There is something surprisingly undramatic about the moments in which we realize we are going to let go. The moments in which we say, No to the places, people or pastimes that are depleting and unending in their efforts to take more and give less.
No. I will not do this today. Nor tomorrow. Quite possibly, I may never do this again.
Often, letting go is about softly making space, paying heed to gentle guidance, forging a new path, weaving a different pattern.
It’s been less than a couple of months since I read the message from my mum. The one in which she told me that yes, the results of the biopsy taken from the lump in her breast had come back. And yes, it was cancerous.
And yet, it wasn’t a defining moment for me.
In fact, I just carried on. There were tears, many of them, but I carried on. As did she.
Sleep was somewhat elusive for me, but that wasn’t particularly out of the ordinary. I carried on writing, carried on posting, carried on living.
On and on and on.
Then came the morning a couple of days after my mum’s operation. I call her on Skype, wanting to know how she is, how she’s feeling. She tells me she’s still feeling nauseous and a little tired. Then she tells me that my cat, Baby Sam, who I’d had to leave with my parents in London when I moved to New York, is not doing well at all.
His health had been slowly deteriorating for some time. He’d held on for as long as he could and now it was time for him to be at rest. It was time for us to help him. My mum tells me that the appointment is scheduled for a couple of hours time, that my Dad will have to be the one to take him as she is not well enough.
Suddenly I can’t speak, the words are caught in my throat, the tears are burning my eyes. I am full of guilt that I am not there, that my parents have to take care of this final task of looking after him, that they have more heartache to deal with.
I have to end the call. I cannot break down in the way I need to. I cannot ask my mum to carry my hurt, too. For him. For her. For all of us.
I’m staying at someone else’s apartment for a few days, looking after a beautiful sweet souled dog, Chessie. Now, I feel as though I am unraveling and it feels strange to be doing so in surroundings that are not mine. I tend to shelf my pain until I am in a safe space, somewhere familiar. Then I can let the dam burst. But this news has found me here, and so it is here that I must deal with it.
I call my husband and blurt out this fresh pain between my tears. I tell him this is too much, too painful. He says the right words but it is the love in his voice that pierces through the most. He doesn’t try to minimize my grief. He simply holds space for it.
Once again, I can’t speak. Once again, I have to end the call.
Not knowing what else to do, I go and lay on the bathroom floor where Chessie is sleeping. I want to be next to her. I want to be near another living creature. I need to feel her life force as Baby Sam’s life force slips away.
Whole body sobs wrack through me. I realise that it is not just my beloved pet I am grieving for. I am also grieving for the years that have gone, the years he witnessed with me. Almost seventeen of them.
He was right by my side for so many memorable moments. One marriage, one divorce, six house moves, a few boyfriends, a few more jobs, birthdays, Christmases, lazy Sunday afternoons and lively Saturday night dinner parties. He’d curled up by my side as I’d read books and watched movies, he’d offered up his warm fur for me to cry into on countless occasions and he’d woken me up at all hours wanting food. Even when I was no longer living with him, I knew he was still there. Always there.
But now he wouldn’t be.
And it is here, on the bathroom floor, that the defining moment comes. When the pain that’s been balled up inside of me finally wants to be felt.
I don’t want my mum to be sick. I don’t want anything to happen to her. I am not ready to deal with losing her. I never will be.
I lay on the tiles and see fragments of my life circle around in my mind. Memories that have been in storage for so many years are let loose.
I want to steal back in time. Not to relive the moments, but to witness them. To see all the detail I can’t remember. To notice all the ordinary.
Still laying next to Chessie, still crying, I reach for my phone and take a photo of us, knowing I will need to write about it later. Knowing that the creative release is always, always my healer.
I also know that I have to pull myself together, temporarily at least, as the commitments of the day are calling me. My body feels so heavy on the coolness of the floor and I wonder if I didn’t have any scheduled appointments, how long I might stay here.
I go through the motions. Opening the apartment door. Leaving the lobby. Walking out into the street as I silently will the city to be gentle today. But how do you ask one of the most chaotic cities in the world to keep quiet? To make space for your thoughts. Not to intrude on your grief. How do you tell the traffic not to invade your every sense today.
Outwardly I look the same. My red, puffy eyes that have known only a few hours sleep for the past weeks are hidden with dark glasses. Nobody can see inside.
My mind drifts off to all the other people who are hurting right now. What about the man walking a few steps in front of me, the cyclist that pauses to let me pass. Are they hurting, too? Did something happen in their world this week that is tearing their insides to shreds? And how would I know? What outward sign might there be?
I think to myself that we need to have t-shirts made with a slogan which we can wear when we’re falling apart: I’m Not OK Today. I’m Hurting. Please Be Kind.
And then I wonder how many of us would be wearing those t-shirts at any given time. How many of us are hurting across the globe. How many of us are lying on bathroom floors that aren’t ours, unraveling and raw, sobbing over cancer and cats.
Every interaction I have is given a split second assessment. Do I have the energy to engage? What will this engagement cost me? What do I have in reserve? The answer comes back: Fuel tanks down. Running on empty.
I call to mind part of a poem that I’ve seen so much of lately, words of Warsan Shire:
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
Then I think of my own words that I silently say in my mind whenever I read hers:
and then I whispered
where is the love?
I hurt now, because I loved then. I love now even though I know I will hurt in the future. Such is this tapestry of life.
I know I am letting go. I know I am stepping back. And even though I do not exactly know what I am letting go of, or what I am creating space for, I am trusting my soul and its ancient wisdom to guide me.
I think we all need to fall apart from time to time, to look at our pieces strewn all over the floor and then slowly, carefully reassemble ourselves. Being mindful of how it feels when we put ourselves back together. Paying attention to the parts that are tender and torn, noticing what has been neglected, what needs to be nourished.
I own this unraveling and I honor it. It is mine. I will claim it and covet it as much as any joyful, sun drenched victory. It carries its own sense of peace, its own beautiful light.
I am falling into it.