This is a repost from last year when my father was succumbing to congestive heart failure. It feels like a decade ago and, in light of the current pandemic, it’s still applicable.
Let go or be dragged. A profound Zen proverb. My incredibly insightful friend Janine said this to me on the phone a few weeks ago. I was struggling. My father’s health continues to falter in what seems like a ceaseless spiral. My boyfriend Roy commenced his epic thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail several weeks ago. A Rotary friend is suffering from ALS. A close friend’s mother passed away. When we talk about Letting Go for many, it is the letting go of the past. Or it is the letting go of regret, pain and rumination. I feel like I need to let go of control. I think back some 25 years ago when I had a leash on a 100-pound Labrador and a 45-pound Siberian Husky, and a dreaded cat showed up in our path. The dogs took off with me behind. I struggled. I tugged. I strained. But upon coming up to an enormous pond of water, I relinquished and let go. I was at the edge of being dragged, so I finally let go.
Lest you be dragged, here are my thoughts on letting go:
- Clairvoyant. You and I are not Carnac the Magnificent or The Amazing Kreskin. I was catastrophizing my dad’s recent move to a higher care unit. Oh my goodness, he’ll be alone. He’ll fall and be all by himself. He will think we all abandoned him. I was sure that Roy was going to fall and break something or freeze to death in his tent in the middle of the Smoky Mountains. I decided that my son would never be able to fly back to the United States safely from Nicaragua. Thus far, this is all unfounded. It was all a waste of energy and caused me needless pain. I cannot predict the future. Neither can you. Let it go or be dragged.
- Path. Stick to your own path and I’ll stick to mine. On the Appalachian Trail, this is called Hike Your Own Hike. Do you want to sleep under a tarp, in a shelter, in a hammock or a tent? It’s your choice. It’s your path. Don’t worry about someone else’s path. If Roy wants to hike through the rain, stop in a local town for a day, or muscle through a fifteen-mile day, it’s his hike either way. His path. My willing him forward will not change the path he is on. There was one day last week where I could see a rain cloud sitting over the mountains where Roy was hiking. I had the misguided belief that if I kept refreshing the radar, that the rain would move. It didn’t. Let go or be dragged.
- Reframe. I have several pictures that my children drew or painted some ten plus years ago. They were nice, but unframed. Pieces of paper with chalk and paint. Then I framed them all. They were much improved. And all it took was a new frame. I thought about this when my father was in the middle of his move to the assisted living section. I recalled how happy he was when he was hospitalized a few months earlier. He enjoyed the food, no commitments and being cared for. I put that frame around his move. I figured he’ll actually be more comfortable and the tension on my parents’ relationship will ease. Sure enough, that is what happened. Look at your struggle in a different light. Let go or be dragged.
- Connect. I was initially ashamed of my suffering. This changed dramatically when I connected with others. This might be a therapist, a coach, family or a friend. It’s incredibly powerful to have someone reflect back on your pain or struggle. That someone to hold a safe space to “feel the feels.” You are not alone. There is someone out there who wants to listen, pick up the phone or send a text or make an appointment. I am fortunate to have many people in my life including friends, family, and a coach. It’s amazing to connect with many people. My son, Benson doesn’t sugar coat, my daughter, Natalie holds a safe space, my friend Janine is a gentle, virtual hug and Roy provides an invaluable perspective from a caregiver’s stance. There are countless others. Connect with your network, it’s bigger than you think. Let go or be dragged.
- Control. It is truly amazing what little control we have in life. Who knew I couldn’t control the weather over the Appalachians or my dad’s failing health? The only person I can control is myself. My response. Heck, I can’t even control my body to a great degree. This is the Dichotomy of Control as written by the stoic Epictetus: “Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” This feels like the precursor of the Serenity Prayer. It takes me back to the dogs pulling me perilously toward that pond. I could not control them. It was outside my power. Let go or be dragged.
Frequently, while being dragged, the scars that appear on the inside are not apparent, even with scrapped knees and soaked clothes. Oh, the weight of worry that we carry around. The preoccupation with predicting the outcome. When we let go, we can notice that we are alright, right now. What’s dragging you around?