Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Letting Go

The couch was a good place, close enough that I could hear what was going on in my mother's room, far enough away to sit or sleep, to think and process, to rattle around in my brain looking for answers. My mother was a few days away from dying. This time was marked by ups and downs in her mental state, her physical body crumbling underneath her as she rested in the hospital bed we'd had brought in a couple of weeks before. She'd be alert one minute and wanting to go out to sit in the sun, the next completely out of it. "She's not ready to let go yet," the short, red-haired night nurse whispered to my sisters and me. I can imagine my mom, at this exact moment of whispering, popping her head up and demanding to know what we were being so secretive about. It was an insane ride, those days.

Although we had had many people die in our lives, this was our first rodeo with terminal illness. My sisters and I would look at each other with the sad and incredulous faces of people who desperately needed the situation at hand to come to a close, while at the same time wanting to roll back time...back, back, a safe space where all of everything just went away.

On one of those nights, and in a desperate attempt to find some help, we downloaded the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying on my ipad, scanning its pages in the semi-dark for a way to help my mom let go, this woman who had weathered so much in her lifetime, who fought and stood strong throughout our lives. It was there that we read a passage that would change our perspective on death and dying, what leaving means. In dying you lose everything you have ever known. You lose the touch of loved ones, the smell of your favorite meal, the soft fur of your beloved animal, the sunshine on your face, your favorite vista. Even if you are religious or ready to die, facing that loss is tremendous and overwhelming in a way that we often don't think about. It's not the not being there, it's the anticipatory longing for the parts that you love but have to leave behind.

My friend and I were talking about the similarities between divorce and death, how losing someone in death is almost easier, that bereavement is different when what you have lost is walking around in the world. And much of this same story line holds true for divorce. You miss your former life even as your new life is emerging: the camaraderie and closeness you once felt with your partner, the regularity of someone's habits, the well-worn teamwork of holiday packing, the gathering of extended family that you love with all your heart. It is stepping away from this certainty, the compilation of so many days, that provokes unexpected stabbiness as you rise from anxious sleep,  haul the bags out to the car, worry that you have forgotten something, check the tickets twice. It's cutting an entirely uncertain path, thrusting yourself in a future you cannot see and don't entirely trust. In leaving you lose everything you have ever known, even if you know in your mind it's the right thing to do, the heart a few paces behind.

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