Learning to Let Go

In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.”  ~ Deepak Chopra

“In every life, a little rain must fall,” an old adage that seems of late to apply to my family.  Over the past weeks, the collective group has suffered what I often term as the “tsunamis” of life.  The great waves of pain that seem to keep pounding down until the events escalate and there appears to be no reprieve from the damage that is left in their wake.  Over these many years, I have come to learn that every household has its days filled with joy and each has its time of sorrow.  In some ways, each of us is familiar with the torrential rains that pour down unbearably.  There is no control, no rhyme or reason.  And sometimes, after the storms have subsided, there are those remaining questions that lead one to wonder, “I should have or could have.”  When these burdensome events arrive, life seems to become overwhelming and all too unfair.

Recent days have gathered my family once again to rally around an elderly aunt who was hospitalized.  After falling in her home, she suffered a broken hip that required surgery and an extended stay in the hospital.  In the first days of her recuperation, I sat with her daughters as she moved in and out of consciousness.  Not only was she unaware of her current circumstances, but of her life and those around her.  I watched as her fears became insurmountable in her mind and the anxiety threatened her ability to heal.  As my cousins sat there worrying about their mom, I saw a transformation take place — one that I had not been cognizant of since the time of my own dad’s illness.  It was an awakening to the realization about the cycle of life.  Of birth and death and the effects on those individuals who are an intrinsic part of one’s life.  As I sat in that chair watching an ailing loved one, I silently pondered, how do you let go of the people and things you most love?  How is it even possible to say goodbye to someone who rendered so much comfort throughout a lifetime of trial and tribulations?  In my dear auntie’s heart, I found a solace that only those connected by the spirit understand.  She was my refuge and a place to run in the storms that raged throughout the better part of over 50 years.

Some 20 years have passed since my dear dad left this earth, yet as I observed my aunt struggle to regain some sense of balance, the memories of Dad’s suffering surfaced in my mind’s eye.  There among my loved ones and the surroundings of the hospital room, the recollections of time played out across the thoughts from long ago.  I realized I had not let go of the emotions attached to my father’s illness and death.  I recall that when Dad became ill, my initial reaction at his cancer diagnosis was that of fear.  The panic attached to what the illness meant to him and his survival became a paramount part of daily living.  I realized my family’s patriarch, guardian and mentor was no longer able to keep watch over his children.  Instead, his daughters and sons became his caretakers and the keepers of all he needed.  It was now our place to provide for him as he had provided for us.  And in the months that followed, a wave of great sorrow entered into all of our lives.

In the years I spent serving in the law enforcement profession, I learned many lessons relating to the arrival of negative circumstances and the manner in which they are handled.  There is no set design in the response of emotions or resulting behaviors that are attributed to the situations.  Nor are there any clear answers about the right or wrong way to address such events.  Despite all of this experience, I was not able to digest it as it applied to letting go.  For in reality, I felt that if I let go, I was giving Dad permission to exit this earth — a sort of permission that allows for a loved one to leave their place in time and enter into the space of a cherished memory to be sustained forever more.  In my need to retain all that was comforting, I spent a great deal of time pondering the concept of letting go.  Two simple words that possess great meaning.  Two words that have taken me a lifetime to understand and practice.  When I realized that letting go not only means of emotions, places and items, I came to terms that it more importantly means to let go of significant persons, too.  Not only in the sense of circumstances such as a death, a divorce, employment lost, or a ruptured relationship, but in providing permission for a loved one to peacefully drift away to the hereafter.  For in the letting go comes the release for all involved.  This consent does not imply that the grief is gone.  Nor does it misrepresent the extreme sense of loss.  What it does portray is a movement of evolving.  Evolution is a primal practice.  The cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth.  In my father’s death, I found no initial release from the hurt inflicted by his passing.  The lingering questions remained a part of my being.  In reflecting now, it has become apparent that his mortality was a reminder of my own.  A thought that did not provide any solace to my already damaged psyche.  Instead, it perpetuated the concept that each of us has our time in the sun.

For all too many years, I have pondered the question as to how to let go, when in reality, I had already done so.  Perhaps not in the terms that a trained mental health expert would prefer, but in my own way.  It was the only approach that made sense to me.  The letting go of the frozen emotions and the stilled frames of memories cascading across my mind had somehow found a way to allow my heart to free itself.  And like any expert surfer who skillfully rides the mighty waves, I have learned to just move with the motion of the powerful source and ride it with the capability of the collective wisdom now acquired.  What letting go now means to me is finding a new normal.  A balanced approach to the factors that have altered life.  Not a closure or a forgetting of the individuals or events, but more importantly the learning to move away from the anger and the pain and find the joy in each relationship, each experience.  It is staying focused on the present moment and the dawning of each new day.

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Giving Thanks

“Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion.  Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception.  Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude.  Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.”  — John Henry Jowett

As a child, I was taught the importance of manners.  My parents often said, “There are essential words that one must learn to use in an appropriate format.”  These terms — please, thank you, and you are welcome – are the niceties that should be practiced by young and old alike.

Although these expressions were routinely used in my childhood home, I never fully comprehended their significance until now.  At this point in my life, expressing my appreciation holds greater meaning than just a response for a kind gesture or a gift bestowed.  These social graces have become more of a spiritual passage than a pleasantry expressed.  This important aspect helps promote a more positive mindset.  These words now contain a greater meaning about living a life filled with gratitude and taking the time to convey the heartfelt sentiment of thankfulness to one and all.

In the past, when I have allowed bitterness to take hold, I seemed to forget the blessings bestowed.  Instead of focusing on that which is good, I delved into a place of negativity.  This switch in perspective blocked me from radiating positive thoughts that enhanced my understanding of giving thanks for all things great and small.  Instead this acrimony permeated the best parts of me — those of my heart and soul.  Over time, it took great effort to move past this phase of rancor and find a healing approach to uplift my self-imposed state of limbo.  As time has marched on, an attitude of gratitude has become my new mantra.

As the holiday season continues, it provides me with the opportunity to call to mind all that I am thankful for.  When I acknowledge all the blessings, I have to stop and smile in recognition.  Not only from the standpoint of owning a lovely home, a beautiful garden, a vehicle, or fine clothes, but of all that encompasses an amazing lifespan.  It is now easier for me to recognize the significance of basking in the sun or admiring a moonlit night.  Or of delighting in flowers that embroider the earth with their brilliant colors while birds chirp their melodious refrains.  I no longer take for granted the laughter of a child at play.  For in it, I have found my own joy rekindled.

As I gather around the table with those I hold most dear, I recollect the humble origins and purpose of the first Thanksgiving.  A gathering to give thanks for the bounty of family, friends, and the offering of fellowship.  So in this season of thanksgiving, I give thanks for all the marvelous wonders that have graced my life.  In recognizing all that is good, I have been able to once again embrace an improved outlook on life.

Memories Light the Corners of My Mind

"A dad is a son's first hero and a daughter's first love." -Author Unknown

“A dad is a son’s first hero and a daughter’s first love.”
-Author Unknown

Today would have been my dear old dad’s 90th birthday. I awoke this morning with him on my mind. Initially, I felt sad remembering his passing, but it was not long before the sadness dissipated. The melancholy feeling was replaced by wonderful memories that lit the corners of my mind. I recalled my childhood filled with wonder and joy–his constant presence in the lives of Mom, my siblings, and me–and all of the occasions that allowed us to share in our time together. The spring afternoons when we danced in the rain and rolled in the front yard filled with small ponds of mud. The summer days spent at the river’s edge basking in the sun and learning how to swim.  The crisp days of autumn, jumping in the mounds of leaves that had fallen from the trees. And the winter nights, skating across the ice at the local park and then nestling against Dad to keep warm by the fire pit. Those were the days to treasure and the ones which remain cherished memories contained within my heart.

When I contemplate the lessons learned from my father, I vividly recall his ability to translate ineffable concepts into the simplest of terms. His belief in God, his love of his family, and his integrity all provided grounding to balance our lives. His devout Catholic upbringing gave him the ability to utilize his beliefs as part of daily life. The life he built for himself and his family gave us the opportunity to watch, listen, and learn.  As we grew into adulthood, these principles guided our daily practices. Under his tutelage, we flourished and became the individuals he expected us to be.

Like many Dads, mine was not a perfect man. He was, however, a very good one. Although he made his share of mistakes, he found a path to redemption and practiced what he preached.  His disciplinary style was swift and stern in its approach, but he always found the time to explain why he had responded to our ill-behavior in such a manner. He would relate the importance that his children understood accountability for misbegotten deeds and responsibility to make things right again.

This tribute to Dad is not meant to idolize him, but rather, to articulate my admiration for the role he played in not only my life, but the countless others that he touched with his kind and caring ways.  His role in this life was multifaceted.  He was a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, a businessman and a teacher. He served honorably during the events of World War II. When he returned home after serving his country, he attended college and obtained a degree in education.  There among the children, he taught school and coached football, counting himself not only as an educator and trainer, but as mentor to those who sought his guidance.  To them, he became a tutor, a protector, and a surrogate parent.  Many have attested to how his acts of kindness inspired their ability to move from a negative lifestyle to a positive manner of behavior.

As these memories cascade along the recesses of my mind, I am touched by how rapidly they translate to feelings of gratitude. In these recollections, I recall Dad’s ability to illuminate a room with the mere twinkle of his eye or his warm smile. He seemed to possess an energy that made all who were present feel safe and protected. His spirit was both mindful and playful, yet comforting in some inexplicable way.  It somehow encircled the room much like the memories of Dad that have made their home in the spaces of my mind.

Giving thanks this day, for the gift of a good man I called “Dad.”