This afternoon I was watching a variety of video clips I had taken of my father back in 2006. I was interviewing him, at last talking with him about family history that I had been wanting to and should have been asking him years earlier. (In my head I’ve been writing the family history for about 30-plus years and still haven’t gotten around to it, sigh.) It was interesting. I found myself watching from sort of a detached perspective. There I was, looking at my dad, living, breathing, talking, laughing, cooking, pouring himself a drink, all over a series of hours that I spent talking to him. The fact that he has been dead nearly seven years notwithstanding, I found that I could watch the videos without the kind of painful lump in my throat that I would have expected.
After my mother died in 1995, for many years I could not look at a picture of her without my heart clenching and my eyes filling with tears. She had been gone nearly 17 years before I finally could handle having her pictures displayed on my shelf. They might still be in boxes if my oldest sister hadn’t taken them out and placed them on shelves when she was helping me unpack after a move (my sister hates boxes and she refused to let anything remain packed.) I expected to have an immediate reaction when she had set out the portraits of my mom and dad, smiling back at me from their frames, but found that I could finally look at the photos without pain. It was quite a relief.
Contrary to that reaction, I actually took great comfort in having a beautiful black and white photo of my father propped on a shelf where I could always see it. My sister-in-law had given it to me the Christmas after his death. Looking at the photo has always given me great comfort as I gaze (even now) at him looking into the camera and saluting. Soldier on, it says to me, when you feel like you can’t keep going, push on.
And so watching the videos were as jarring as I thought they might be, though it was a little surreal watching him move, listening to his voice, smiling at his mannerisms and facial expressions. I find my heart, while feeling a little achy over it, nonetheless serene. I recognize that with each passing year, I let go a little more, not of the memories, but of the sting of the loss. The acuteness of the loss of each of my parents diminishes, sweetens in a way, but is never fully gone.
The opportunity to let go is offered to us during these 40 days, if we choose to take it. Let go of loss–of important people, of dreams, of old heartaches, of unrealistic expectations. Whatever we tend to cling or grasp on to, the introspective time offered by Lent or other periods like it, gives us an invaluable opportunity to let go. Yes, life and love and happiness and peace and all that seems good are indeed things to embrace, but not to latch on to. I think sometimes we have a death grip on some things that are at best things we should hold loosely in an open hand.
The practice of letting go is one I try to engage in on a semi-regular basis. It’s not necessarily something I plan or do as much as it begins with a basic inquiry of myself whenever I find myself holding onto something or holding in or not letting go. Letting go of sadness and anger are easier to notice, it’s a little subtler to notice when I am grasping tightly to something good, perhaps believing that it is either too good to be true, or it might not come along again, so I’d better hold on to it for dear life. Letting go is not easy, but because loss of some kind is inevitable, whether we’re ready for it or not, it’s going to happen. It’s up to us as to how we deal with it.
I am grateful for the time to reconnect with myself around missing my dad, to allow myself to see and hear him, letting the sadness come up and out, and letting go a little bit more. I wrote a song called, “Letting Go” several months after my mother died. One of the bridges says,
“Life is all about living and loving and letting go…seems we’re saying goodbye when we’ve just said ‘Hell0.’ So we live each moment and love each other and let it show. For all too soon we know we’ll face another time of letting go.”
And so it goes.