“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” By Havelock Ellis
I was inspired to write this by the devastating news that our 10 year-old furry family member, Shadow, has been diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer. We were told she had weeks to live and we’re all heartbroken. Shadow is one of those dogs that matches her physical beauty in temperament. As a 100 pound Labrador/Newfoundland mix she has a silky white coat and an ambassador like way of greeting every dog we meet as she bounds over to dance playfully with her four-legged friends. She snuggles her head into any human’s side for a scratch and, at a moment’s notice, is ready to gobble down as many treats as you can toss.
This difficult time in our lives has me thinking so much about the road one travels in the face of loss. As a child I would lay in bed at night imagining the unthinkable: What would it be like to lose someone I loved? I would think about one of my parents’ death and make myself cry deeply, with an uncontrollable hiccup, as I thought about the overwhelming thought of such a time. How would I live without my mom or dad, my brother or sister, someone I loved from the very core of my being that was akin to taking a breath?
Now, as an adult, I understand that the coming and going of those we love is a part of the human condition. This knowing doesn’t mitigate the difficulty of saying goodbye, understanding first hand after losing my father in my twenties. However, as I’ve grown over the years, I’ve seen the way my perspective shifts, for a time, to a much broader view of existence vs. the day to day living. I think in terms of lifetimes and the hope that in-between this existence and the next, we are able to touch the ones we’ve loved.
Although a conceptual belief can help me at times, this is a transition period in which it can be so hard to feel whole. How do I move through the stages of grief with some semblance of control when faced with unstoppable loss, wrought with a tidal wave of emotions? My answer comes from my experience. As I have moved through change before in my life, I have learned that my power lies in the quality of my being and the perspectives I choose as I navigate and move myself forward.
When I am hurting, I can behave angrily. My ferocity serves as a shield, separating me from my true feelings and, inadvertently, creating space between me and others. If I am expectant, sharp in my tone and angry in my approach, I push those around me away. If I am open and truthful, exposing the rawness and pain I’m feeling, I invite space for compassion and communication. My experience is impacted by who I am being. How I face and move through an event is something I can control. As an individual, I know there is no one formula. Who do I choose to be as let go and hold on as I move through the many stages of grief?
As a place to start, I acknowledge the enormity of what is happening. I recognize the impact and turn to my foundation of support, acceptance, permission and kindness. In these times I remind myself there is no right or wrong way to move through this and no expectation for how I show up.
I turn to the people with whom I feel most safe, accepted for who I am and, with all my bumps and scrapes, loved unconditionally. Here I can be vulnerable, feel whatever arises and know that I am enough. I talk about my emotions, celebrating my loved one and the difficulties of letting go. I acknowledge that my true vulnerability is my honest and bravest self.
I turn to the things that restore my body. I go to yoga, using movement and postures to support my belief in something larger than myself, my spirituality and natural big picture thinking. I ease the stress and strain of rigidity my body feels by focusing on my breath. And I rest when I need to, releasing judgement and asking for help when I need it.
At a time when I need them most I turn to my natural abilities, looking for the ways in which they can support me. Through my writing, I tell my story, allowing my thoughts and feelings to flow as my experience comes to life through my words. I give my contemplative nature room to explore as I find the language to express myself and make sense of my feelings. I acknowledge love as the greatest healer and surround myself with those that are eager to give and receive. I go for long walks in the woods with friends, drinking in nature and connecting with others in a supportive and healing way.
As I search for a pathway to making peace with this transition, I recognize the things I love about this dear one and strengthen them in myself. I allow my way of being to keep them close at heart, feed my connection to them and the ways in which they live within. What I see in them is a reflection of me. To honor them is to be the best of myself.
I know this won’t be easy and I trust that whatever I face, I will be enough. There is no right or wrong and only my way is the right way for me. I choose ease and an unhurried way, knowing if I am conscious and listening, I will find my way.