I had an aha moment this week about grief and letting go. It was the trees that led me there. Like many people, I am challenged by having to let go – of things, people, places, identities and feelings. I get attached. That enriches my life, but it can also be painful to let go. Grief for any kind of loss, whether that is a life, a relationship or a part of ourselves, can completely overwhelm us or keep us stuck for a very long time.
I don’t enjoy endings or goodbyes. Sometimes I even cry at the end of a book because it is finished and I’m not going to get to spend time with those characters any more. I once spent a day in mourning when my favourite television show finished – thank goodness for Netflix and box-set binges. I am not going to delve into the deep psychological recesses of my hoarding tendencies – that may be a blog for another day. Today, it’s all about the trees.
Autumn is my favourite time of year. The trees are glorious right now, all decked out in gold and bronze and fiery red. The other day, I slowed down and watched as the leaves effortlessly detached themselves from the branches to float down and join the growing blanket of leaves covering the ground. The leaf just lets go – when it is ready. There is no painful wrenching away. It just lets go. And when it falls, it becomes part of something else, something equally beautiful. Who can resist a pile of leaves? In time, the leaves will break up and become part of the earth, that nourishes the tree, to grow new leaves.
“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
There is so much in this season that reminds us of cycles – that eventually everything has to die for life to continue. And yet, as human beings, we cling on to dead things, dead relationships, dead people – like a leaf’s futile efforts to cling to a branch. But I have a tentative observation – that the thing that we grieve most, is our grief. That is what we find most difficult to just let go of. There is a sense of loss when the searing pain dulls, when we realize that we got through a day or a week or a month, without feeling sad about our loss. It feels like some kind of betrayal to ourselves.
The trees outside my house are now almost completely bare and reminds me that when we do let go, we are often overwhelmed by a sense of emptiness, rawness, bareness. We are exposed to the elements. It strikes me that letting go is a process which unfolds in its own time. It won’t be rushed or forced and the best thing we can do is to show ourselves kindness, compassion and gentleness while we ride the waves of grief.
Dr Murphy - signing off