Saturday, May 6, 2017
the letting go—
Last week, I posted a blog entry called “Letting Go.” This entry continues last week’s, so if you haven’t yet, you may want to read that entry before reading this one. I'm thinking of the deaths of people I have loved. As they say at the auctions, "fair warning."
When I wrote last week’s entry, I was thinking of the various ways we need to let go of things, skills, talents, and hobbies as we age. I started to write, “particularly if we’re dealing with serious disease,” but then I thought of all the decisions throughout our lives that require us to let go: the decision to live a mainstream life, or not; the decision to or not to follow a career or to have children or… the list goes on. Maybe this letting go is really just growing up.
Since the post, I keep thinking of Emily Dickinson’s poem, which I wasn’t thinking about when I wrote the entry, not consciously anyway. The poem ends with the title of my last entry: letting go. It’s one of my favorites, a poem about the feeling of surviving the death of someone we love:
After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?
The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –
This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
One of the many things I love about this poem is the last phrase, which like so many of her last phrases can be read simultaneously in two opposing ways: Is she writing of letting go of life as she lets go of this pain or is she letting go of the person who is gone? Or maybe it’s both. Perhaps Dickinson is saying that in order to let go of the pain’s intensity, we need to die a little ourselves as we allow this person to go.
Though I’ve lost friends into “death’s dateless night”, I’ve not lost a family member. I don’t know that pain, but just thinking of it makes my breath freeze in my chest.
I’m practiced with loss, but I haven’t experienced this fundamental kind of loss. My partner Ann and I have sometimes talked about attachment, about how we’re not so attached to things but are very attached to one another. I can’t imagine losing her and surviving the pain. Nor anyone in my family.
I don’t think there’s a way to prepare. I think when the time comes, whoever’s time it is (even if it’s mine), I’ll just have to survive it by going through it. Maybe I’ll write to heal, as I do now. Maybe I’ll read. Maybe I’ll pray or sit in silence. In the wake of my brain tumors, I love connected with others who are experiencing life-changing health conditions, so I suppose I’ll seek the wisdom of those of you who have experienced the letting go before me. If that’s you, and I know it’s many of you, you are deep in my heart.