My dad died of a heart attack when I was fifteen. I was with him at the time. I was a lifeguard and CPR certified, but I froze. Honestly, it never entered my mind to start chest compressions.
Twenty years later, I was in a counselor’s office because I was having grief-induced panic attacks. Unknowingly, I had felt responsible for my dad’s death all that time.
After one particular session, I drove across town to a large park. I pulled a lawn chair out of the trunk, walked over to a pond and sat down.
I closed my eyes and thought about dad lying in the Cardiac Care Unit of the hospital. I imagined him in front of me, with wires and tubes everywhere and the heart monitor bleeping in the background.
Then the scene suddenly changed. We were no longer in that room but in a wide, open white space. Everything was quiet. I looked over at dad. All the tubes and machines were gone. He was sitting up in bed, his eyes were open, and he was smiling at me.
I found myself talking.
“I didn’t know what to do when you collapsed. I panicked.”
“I’ve missed you so much.”
“Thanks for working so hard.”
“You’re a great dad.”
“I respect you.”
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
“I love you.”
After a while, I grew quiet. Then dad said, “I love you, son. I’m so proud of you. I have to go now.” Slowly, the vision of dad and the large white space receded, and the park pond came back into view.
I hung my head and wailed.
Something cracked inside me that day. Somehow, I let go. By releasing my dad, I gave myself permission to go on living.
“But how in the world can I let go? I don’t want to!” we might say.
Perhaps it comes down to what we mean by letting go.
Letting go isn’t leaving our loved ones behind. That’s impossible. They’re a part of us. Over the years, we’ve internalized their love, laughter, and influence. Their impact on our lives is immeasurable. By releasing them, we welcome them to be who they are now, in us.
Letting go isn’t a one-time event. It’s a process. Every day since my dad’s death led to that moment at the park two decades later. I’ve had many more “re-releasing” moments since. Letting go takes time.
Letting go is part of honoring our loved ones. They wouldn’t want us to spend our lives looking in the rearview mirror, but instead to make the most of every day. We can honor their memory in the way we live.
Letting go will be a bumpy ride. We expect the unexpected. Grieving well and releasing ourselves to live along the way is a winding road full of dips, potholes, and sneaky speed bumps. We slowly learn to quit trying to control things (we won’t be able to anyway). We need to breathe deeply, and move forward one step at a time.
Lean forward. Honor your loved one by releasing yourself to live a little more each day.
Letting go wasn’t what I thought it was. Maybe it won’t be for you either.