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~ On "Letting Go" ~
To let you go
knowing I must set you free,
This is the hardest task I have ever done.
Kirsti A Dyer, MD, MS

For most of the 20th century, the modern view of bereavement has involved "letting go" of one’s attachment to the lost loved one, "getting over it" and "moving on" with one’s life. The grieving person gradually "recovers" from the loss of a loved one, resulting in a return to "normal" behavior. These traditional views on grief and mourning have changed. Notably different are the long-held ideas that people need to "get over it" and "let go;" grief is eventually "resolved" by "detaching" and "moving on" to new relationships. While the current thinking about the concept of "letting go" has changed, it seems that this change pertains more to "letting go" of a loved one following a death rather than letting go of other types of losses.

Many of the life-changing setbacks that I have encountered over the years—professional and personal—have forced me to re-evaluate and reassess my life priorities, to "let go" of certain hopes, dreams and goals, and to learn how to see the opportunity in apparent adversity.

When one door closes,
another one opens.
But if we keep trying to go back
through the old door,
We may never notice the new one,
which is often much better
than the old one.
Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS
Garden Gate

One of my hardest life lessons has been realizing that holding on to a person, a goal or a dream can be destructive. Many times trying to "go back through the old door" is not what is needed to keep growing and thriving. These setbacks also require learning to recognize when it is time and a necessity to integrate the change or loss and "let go." Perhaps the most difficult part of "letting go" is finding the internal strength to recognize it is time and then letting the person, or thing go, and let the dream die. I have had to reframe many of my past relationships or friendships as "deaths"(of the friendship or relationship and the person you thought you knew) in order to reach an acceptance point, move on and let go.

Releasing Dove

With release comes Peace.
Let me learn to Love without holding,
to Give without expecting to receive in return.
Joan Walsh Anglund
Types of " Letting Go" Losses
The concept of "letting go" is probably best applied to situations that require picking oneself up, restoring self-esteem and self-confidence following a loss, a setback or a significant life change. The types of losses or crises best suited to this concept include dissolution of relationship, change in occcupation, financial setbacks, diagnoses with long-standing medical conditions etc. The potential ability for "letting go" is highly dependent on the type and severity of the loss experienced.

"Letting go" can take on many forms:

  • Letting go of a long-term relationship - romantic, friendship or professional.
  • Letting go of a child, through relocation, divorce, going off to college.
  • Letting go of a treasured possession, property or cherished pet.
  • Letting go of hopes, dreams and goals.
  • Letting go of alcohol, drug use or other long-standing addiction.
  • Letting go of loneliness, anger or depression.
  • Letting go of the past - negative memories, resentments.
These losses are diverse and varied, but the common element is these events require that one accept and integrate the loss and recognize that their life is forever changed.

Learning to Live with the Loss

We do not get over grief.
But over time, we do learn to live with the loss.
We learn to live a different life...with our loss.
Kenneth J. Doka

Grieving people must recognize that they may never "get over" their grief. They may never get over certain major losses—diagnosis of a terminal illness or the ultimate loss of a child, spouse or loved one to death. When a person dies he/she will never return, there is no negotiating to get them back. This loss is forever. The sorrow will endure as long as the grieving person is alive. Fortunately so too will the memories of good times and love shared with the person lost.

On the wings of timeGlowing Butterfly
Grief flies away.

La Fontaine

We would all like to believe that "Time heals all wounds" and that with time "Grief flies away." It is important that people understand that grief is not like a cold or an illness that one "gets over." Instead grief should be viewed as something that gets better over time, that one learns to live with, but may never truly goes away. With time the loss, the intense initial painful emotions lessen to a level that allows the grieving person to function. The grief is no longer a daily all-consuming emotion. Rather than the grief "flying away" the grieving person learns how to cope with the loss and the grief, integrate the loss into his/her life, adapt to a life forever changed and keep living.

Resources on Letting Go

Doka KJ. Getting Over It. Hospice Foundation of America. Journeys Newsletter. February 2002.

At every point in the human journey
we find that we have to let go in order to move forward;
and letting go means dying a little.
In the process we are being created anew,
awakened afresh to the source of our being.
Kathleen R. Fischer

See the Emergency 911 Page for links to immediate resources
if you are feeling helpless, hopeless, overwhelmingly depressed, or suicidal.

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Last update Sept. 11, 2002