December 25, 2015

“Letting In” instead of “Letting go”: When Moving On isn’t the Answer.


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After my best friend and greatest love had died, I remember being told that in time I would move on and heal. I would recover. As if there is some finish line or end-point to grief that marks its end. I was told to let go of my grief and the one I’d lost.

After David died, I felt like all my cells were filled with acid. I’d always felt like we were one soul in two bodies, and it was agony to feel like half of me had been cut out. David and I used to even joke that we were our own yin and yang, the “other side to each other’s coin.” That was all I could think about at the funeral. I remember crumbling against the floor because saying goodbye was that unfathomable. Not knowing what else to do, I finally wrote him a letter on the back of a funeral pamphlet:

“The dull ache in my gut… that’s how I know it’s real, that we were real, this existence and reality, this soul-like connection between us, and the sadness that it ended so soon. It becomes a hunger and yearning for something I can’t fully explain or understand outside the electric fibers of my being. Perhaps grief and hunger for a different past, present, or future. But I feel it, and it reminds me I am still alive, and it fills me with life. It moves to my chest and heart, warms over me, grows within me, and becomes me—it inexplicably and irreversibly alters me, as though the genetic code of my existence has been modified by your presence in my life. There is no moving backward to who I was before because that person is gone and I am someone else. I cannot “un-feel” or “un-become.” It is done and I have changed already. But when I am seized with the terror, agony, and grief of that loss of you, when it feels like I must unravel my very being and who I have become to have you leave, when it feels like destroying me to destroy you—that is how I know that I love you and all that you have been in my life.

You have been my best and dearest friend for so long, saved me when I couldn’t save myself, and I have no clue how to begin to say goodbye, but it breaks me in half try. But you will be forever with me.”

Two years later, I still haven’t figured out how to say goodbye. I knew when it happened that it would change me—forever—but I didn’t realize that it would feel like an entirely new experience with each wave of grief that hits. That each new shock would take my breath away and knock the wind from my lungs, which had just barely gotten used to breathing on their own.

On a daily basis I think of telling David something, and the bad days are when I get halfway through a text before realizing I won’t hear back. Yet even with my painful awareness in those moments, I cherish my pain and think about what an honor it is to have been touched so deeply and profoundly by another human being, to have that kind of connection, even if pain is the only reminder I have some days.

I carry that pain-filled, human-shaped hollow inside me, reminding me of the connection that changed me. So, I hold onto my grief, I embrace it, and I feel it. I invite that pain into my very being, and let in that loss to become a part of me.

I’ve not surrendered to depression, I’ve simply accepted there is a yin and a yang to love, and that loss is the other side. That with love, loss is ultimately just as important and defining as the joyful connection. Loving David became a part of me, and so is losing him; I cannot let go of my grief without also letting go of the love—the very connection that changed me to begin with.

So no, I will not let go of my grief. In a culture that is uncomfortable with death and preoccupied with “getting over” things, it is a taboo to grieve openly, particularly after the unspecified grieving period has passed. But I don’t care. I want to carry my grief like a badge of honor—publicly and proudly—to let the world know that I have loved deeply.

Despite my wounds, I am not made weak by my grief. On the contrary, it takes courage and strength to bravely embrace and cherish something so tender and raw.

I think, perhaps, we are not meant to let go. Perhaps the journey of grief is not about learning to let go of the pain, but learning to let in the hurt, embrace it, and keep moving; not to move on, but move with our experience of loss.

Trying to go back to “normal” and let go was only avoiding how my grief and loss had changed me. But I think I knew from the beginning, even if I couldn’t comprehend it at the time: “…I feel it, and it reminds me I am still alive, and it fills me with life. It… grows within me, and becomes me—it inexplicably and irreversibly alters me… There is no moving backward to who I was before because that person is gone and I am someone else…”

And because of my grief, I am changed, I am irreversibly altered, and I am someone else. And it does fill me with life… I want to hold on to that feeling, invite it to continue changing me and helping me become. It grows within me, and becomes me, and I refuse to let go of it any longer.

There is power and strength in my pain and loss. So, I choose to let in my grief, I choose to embrace the pain that reminds me of my love, and I refuse to hide that badge of honor any more.


Author: Danielle Fetty

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Photo: Alex Bellink/Flickr

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