33: The Willingness to Let Him Go

33: The Willingness to Let Him Go

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

The Willingness to Let Him Go

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

~Viktor Frankl

He loved Myers’s Rum, dark chocolate and the Three Stooges. From the moment I met him, I knew he was something extraordinary. For me, he was the first person I had ever known who had my back. What a difference that made. There was a new freedom born in that truth, and at the age of 21 I finally learned to have fun and play like a child. In Bill I had found a playmate, a cohort and a soul mate.

When they arrived at my door on that early January morning, I knew immediately what they were going to tell me. It was a drunk driver on a dark, wintry country road. They said he died instantly. At the age of 30, he had become a statistic.

The shock carried me through countless months, threaded with denial as I thought I caught glimpses of him crossing a street or passing by in a truck. On occasion, the sadness would overflow and the blessed relief of tears would carry away some of the pain. Most often there was anger and fear. I had lost my faith. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with any god who could have allowed this to happen.

For four years I continued our work with adults with disabilities. I did this in his name and as my reason to get out of bed each morning. The spark in my eyes was gone, and my smile was hollow. I simply did not know how to live without faith, and was unable to live my faith in the reality of Bill being killed. My life seemed to have lost all meaning and I simply did not care. I was dying from the inside out.

Finally, as the fourth autumn approached, I felt my spirits dropping lower with each falling leaf, and I knew I was in trouble. With what felt like my last breath, I reached out for help. Miraculously, my hand was grasped by someone who had the spiritual strength to hold on tight and point the way. On a cloudy Saturday afternoon, I curled up under an afghan in the corner of my sofa and began to sob as I shared my story of Bill. She sat quietly receiving my sobs, words and pain, without judgment or comment.

It was after I was completely emptied that she took my hands and looked clearly into my eyes and spoke. Quietly she said: “If you want to recover, you are going to have to let go of Bill.” My eyes opened wide and my body immediately stiffened. She was asking me to do the one thing I honestly could not do. We talked for a long while and I attempted to find any other option. I was simply not willing to do this thing, yet I could not open my heart to God if I continued to cling to Bill and blame God for his death. I felt even more stuck than I had earlier that day. I had no idea where to turn.

Patiently she offered another suggestion: “Pray for the willingness,” she said. “Just pray for the willingness twice a day. Keep it very simple. Do it whether you mean it or not. The willingness will come.” I did not want to follow her suggestion, but could think of no alternative. Therefore, I reluctantly agreed to give it a try.

And so I began, a sour, mumbled: “Dear God, please help me to be willing to let go of Bill,” every morning and every evening for the next ten days. One afternoon in the middle of work, I suddenly felt the willingness come. It was but a nudge, yet it was very clear. I rushed out of the room and sat quietly with God for a moment and cried “No, not yet. I am not ready.” Nevertheless, I continued my daily prayer, a little less sour and with a bit more vigor.

A few days later the nudge came again; it was gentle, but very strong and very clear. I knew it was time, and I was willing! I did not have time to ponder the wonder of that: instead I received the grace to simply proceed. I sat down quietly in a chair and talked to Bill, and he was there! I poured out the words I had longed to say: my depth of gratitude for him, the intensity of my grief, the profundity of my love. I talked and talked until there was only one thing left to say. I sat quietly in his presence for a few moments, and then began to explain my need and desire to let him go, my awareness that we both could be free.

And then, with complete willingness and abandon, I told him goodbye. Before those words had even left my lips, I felt the power of God rush over and into me, lifting me up into love and peace I had never imagined possible. The light was turned back on, and I was fully connected. I sat quietly in the lap of love for the longest time; I had never imagined the power of God to be so loving and pure.

I hardly knew where to go from there, but simply decided to go on with my day and do the next right thing. When I went to a meeting that evening, I found people looking at me with wonder. Several people commented that I looked so very different and asked me what happened. I explained the best I could, words were so inadequate. The transformation of that moment has been alive in me ever since that autumn afternoon.

When times of darkness visit, I try to remember the power of the light and the love of that moment. I have learned to love more freely, give more openly, and live more joyously. Now, when I see Myers’s Rum, dark chocolate or the Three Stooges, I feel deep gratitude for both the love of Bill and for the willingness to let him go.

~Cate Adelman

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