Not so fast… thank you
By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
The idea of starting over, of letting go, of embracing new beginnings seems harsh and unfair. It’s easy advice, and it seems like good advice to those who are suggesting it. Not so much for the persons to whom the advice is offered. Letting go feels like betrayal or abandonment if one is not ready for distance.
I talked with a friend the other day, remembering 25 years ago when many of us gathered to wait with her as her son’s life was quickly coming to an end after a fatal motorcycle accident. He’s now been dead longer than he was alive. She has come to feel a shift in her attachment to him. She hasn’t lost the love—only the pain and the need to live his life for him. That doesn’t mean she’s been unable to live her own life these past 20 plus years. In fact she’s always been a joy to be around. But she recognizes she’s a bit lighter now that she’s let him move on. Funny, we thought she was “over it” years ago.
Letting go and moving on is perhaps always a work in progress. There’s no set time for it, no formula that will tell us how to do it. In so many ways we’d love to have a clear set of directions to follow and then quickly be able to shed the pain. But, no. We’re stuck, for the time being at least, in our own private hell. And we would be outraged if someone could presume to offer an easy way to fix this big hurt. We often stop talking about it long before we’re ready partly to protect ourselves from others’ concern for our perceived misery or because the world has yet another tragedy to be fixated on fresher than our own.
I was with a friend this morning as her partner slipped out of her reach and into the arms of death. Their four year old daughter said it best. “NO. I don’t want to say goodbye to mommy.” This is an ending that begs to be seen as a new beginning for this little girl. But I can’t create the new beginning for her. She’ll have to kick the cat and stomp madly out the door when the hurt gets too big. She’ll have to learn how to trust again in a world that lets cancer take away mommies from a four year old. She let her mom hold her favorite stuffed animal while she was dying. But this little girl was quite clear that she was going to need that “friend” for her own comfort now that her mom was dead. That’s a smart little girl surrounded by loving adults who helped her not to feel guilty for that decision. That’s a little girl that will have to find her own way through grief in her own style, and in her own time. Tomorrow will be the first day of her new life even though she doesn’t know it yet.