemy—it might feel like it’s keeping the grief away, but all it really offers is a deferment and a kind of insulation. And it’s doing it with a nice cushy layer of adipose tissue, aka fat.

Still, we hold on. Because we’ve lost enough, damn it, and we’re not going to lose one single more thing. We hold our breath, scared that with the first true long exhale, we’ll start sobbing and never be able to stop. We hold onto our stuff, sure that our possessions offer the solidity that seems to have dropped out of our soul. We cling to the people in our lives like leeches, sure that, without them, we will never ever ever be whole.

We become like children, desperately clutching a fistful of wet sand. The sand conforms and complies, until we’ve squeezed all the moisture out of it. And then, when it’s bone dry, the tighter we try to hold onto it, the faster it trickles out through the cracks between our fingers.

Counterintuitively, holding on hard can lose us some of the things we value most.

It takes strength to get ready to let go. But as with most things, the anticipation of if—the dread of it, even—is much more painful than the actual process. We get to define it for ourselves. Letting go can be, if we make it so, a big scary overwhelming process.

Or it can be as simple as relaxing our fists, dropping our shoulders, taking a deep breath, and letting it back out.

It’s true, we might cry, and we might feel pain. But every feeling, no matter how uncomfortable, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We can ride the waves of our grief, knowing as each wave crests and peaks, so, too, will it wane. Eventually, the waves come further apart. Eventually, we find the ground under our feet, and stagger to shore.

And once we are on that shore, what flags might we plant there? What path might we choose? How brilliantly might the stars shine, splashed across the freshly wind-swept sky?

What, if we relaxed those fists that hold on so tightly for dear life, might we find our hands open and ready to receive?

Photo: ©2007 David Ip, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, no changes made

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