“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”
-Henry Ellis, British psychologist
Recently I found myself standing with shaking legs on a small wooden platform perched 50 feet above the treetops, frozen in fear as I considered my options. My son had just turned 12 years old, and for his birthday he requested a zip line adventure. As I checked and rechecked my harness, tightly gripping the lanyards that connected to the pulley on the metal line that would propel me across the horizon, my heart seemed to beat outside my chest, and the voices of self-doubt began their roar: What was I thinking? I should have stayed on the ground and just taken photos. This is way outside my comfort zone. I can’t do this. I’m not going to be able to let go. I’m stuck.
When we are grieving, there may be times when we can feel similarly stuck, and fears of "moving forward" and facing an uncertain future can threaten to keep us painfully locked in place. I realize now, as I stood on that platform, I was wrestling with a deep-rooted narrative about myself: I don’t take risks like this. I am incapable of doing hard things. I’m stuck.
"You can do it, Mama!" I heard my son gently and patiently encouraging me: "Just hold on tight, sit back, and let go…"
Buoyed by my son’s words, I teetered off the edge. My knuckles whitened as I clung to my lifeline, mesmerized by the whir of the pulleys racing down the line. Letting go was far from graceful. I felt awkward, clumsy, unsure where or how I would land. Yet, as the wind whipped my hair back at wild angles, and the sunlight danced across the treetops below me, I tasted what it can feel like to surrender to an unknown journey, to trust that, in that moment, I had everything I needed. In the choice to leave the security of the platform and quite literally lean in to this new experience, I was beginning to write myself a new story. Letting go of fear’s grip…and holding on to a newfound trust and confidence in the flight.
Working through our grief requires us to discover within ourselves a similar balance—maybe even sometimes a dance—between letting go and holding on. Loss compels us to let go of familiar ways of being, and of how we may have envisioned our lives would unfold. Letting go of beliefs or narratives that are no longer serving us, and that may hinder our own healing. And taking claim to qualities, lessons, and experiences with our loved ones that continue to offer meaning, inspiration, and perspective.
As you consider your own experience with loss, what pieces of your grief process would you like to hold on to? What pieces might you like to release? And how might the pieces you release create space for a new story to emerge?
--by Anne M., grief counselor
Metamorphosis by Danna Faulds
Called beyond the confines of this
chrysalis by a force I cannot see
or name, I am compelled by pain
and something bigger than myself
to leave the protection of all that I
have known. There is struggle, doubt,
an awkward setting forth. Finally I
break free of the cocoon and find
myself surrounded by air and light.
I dare to act, still not knowing what
I am; instinct, or maybe faith bids me
move forward, make the leap, explore
this mystery of change and flight.
I find myself with wings that dwarf
my former world. Unfurled, they dry
quickly in the sun. I, who expected
to spend my days crawling, now
teach myself to soar. Such a rush
of wind and freedom – that first
flight teaches me more that I had
learned in a lifetime of crawling.