Trigger warning: Loss, abandonment
If there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 years, it is this: life goes on.Even when it seems it won’t…life goes on. During breakfast with a friend the other day, we discussed the fact that people will always disappoint us and will always eventually leave. She made this incredibly wise statement: “The only constant human in our life is our own self. And maybe our mom.” This struck a chord with me because I have had similar thoughts recently. People come in and out of our lives. We meet them, learn to love them, and then they leave for a number of reasons – death, divorce, geographical distance, or a falling out due to basic human pride or stubbornness.
The fact that people constantly come in and out of our lives does not make it any easier to say goodbye or to let them go when they do walk away. Also, it can be extremely difficult to let go when it becomes necessary for us to walk away from them. As an adult, I have said goodbye to loved ones, walked away from toxic relationships, and have dealt with the natural losses that come with moving several states away. It’s difficult to let go of these relationships – to deal with our grief – but it is necessary if we are going to continue living life with a healthy emotional and mental state. Because this is such a common struggle, it is important to talk about it. So here’s my take on letting go when a relationship ends: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Grief: “Keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret” (n.d.).
Death is obviously the most permanent form of loss. It is the only sure thing in life. For some it comes sooner than others. In any case, those of us who are left behind have to face each new day without someone familiar and loved. It’s important to note that “there is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss” (Kessler, n.d.). We are all unique…each situation is unique…so one person’s grieving process will never mirror anyone else’s. We should never expect someone to be at a specific grieving stage based on our own experiences – let them grieve in their own way, in their own time.
Because death can come at any time, we experience grief over the loss of elderly and young alike. When an elderly individual passes away, it can be bittersweet. Although it is still a devastating loss for their family and friends, death brings release from pain caused by mental or physical ailments. As mourners, we can find comfort in the fact that the individual had a fair chance at making the most of their life and experiencing all we expect someone to experience over a lifetime.
“Now that my dad is gone, I am an orphan.” – GS (2001)
This quote is from an adult, my mom, as she grieved the loss of her last living parent. Regardless of how close my mom’s relationship was with her dad, grief hit her hard as she and her siblings stood around his bed and said goodbye. The OurHouse Grief Support Center (2018) says that “although the term orphan is more commonly used in reference to a young child, the fact remains that you now have no living parents. This change may usher in a second identity crisis as you wrestle with the meaning of being the oldest generation in your immediate family.” To some extent, I think the idea of identity crises after a loss is applicable to the death of any loved one, not just a parent. We are left trying to figure out how to exist in a world without that person.
“Jake is gone, and my mind and my heart cannot make sense of it” (jakesmom, 2014).
“Today we laid to rest our precious [son]… My heart is devastated but I know I will hold him in my arms again someday.” – AS (2016)
For a parent, the identity crisis is a question of how to exist without their child. These two quotes are from women who lost their children at very different stages of motherhood. The first is from my dear friend, Heidi, who lost her son to an accident in Afghanistan. Jake was a loving, honorable, and incredibly funny soldier who paid the ultimate price for his country. Unfortunately, that means Heidi also paid the ultimate price for her country. The second quote is from my sister, Audrey, who lost her beautiful baby boy during childbirth. For Heidi, memories comfort her as she mourns the life Jake had, as well as the life Jake was planning. Audrey, on the other hand, mourns the life that could have been. Both women are grounded in their faith and draw comfort from their confidence that they will one day be reunited with the child who was so cruelly snatched away from them. I witnessed a profound strength and perseverance in both as they navigated their complicated grieving process. I can honestly say they are two of the most inspiring individuals I know. I am lucky to have them in my life as an example of what it means to face grief and walk hand-in-hand with it as they continue to live their lives. I believe that if either one was asked, they would confirm that there is no moving on or “getting over” the loss of a child, but they must instead find a new way of being and thinking that allows them to carry on in spite of everything. To Audrey and Heidi – I love you both from the bottom of my heart and believe your boys were the luckiest boys in the world to have you for the time they did.
“This world just isn’t pure enough for some and I guess God needed a new, perfect angel in heaven for Christmas. Dear, precious little nephew of mine, you are loved and will always be in our hearts.” – AGS (2016)
The loss of my nephew is the closest I have been touched by death – I fortunately still have both my parents, all my siblings, and have never lost a close friend. Obviously my experience with the grieving process was vastly different to my sister’s, even though we were grieving the same sweet baby. I was saying goodbye to a nephew I never even said hello to, but I was also heartbroken for my sister, brother-in-law, and the rest of my family. As an empath, I felt their pain, as well as my own, at a depth I never thought possible. Moving forward after that loss was difficult simply because I could not imagine how my sister could move forward and face her new life. I ached for anyone touched by his death, which was many. It was difficult, and still is at times, to know what to say or how to behave regarding this loss.
“I wanna write ‘I miss you’ on a rock and throw it at your face so you know how much it hurts to miss you…” – Unknown
After going through a particularly devastating heartbreak, I chose to sell my house, quit my job, pack whatever would fit in my car, and move 700 miles away to start over. Although this seemed like a wonderful idea (and to some extent has been good for me), I was not quite prepared to deal with the loneliness that comes with moving away from family and friends. I spent the first 29 years of my life in the same general area – the house I owned was only a few miles away from the house in which I grew up. I didn’t realize, for example, that I would grieve the loss of immediate access to my best friend. Although she is available to me via text or phone any time of day, I am unable to sit down with her for coffee when I am in need to an in-person heart-to-heart chat. Another example is not being close to my parents. I am extremely close with both of them, so it has been hard figuring out how to function without mom hugs or face-to-face advice from my dad. There are multiple other relationships that have simply ceased to exist because I don’t regularly see former coworkers or classmates anymore.
All that being said, I definitely believe the saying that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” The relationships that mean the most to me have grown stronger as a result of being far apart. I have found that distance really does flush out who is loyal to you and who is a friend simply because it is convenient. I truly value those people who remain constant in my life, regardless of life circumstances or physical separation. They are a blessing that I hope to never take for granted.
When I first moved away, I found comfort in the song Going Whichever Way the Wind Blows by Pete Droge (2006). In particular, the following verse:
Going whichever way the wind blows,
Staring through the windshield,
Seeing the other side.
Let it go, it will get easier,
Let it go, just enjoy the ride.
I use the term divorce, but I mean the end to any romantic partnership between two individuals, whether it is the end of a marriage, long-term serious relationship, or even short-term dating relationship.
“We went through all that just to be strangers again.” – Unknown
Having just gone through my third divorce, I am rethinking my ideas surrounding romantic relationships. I’m not necessarily convinced there is “the one” for everyone. Based on my own experiences, I think people come into my life exactly when I need them. This in turn also means that they exit my life story when I have learned what they were there to teach me. The same is true of my role in the lives of others. I find this philosophy to be both comforting and disquieting. I am comforted by the idea that everything happens for a reason – if someone comes into or leaves my life, there is a purpose. God has put them there for a reason and takes them away for a reason. I am also disquieted because it makes it difficult to fully give myself to someone or fully trust that they will always be there.
When two people are forced to walk away from each other for whatever reason, the way in which they leave things will ultimately depend on their ability to forgive both each other and themselves. My failed marriages have taught me how critical this piece can be. Without forgiveness, I know that I would be far more bitter and jaded than I already am. I have an innate desire to see the goodness in others, yet I still have to be intentional in my effort to let go of the hurt. I have learned that forgiveness cannot be a passive ambition and certainly is not a one-and-done event. I still have days where hurt bubbles up from many years ago. I take those thoughts, hold them and look at them, then acknowledge the pain, whisper a prayer for the strength to forgive, and release those thoughts back into my past where they belong.
Jason Mraz’s song Details in the Fabric speaks to my new philosophy that I am on a journey that will have multiple players coming and going. As long as I hold fast to who I am and love every part of me, the other pieces will fall into place. I know this recent heart break will not be the last. Going forward, I am armed with the knowledge that no relationship is perfect, that every relationship takes compromise, and that all heartbreak heals eventually. At the end of the day, I have myself…I have my name….I am living my life. If that is not enough for me, nothing else ever will be.
Details in the Fabric – Jason Mraz
And get yourself dressed instead
Of running around
And pulling on your threads
And breaking yourself up
If it’s a broken part, replace it
If it’s a broken arm, then brace it
If it’s a broken heart, then face it
Hold your own
Know your name
And go your own way
And everything will be fine
Help is on the way
And stay strong
I’m doing everything
Are the details in the fabric
Are the things that make you panic
Are your thoughts results of static cling?
Are the things that make you blow
Hell, no reason, go on and scream
If you’re shocked it’s just the fault
Of faulty manufacturing
Everything will be fine
Everything in no time at all
Sometimes we sabotage our own relationships because of basic human pride. An example that comes to mind is a friend who stood by my side through some pretty difficult circumstances. When I was still battling with my own demons, she began having relationship issues of her own. Unfortunately, this was nothing new. She and her boyfriend had a very up and down relationship. She was asking my opinion for the 10th time about whether or not she should go with him to a family event. I was exhausted and focused on my own pain instead of hers (no excuse, but the truth!!), and finally snapped an answer that basically told her maybe she shouldn’t go if it was causing this much distress (basically, I told her to s**t or get off the pot). I wasn’t in a place emotionally to handle her drama and my own. We had always had a very up front, no sugar-coating relationship, so I didn’t think it would go over nearly as bad as it did.
She basically went quiet for several days and wouldn’t respond to my text messages. I finally asked her if I had done something to upset her. She opened up about how much my response hurt her. She felt she had been a good friend to me through a really rough patch and that she didn’t deserve to be dismissed the way I had – it unfortunately didn’t matter at that point that I had not intended the response to come across as flippant or dismissive, and had only wanted her to stop agonizing over something she could control. She stated that she did not need that kind of negativity, so she thought it was best to take a bit of a friendship time out. I was horrified, but honored her wishes.
Unfortunately, that friendship time out became permanent. We have lost contact since then and have each moved on with our lives. I do think of her often and still miss her. I believe our one-time close relationship fell apart over poor communication on my part and human pride on both our parts. With much cost analysis and overthinking, I determined that it would likely do more harm than good to continue to pursue any sort of communication. I knew her well enough to know that once she made up her mind that someone was not needed in her life, that was the end of it. It was healthier for me to learn how to just let he relationship fizzle out and die.
There are so many different ways for relationships to end. Regardless of the cause, grief is certain to follow. With grief comes anxiety and depression, so we must know how to begin analyzing and processing our emotions. Some partings are more natural than others. Some are more expected or anticipated than others. None, however, are easy. As long as we are comfortable in our own skin and make sure we rely most heavily on ourselves instead of others, we can enjoy someone’s presence while they are around and then experience peace when they are no longer with us for whatever reason. Value your own company, but don’t take anyone else for granted while you have them. And remember: life always goes on.
Droge, Pete. (2006). Going Whichever Way the Wind Blows. Under the Waves. Lyrics retrieved from https://www.lyricsfreak.com/p/pete+droge/going+whichever+way+the+wind+blows_20730413.html
Grief. (n.d.). Dictionary.com. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/grief
Jakesmom. (2014). Jake is Gone. Retrieved from https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/72781243/posts/11
Mraz, Jason. (2008). Details in the Fabric. We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.Lyrics retrieved from https://genius.com/Jason-mraz-details-in-the-fabric-lyrics
OurHouse Grief Support Center. 2018. Adult Death of a Parent. Retrieved from https://www.ourhouse-grief.org/grief-pages/death-of-a-parent/adult-death-of-a-parent/
Cover Photo: http://www.pexels.com