Willing to Let Go: A PhotoThought

Willing to Let Go: A PhotoThought
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Depending upon where you are on your journey through grief, you may have varying responses to this quotation by E. M. Forster, the English writer.

You may respond, “What Forster says is true. I’ve learned that as I’ve grieved, as I’ve dared to complete those acts of letting go when the time felt right.”

You may be thinking, “I am coming to see that Forster’s point has its merits. Perhaps now is the time for me to consider this for my own life, much as I don’t want to.”

Alternatively, you may be having this response: “I am not ready to let go of the life I’ve loved so much. In fact, I may never let it go. I don’t even want to consider it right now.”

You have your own reasons for whatever you’re thinking and feeling. Any of these responses can be perfectly understandable, given your life situation, your personality, grief’s timing, and a host of other factors. Proceed at your own pace as you grieve. While you’ll do well to eventually come ’round to Forster’s advice, you’ll do best when you follow your own heart, your own rhythm, and your own life plan. Any letting go is a very personal decision. Yet know this: whatever you choose to do and whenever you choose to do it, there is always a life waiting for you.

Shall Never Lose: A PhotoThought

Photograph of bleeding heart flowers with a quote by Henry Ward Beecher: "What the heart has once owned and had, it shall never lose."
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I believe there is a difference, after a loved one dies, between letting go of that relationship and losing that relationship. We must let go, as time proceeds, of certain aspects of that relationship—its very physicality, its evolving nature growing out of experiencing life’s daily events, its back and forth reciprocity. Life between the two of us can never again be exactly as it once was. We must let go of that kind of a relationship.

But that does not mean that it is impossible for a relationship to exist any longer at all. Our heart operates by a different sort of laws than the purely physical ones. So does our soul. So does the memory part of our mind. We can still sense an undying connection when we gaze at a photograph of them, or a photograph of the two of us together. We can be aware that what we learned through one another lives on, that any love they shared with us is free to be passed on, that any belief they had in us can still be lived out, that some essential part of their spirit is nestled deep inside us, never to leave.

Yes, what the heart once owned and had, and the way it has been led to expand and grow, and the manner in which it so naturally maintains a quiet tie, unbroken by time—all of that the human heart shall never lose. And all of that, and even much more, we shall never lose.

How Long? Q & A by Paul Johnson


How long does grief normally last?

If the person who died has been extremely close to us, the grief we experience may last for as long as we live. As long as we are able to recall memories of that person, some level of grief can be present. The important thing to remember is that the intensity of such grief changes over time.

For those of you who are recent grievers and concerned about how you can possibly go through the rest of your life given the level of grief you are currently experiencing, let me say this. Whereas the intensity of your grief is currently quite high, it will diminish over time as you gradually adjust to the death you have known.

It is also important to remember that all deaths do not impact us in the same way. The grief experience is more intense and lasts longer following the death of those individuals to whom we are the closest. For others our feelings of loss, though initially strong, diminish and end over a shorter period of time.

Experiencing the death of a close loved one can be similar to an amputee’s experience of losing a limb. Initially thoughts are focused on whether one can actually continue their life without that limb being present. But once the initial response of disbelief has subsided and work has begun in using a prosthetic device, the individual actually begins to believe that on-going life may indeed be possible. However, even years later when the individual is proficient in using the prosthesis, some level of grief remains when thoughts about life before the amputation are brought to mind. Those feelings of grief are there, but with nowhere near the intensity as when the loss first occurred.

Someone once defined the grief following a death as “un-learning” the expected presence of a loved one. It takes years for us to truly cement our relationship with a loved one, and it may, in turn, take just as many years to adjust to the fact that they are no longer present. For that reason, some degree of grief related to their death may last as long as we live.

Paul V. Johnson has developed a life-long specialty in grief education and support in funeral home and hospice environments. Nationally recognized for his work, he is also a university professor in St. Paul, MN.

Love Is Eternal: A PhotoThought

Love is something eternal. The aspect may change, but not the essence. Vincent Van Gogh

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I composed this PhotoThought several weeks ago when I was feeling in a creative mood. I started with the quotation from Van Gogh, then I selected an image to support his thought. I can still remember the day that image fell into my camera, but otherwise I made no particular association with this PhotoThought.

When I decided to post this today, one association came immediately, surprisingly to my mind. Two people very close to me have died since my father died; my grief for them is much fresher. Yet it was my father who leapt into my consciousness.

I continue to learn about love’s eternity. As I hold the image of my father in my mind right now, I realize that I love him no less now than I did the day he died five years ago. When I compare our life together with other fathers and sons I know, I do not believe the two of us were unusually close. We were different in so many ways; my other two brothers had much more in common with him than I. Yet Dad and I had an abiding appreciation and a deep respect and, yes, a very sure love for one another.

One aspect of our relationship has unavoidably changed: we cannot meet physically. We cannot share ideas and memories and stories as we once did. We cannot kid one another. Yet the changed physicality of our relationship has in no way touched our love. I love him in the same manner, and for the same reasons, and to the same depth that I experienced as we grew older together. And I believe, though I cannot see him these days, that he still loves me too.

Every fiber within my being, many of which came from him, resonate with Van Gogh’s wisdom: the aspect of a significant love may change, but its very essence lives on, undiminished, unvarying. I am grateful that life has shared this lesson with me.