Moments define us. Moments of bliss. Moments of sorrow. Moments of trauma. Letting go of past moments is the problem most of us face, some more than others. There is a point of hanging on too long. I know because I have been there. I reached the point where I recognized that I was no longer truly in grief mode; but rather I had become so accustomed to feeling that way that I didn't know how to break free of it. I had hung on too long.
After a certain point, it is easier to hang on to the grief, the identity that grief gives, then to let go. That might sound strange, but it's true. It becomes like a comfy blanket to hide under and is difficult to push aside after awhile, especially if you have been wrapped in it for a long time. For me at least, this was not a deliberate choice. It simply happened. One day I woke up and realized that I had lost years of my life while I stumbled haphazardly through the maze of grief and change. It is hard to let go of one identity to embrace another. People who haven't walked the path do not realize the enormity of the challenge.
Grief and the identity struggle come in many forms. With me it was the loss of my husband, with others it is the loss of identity that divorce brings or, in the case of my friend Lisa in Denver, it is the loss of a healthy body that brings on her struggle with grief. In Lisa's case she has become disabled due to the side-effects of an experimental drug. She had been an avid mountain climber, runner, mother and volunteer. Now she cannot even hold a phone due to the crippling of her fingers and cannot stand for longer than a few minutes at a time. She often talks about how she wanted her life to be, how she envisioned herself, the kind of mother she used to be. Understandably, she is having a hard time accepting this new reality.
Hanging on to grief isn't so different from those who hang on to past triumphs while their present becomes a rut of neglect. Oh yes, the good old days...the glory days. We've all seen the group of guys (or gals) who repeatedly tell the same stories about past accomplishments. Life was better back then, back when everything synced and life shone with a brightness that they cannot see in the present.
Hanging on to the past is safe in some ways. It is what we are used to. We can rewrite at will. No one will dare confront us if we embellish here or there, let alone highlight only the good in a marriage that wasn't exactly happy or glorify our accomplishments. The past is like a big ol' stuffed teddy bear that we've had our entire life and cherish despite its tears, one missing eye and stained fur. Putting that teddy bear away seems traitorous in some way.
But we do need to be able to recognize when we have hung on too long, when the past no longer suits our present situation or personality. It's easier said than done. I know. In fact, I know it is scary as hell to stop looking backward and stare into the blank page of the future.
The risk in hanging on too long, in not letting go, is that you block happiness in the here and now. The risk in holding on too long is that you may overlook an opportunity for love right now, an opportunity to embrace happiness when it steps in front of you, an opportunity to improve your life in ways you cannot even imagine. If you wait too long for whatever excuse--not being ready, not being 'over it', not trusting your heart--you risk missing the chance of a lifetime and could be stuck in a loop of glorified memories. That is a risk I am unwilling to take. I open my hand and let go of the security of what was and free fall into the chaos of what is.