The Delicate Art of Letting Go
In full transparency, a rare glimpse behind the curtain as to how I write TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less, I will often pen less topical columns and save them for a later date, when nothing particularly pressing is occurring that I feel a desperate need to opine about. Often, these are some of my favorite columns as they tend to center around larger, more philosophical issues rather than the more specific diatribes aimed at the issues of a particular time and place. Such was the case last week with my column on the lessons we could learn from our dogs. https://www.waitingfortoday.com/the-7-lessons-we-can-learn-from-our-dogs/. In that column, I reference Finnegan, our beloved family Newfoundland who graced our lives for over 11 wonderful years. Sadly, Finnegan’s health started deteriorating shortly after I finished writing that piece, and just a few weeks back, it became clear that it was time to say goodbye to a member of our family we had loved with reckless abandon. But that’s just it- letting go is never easy when we love so openly.
And yet, letting go is simply an inextricable part of the human living experience. I hate to tell you this, folks, but none of us are getting out of this life alive, and unfortunately, none of our friends or loved ones are either. Sure, it may feel like Courtney Love and Yoko Ono are just going to live forever, eternally making our lives a living hell, but the reality is that they, like all things of this life, are impermanent. And coming to terms with that Noble Truth is the key to navigating the emotional turmoil of those inevitable losses that assail us.
Now one possible solution to avoiding that heartache comes in the form of simply giving up love altogether. After all, it is attachment which breeds the suffering that meets us when the objects of our affection must die. I won’t shed a single tear when I learn that Justin Bieber perishes when he plummets to his death after his skydiving instructor gives him a backpack full of nothing other than his dirty laundry, but that’s because I don’t know Justin personally. Well, that and the fact that he seems like nothing more than a self-inflated douche bag. But when we are close to someone who leaves us, the gut-wrenching sting of their loss can seem unbearable. Is it not better than to simply not love at all and thus avoid the pain altogether?
The answer, of course, for most of us, is a resounding “No”. Love is what makes life worth living in the first place. Without our connection to the friends and family who make our lives better merely by their presence in it, our lives would be devoid of the joy and meaning that color our days from start to finish.
And so we must come to accept the grand bargain that is love and loss. The two are inextricably linked together. So I tell my children as they cope with the passing of the affable giant who woke them with tongue licks each and every morning and they never seemed to mind.
My son has taken Finnegan’s passing particularly hard. He shared his bed with Finnegan most nights, and by that, I essentially mean that he curled up in a corner while Finnegan took up the other 3/4 of the bed. My son asked me if we would get another dog at some point, suggesting that he may not want to endure another loss like the one he is going through now. In other words, would we all love another pet again?
“It’s going to take some time, buddy,” I told him as we hiked together on the frozen hillside behind our house in the mountains, “But when the time feels right, we will open up our hearts and our home to another dog. Not one who will take the place of Finnegan, mind you. No one could ever do that. But a new dog we love in their own special way. A dog who brings us their own brand of joy and chaotic happiness. And yes there will be loss, but in that space between then and now, there will be love, and in the end, that is all that matters.”
My son nodded at me and his face brightened just a bit, a sign of the enlightened awareness that was spreading over him. Like most of life, the key to accepting death also lies in gratitude. Yes, loving impermanent beings will always inevitably lead to loss and heartbreak, and there will surely be a time when the pain from that loss overwhelms us, but that pain too, like all other things of this world, is impermanent. Yes, just like Yoko Ono and Courtney Love, this too shall pass. The suffering we feel now will slowly transform itself into fond remembrance and appreciation. The more we attune ourselves to the gratitude of having had them in the first place rather than focusing on the loss, the more we will move in the direction of an acceptance and peace that will fill the hole within us.
In the immortal words of Lord Alfred Tennyson, and then unabashedly appropriated by none other than hair-metal band Poison, “’Tis better to have lost and loved than never to have loved at all.” I feel Finnegan’s absence in each and every step I take in this house, expecting him to come lumbering around the corner any second, only to realize that he shall do so no more going forward. And while there is a definitive note of sadness in that moment, I am then overcome with a radiant happiness that comes from knowing all the moments I had with him in the first place. And those, unlike the ones we love, will never leave us.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com