When Do We Let Go?, Vol. 2

We hold on to the memories. To the stuff that hurts. To the stuff that scares us. And maybe that's okay.

We hold on to the memories. To stuff that hurts. To stuff that scares us. And maybe that’s okay.

A lost child.

A lost mother.

A lost sister.

That’s what this week represents for two of my friends. One just got through the anniversary of losing her son. Tomorrow, she faces the anniversary of her sister’s passing.

Another friend lost her mom on today’s date five years ago.

Sept. 11, 2002 felt very heavy to a lot of Americans. Maybe even to people in other countries. I don’t know.

It just felt monumental. And a little scary, maybe. Like something bad was more likely to happen on that particular date than any other. That’s a foolish and irrational fear. But I had it. As did countless others.

Every September 11 feels big and important now to Americans. Maybe it always will.

It’s interesting to me that we are so focused on these dates. That we are affected emotionally by the date on the calendar. It’s a little arbitrary, really. Especially when you start considering things like Leap Year and Daylight Savings Time.

But it matters. It does.

Like a birthday.

Like a wedding anniversary.

Like the day your spouse leaves you.

But is that healthy? For us to conjure up the emotions of those difficult moments in our lives? The times when we hurt the most? And relive it?

When do we let go?

Maybe I Don’t Get An Opinion

I’ve been so lucky.

So unbelievably lucky.

To have my parents. My siblings. My son.

In high school, one of the guys in our class was killed tragically in a car accident. He was a good guy, too. But that was the one year of my youth where I lived 500 miles west of my Ohio hometown. While all of my friends had to deal with mortality in a very direct and abrupt way, I was insulated from the horror by being so far away.

I’ve lost grandparents and great grandparents. But I still have a bunch, too. Blessed.

I’ve written before about losing my uncle to a car accident when I was in high school. That was hard and unexpected. But he lived in Wisconsin and I lived in Ohio and almost never saw him. So, nothing really changed for me. Lucky.

My father-in-law passing suddenly in late 2011 has been my most-difficult loss. I can’t even begin to understand how my wife and her immediate family must have felt.

Those were hard times, made harder by the fact that my marriage fell apart right around the same time.

Those are my dates. My anniversaries.

The death of my father-in-law.

The day she left.

The day of our divorce.

Those are the ones that will stay with me. At least until they don’t anymore.

So I don’t know how to relive the loss of a child.

Or the loss of a close friend.

Or the loss of a parent or sibling.

The only great loss I really know is the loss of a family. And we’re coming up on those anniversaries. That one-year mark is less than a month away now. And I’m acutely aware of its approach.

It doesn’t matter how irrational it is. It doesn’t matter how little good thinking about it and reflecting on it and reliving it will do. That’s almost certainly what is going to happen.

As if the 364 days in between were somehow less-worthy occasions for such an exercise.

When do we let go?

Maybe We Don’t

Maybe it’s okay to hurt.

For any reason at all, actually. But especially because of an important anniversary. Especially because of a great loss.

We lose.

We do.

We spend our lives losing. People. Things. Opportunities. Innocence.

Then we grieve. And we suffer.

But then we heal. And we grow.

So, maybe we don’t. Maybe we don’t let go.

Because if it mattered enough to have the day mean something, then dammit, maybe it matters enough to take that time to reflect on all that’s been lost and gained since.

Those people mattered!

Those events—those things that happened—mattered!

That’s what millions of untold people are doing every day.

That’s what my friends are doing this week.

That’s what I’ll be doing soon enough.

So I’m just going to hold on. Like I did with my wedding rings. Like I did with my house. Like I did with several things within the walls and within myself.

And that’s just going to have to be okay.

When do we let go?

When it’s time.

When is that?

Doesn’t matter.

We’ll know it when it gets here.

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57 thoughts on “When Do We Let Go?, Vol. 2

  1. Dan_Dlion says:

    I let go today. Your post was quite timely. Thank you

    • Matt says:

      That’s very good news, Dan.

      I mean, if it was holding you back from progressing with your life.

      I don’t want to make the letting-go thing a good or bad thing. It’s just whatever is right for each of us.

      My assumption for you is that you feel like healing and real “life” can resume.

      And I’m really happy to hear that. We’re not meant to sit around sad and whatnot all the time.

      Our time is for living. And I hope you’ll do a lot of it.

      Thanks for the note, sir. Really appreciate your time.

  2. I’m not sure when I will let go. I lost many family members in the separation and divorce process. Time helps lessen the acute physical pain associated with a soul/ gut hurt, but the loss and the day we tie to it makes us realize how important the time we had with those we love is. It is something we should be aware of everyday. We should be aware how precious a person is when they are around. We shouldn’t take that for granted but we do, and we don’t think about it until it’s gone. Only the grief remains. Peace out Matt.

    • Matt says:

      You’re absolutely right. But we can choose to not take people for granted today. Or tomorrow. Or the next day. Maybe impossible. But certainly worth trying, I think.

  3. mjmsprt40 says:

    March 4, 2009. The night I had to leave, never to be “at home” in our flat again.
    My Dad was born on March 4th. Lived through the depression, served in WW2 in the fight against Germany, came back, settled in Chicago and married, producing 4 children of whom I am the eldest. He died one month to the day shy of his 88th birthday, Feb. 4 2007.
    Mom died six years earlier. Most of the older generation has past on now, I think I have a couple of aunts still living.
    “Letting go” is hardly ever easy. I have a suspicion some of it won’t fully let go until I breathe my last.

    • Matt says:

      I hope you believe that’s okay. To cherish those memories. Because all if that mattered. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  4. JujyCakes says:

    I don’t think we ever let go. I think our memories change those milestones so we remember them with love -not with pain, hurt and heartache. Those dates in your head still remain long after you used to pencil them in on your calendars, date books or diaries ( you see as much as I love tech toys, I still LOVE my paper!)

    I’m coming up on a very painful 1 year anniversary in my life too. I don’t know if it’s better to keep really really busy or to get purposely ” lost in being alone” that day.

    Wishing you peace and heart healing.

    • Matt says:

      Thank you. I wasn’t trying to be whiny. I hope it didn’t seem that way. I’m really quite well, all things considered. But I really appreciate the well wishes very much.

  5. I don’t think I’ll ever let go. We are coming up on the 1 year anniversary of the loss of my brother, and I have come to believe that I will always have a piece missing, that I will always remember the day and more importantly, that I am okay with it. That he was supposed to take a piece of me when he left, because I gave it to him along the way. I willingly gave him a part of me and my life and I think I should sometimes look around and go “I feel like something is missing… ah, yes, that’s it.” and then carry on, Not letting go doesn’t mean not moving forward, for me at least.
    Just in case you are interested, this is my favorite of all time posts about it:

  6. The anniversary reaction can be sneaky. Even if you THINK you’re done, old memories might surface and catch you off guard.

    Check out this Huff Post article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-d-erlich-md/grief_b_1164254.html

  7. RR says:

    The journey through life is one we all take – we all embark. We all begin. So we can end. Oddly enough, you would never begin if you did not end. What we must do is gather what we can. When we can. If we can. And see where it all goes from there…

  8. gluestickmum says:

    My mum let go 15 years ago this Saturday. I’m not very good at dates though. I knew the anniversary was looming, but I just had to look at an old photo to be sure. I’ll always remember it was the Monday before Mother’s Day, not long before my dad’s birthday. But the actual date? I’m really forgetful, but it means the anniversary passes without grief any more.
    But I will always remember her cries of pain the weekend before she let go, how we were on tenterhooks for 48 hours, finally at the end of 5 years of being poised to let go. I’ll always remember how peaceful she looked afterwards. The relief if release. And I’ll shed a tear and feel sad for all that she missed, all that we’ve missed of her. But she couldn’t have held on for any longer. But it makes me appreciate all that I have to clutch to now.

  9. I wonder if we gives ourselves undue credit for having an ability to ‘let go.’ Since my anniversary date is on the heels of yours, I’ve been asking myself similar questions. Sometimes, days go by and we realize, not that we let go, per se, but that we weren’t holding on. It’s the same but….different? But then something ‘sneaks’ in and we realize we’ve been white-knuckling it. Maybe, it’s not the act of letting go (the choice) but rather, longer and longer stretches of time where we realize we aren’t holding on. Maybe one day we can look back and realize that we, in fact, did let go but I wonder if we can ever really pinpoint when it happened.

  10. Ley says:

    I can’t let go. I can’t put myself to rest, just yet. For me, truly letting go is releasing that grasp on life and allowing the reaper to take you where you need to go.

    As time goes by I noticed that I suffer less on painful anniversaries, I get greater joys on good anniversaries; but all the experiences I have had, from traveling the world to living like I was homeless made me who I am deep inside.

    • Matt says:

      I think it’s okay to embrace all that stuff. The good and bad. The bad used to suck. But now it’s a tool. And that’s such a refreshing change. And I’m not even sure when it happened.

  11. Kerry says:

    Yesterday was the date a dear friend of mine lost his brother 9 years ago. I watched him reflect on all the important events his brother had missed…the birth of his brother’s grand children, the death of their father, weddings, family celebrations, and all the things in his life he wishes he could have shared with his brother.

    In the Jewish tradition the family lights a Yahrzeit candle on the evening of the anniversary of their loved one’s death. The flickering flame represents the soul of the person lost and burns for 24 hours. They share stories, they remember and they hold on to the love. <3

    • Matt says:

      I didn’t know that about the Jewish culture. What a wonderful tradition. That sounds like a really good way to honor the life of someone so important in their lives.

  12. parra67 says:

    I’ve lost my father, we were incredibly close and his death was the thing I dreaded most growing up, I had nightmares where he was buried under rubble and my tiny hands couldn’t dig him out. My family all feared the inevitable day when he would leave us and rather than worry about themselves they all worried how I would cope when that day arrived. They worried when I was a child and the worrying didn’t stop after I grew up. He’d been 40 when I was born, I was in the middle of the second group of kids, all to the same parents they just took a breather after the first few were born to young parents who struggled and the second set who came along when they were more mature and stable. It was on my wedding day that I realised something was wrong, that date sticks in my mind not only because it was my wedding day, I’ve since divorced and it doesn’t really mean much to me, but it sticks in my mind because it’s the day I realised that my greatest fear was perhaps about to happen.

    He loved ceremony and occasion but he didn’t love my wedding. The day before he had been to hospital for ‘a routine blood test’, his behaviour then couldn’t have been anything to do with that, little did I know at the time that the routine blood test had actually been a rather more invasive procedure which he had forcibly left hospital after so that he could be at my wedding, without anyone knowing that it was anything other than a routine blood test.

    I worried he wasn’t happy for me or with my choice when he couldn’t make a speech and my brother had to stand in for him. He loved making speeches but he appeared overly emotional which was not like him and again I thought he was so disappointed in my choice of husband that he couldn’t bring himself to speak. Of course it bothered me but it was my wedding day and I wasn’t letting anyone spoil it, not even the only other man who really mattered to me, I told myself he was feeling under the weather and hurt in silence and smiled as a bride should. Feeling I was getting married on one hand and on the other facing the biggest rejection I’d ever faced.

    When I found out 2 years later that the day of my wedding he had received confirmation that he had a terminal condition and his reluctance to give a speech was due to the fact that he couldn’t speak about the daughter he would probably never see have children, the daughter whose husband he probably would never get to know, the daughter he knew he was going to leave soon and tear the heart out of. He hadn’t spoken because he couldn’t.

    But by the end of the night of my wedding I knew there was something wrong and that things had changed and inside I knew the routine blood test hadn’t been just that. He lived well beyond what was expected and he did live to see my first child and he adored her for the short time he could. He never told us he was dying, I found out through sheer bloody mindedness not to leave him at the hospital when he had another routine test and by then he only had 4 weeks before he would leave us forever.

    The night he left, I remember the date well, was the most beautiful experience I have ever witnessed and people don’t understand that but it was. I was able to spend his last two days with him, he revived from a near comatose state when I arrived from my home miles away with my daughter in tow and she was able to sit and sing to her grandad and I was able to retell the stories he’d told me as a child about his young self and the antics he had gotten up to, I was able to sooth him and send him off with a smile on his face and good memories in his heart. His passing was peaceful, a slip into an endless sleep, the sense of freedom, peace, release, of him leaving, almost tangible, almost visible moving away from his body was incredibly strong. The way time slowed, silence fell, it was almost magical. I never felt such a sense of everything being OK with the world in my life. As I held his hand and felt the warmth slowly ebb all I could feel was that it was all OK, everything was OK now and in my head all I could see were images of our life together, of all of the good times, the happy times he had packed into my childhood, the laughter, the fun, the devotion that had made me love him so much and dread losing him more and it was OK, I knew that those images were mine forever and I knew I was lucky to have them and I knew that as long as I had them I had him and he would never leave and it was up to me to keep him alive.

    I’ve kept him alive in my heart every day since and when the dates come and go it’s invariably other people who point them out, his birthday, his death day, they are not significant to me, his life, his whole life is significant to me and he lived that everyday of every year he was here and I treasure that life every day of every year I’m here. He’s been gone 19 years and not a day goes by, let alone a date, where I don’t thank my lucky stars for him and I mention him often and bring him to life again for my children’s sake who can’t remember or never knew him and they love him as much as I did, as much as if he was here. The dates don’t matter to me, he’s not gone, he will only be gone when I stop wanting him to be a part of my life and he will never stop being a part of my life because he made me who I am.

    My son is his image, he has his sense of humour, he walks like him, stands like him, examines things like him, has his funny bendy ears, he is obsessional about his personal hygiene and his hair cuts, he has his body shape, his stature, his interests. One day he said something to me that I only ever heard my dad say to anyone and when I told my mum she smiled too commenting that she had never heard anyone else ever use that terminology. He’s my genetic piece of my dad that reminds me he really isn’t gone, he’s inside of us, he’s part of our fabric and he always will be. Would I give my own life to hear his voice once more? You bet. Would I give my own life to visit and have a chat and let him meet his grandson? You bet. Did saying goodbye nearly kill me? You bet. But dates of passing or arriving don’t matter and letting go will never happen.

    Ironically, the date that kind of matters the one where I realised things were going to change was the same date that my brother, the one who stood in with the wedding speech lost his fight against cancer ten years later, yet it’s still dad’s sick date. Dates don’t matter with my brother really and letting go didn’t happen with him either, he’s still part of us, he’s never forgotten. Oh and ironically they are the only two of my huge family to have passed on and guess what? Talking of dates, their birth dates add up to mine, in the same month, we used to say when I was a kid how those two made me and they did, they made me realise that life goes on, that death doesn’t stop it and we don’t have to get over it. I don’t sit and sob on ‘a date’, now and then I miss them and cry but I don’t need a date for that it just happens, mostly I remember them and laugh and tell the kids another funny story and feel blessed to have them in my life…still.

    • Matt says:

      It’s not fair that I only respond to this thoughtful, deeply personal story with a few sentences. But I hope you know how much in appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experiences.

      My favorite part of your story is seeing your father in things your son does.

      Life is a miracle. And you encapsulated why. Thank you.

      • parra67 says:

        it was gift enough to bring me to think of them.

        I cope well with death, I was not as good at coping with divorce. I/We could have changed that but we didn’t. I grieve more for what I/we could have done something about not what I could have done nothing about.

        I grieve for the fact that I’ll never have those 60+ years of companionship, that our children didn’t experience growing up as part of a family unit that was tight, devoted and committed regardless of everything else, that our children didn’t have the father I had, that I’ve had to go it alone and how it’s drained me, that I/We messed up on the one thing in my life I really, really, desperately wanted to get 100% right.

        I love my kids, I did a great job, they are happy, talented, fulfilled, confident, compassionate, intelligent, good humoured, beautiful people and they keep my heart beating but still… I grieve for what could and should have been. I find that hard to let go of.

        Your blog is fabulously honest. I love it.

      • Matt says:


        I agree with you. I’ve been lucky to not have to deal with much death. But yes.

        I care more about my personal regrets than I do the things totally out of my control.

        I’m so glad you took time to read and decided you like it.

        Thank you so much.

  13. I think everyone can relate to this in some way. I don’t know if you can ever really let go. I lost my sister in 2001 and am still having counselling for it. I guess everyone experiences these things in their own way. Good post, thank you.

  14. Daile says:

    Loss never really gets easier to deal with, you just become more equipped to deal with it. Memories fade but not the deep down ones that are always there. It will always evoke a reaction, be it grief, sadness, anger, love, loss. Death, divorce, any loss has it’s place. This was a great post.

  15. Aamiene says:

    I sure can relate to this post, and especially this month. March sucks big time for me. The 6th is the anniversary of my first marriage – the one I thought would last forever. It didn’t. The 13th is the anniversary of the death of my second husband, and the 17th of March was his birthday.
    The first marriage I let go of a long time ago. But the second? Never. You don’t stop loving someone just because they’ve died. So even though I’ve managed to move on, I will never detach myself from my second marriage completely. It’s been 8 years and I still hurt badly on certain days. My new hubby understands because he feels the same about his late wife. We help each other through the bad days. Hold each other when we cry. And love each other while still loving and remembering our past loves.

    • Matt says:

      I can’t even begin to understand how complicated that must be for both of you. Sounds to me like you’re both fortunate to have found each other.

      Thank you for sharing you story. Here’s to you getting through these anniversaries as smoothly as possible.

  16. “…it’s a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”

    That’s a quote from the movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” and I thought of it after reading your post, which reminds me to be gentle with our hearts.

    Sounds like you are :)

  17. April says:

    This past week was the first anniversary of my sister’s death. I’m also coming up on the anniversary of my brother and my dad’s death. Although I let myself mourn a bit, I remember what was. I have been told that divorce is the same type of stress/grieving process, while I haven’t experienced divorce, I’ve had my share of losses. In the words of a very wise man, Dr. Seuss…Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. Words I live by.

  18. Sandy Sue says:

    After my uncle died in WW2, my grandma started writing in a special diary. At first her entries were every day—heart-wrenching letters of her grief and love for him that went on for pages. Then they started to space out more—still full of grief and missing him, but shorter. She started to write about things she thought he would enjoy—a letter she received from his fiancé, happenings on the farm, weddings, births. Then, she only wrote on the anniversary of his death. Those entries were more about love than grief, more about the life around her than death. She kept that journal going for about 10 years, then just stopped. It had served its purpose.

    • Matt says:

      This is sad, so don’t take this the wrong way: I loved this story.

      A perfect little illustration of what so many people have said here.

      Thank you very much for sharing.

  19. Vince says:

    It’s a cruel trick in life that the people that mean the most to you as a kid are the ones you lose. I remember losing certain people in my life, the hardest being my grandmother in 2010. I wish I could go to her now for advice and a kind word, she was great about that.

    There’s a six month waiting period in Michigan for getting a divorce when you have kids. She filed on February 12. On August 12th we will be officially divorced. I think about how that date will stick with me over the years. Will I always think about my divorce with sadness on that day?

    I still think about my grandmother a lot but the sting has lessened. I think with time the sting of divorce will lesson too, more so when your love grows for another person but it’s a process and not something you have to speed up or hold onto, it just is what it is.

    • Matt says:

      You’ll remember Feb. 12 too. Your Feb. 12 is probably my April 1. The date that really matters. The divorce itself was a mere formality.

      Your experiences won’t be like mine. I won’t insult you by suggesting I know what’s going to happen.

      I can only say for certain that nearly one year later, I feel infinitely better and more equipped to move forward than I did back then. No reason to think you won’t, as well.

      Something to look forward to? I don’t know. But I hope so, for you.

      • Vince says:

        I think you are right. Actually I believe I will likely move on at an even faster rate or perhaps I’m trying to hype myself up I don’t know but I’m not going from a loving marriage to suddenly being thrown into this divorce. I am going from a marriage that has been nothing more than a roommate “with benefits “for at least 7 years. I saw this shit sandwich coming from 7 miles away.

        Perhaps this is a terrible thing to say, at least it feels strange and perhaps only partially true but…I can’t wait until she moves out at the end of this month.

        P.S. Man I’m excited about your date this Saturday. It is this Saturday right? The cute party planner from the birthday party?? Have a great weekend Matt.

      • Matt says:

        That’s a sad story, Vince. But I get it. I do. I can’t believe you guys are still under the same roof. I’d freak out.

        And yes. My date is tomorrow night. And yes, she’s cute. Good things, sir.

        I appreciate you being excited for me. Thank you. It feels good to actually live again. I took a long break.

  20. A.B. Chesler says:

    Life can be cruel; I lost both my mother and brother in a single day. I’m not sure I will ever get over it or if this specific day, September 25th, 2007, will ever carry less meaning. But I do know it hurts a little less each time.

    I also do not believe any person’s loss can be deemed greater or lesser than another’s. Loss is such a personal experience; what may take one person a few months to “get over” could take someone else the entirety of their life. The old saying may state that “good things come to those who wait;” I prefer to subscribe to the idea that “good things come to those who allow themselves to heal.” Best of luck and keep writing…. Your honesty is refreshing and uplifting!

  21. suzjones says:

    My friend April (up there earlier in the comments) is a wise woman who has suffered much. She is right – don’t cry because it happened. When you lose someone in your life, there is a hole left there. A hole that you think will never be filled or heal but over time it does. There will always be a scar to remind you of the person so they never leave your mind.
    Over the years, the hurt fades but the memories will always be there. I don’t think it’s a case of letting go Matt, I think it is about making peace with it all.
    Hang in there mate. Take care :)

  22. Sometimes letting go is the way. And usually each of us will know when it’s time for us to do so. Sometimes it might be more like a transformation – from pain to strength, from grief to growth, from rage to courage…

    It’s maybe not always nice to feel the feelings that come up on the path (to either, letting go or transformation or both). But I personally believe it is ok to feel them. Actually I believe it is very important and part of the healing process.

    “We’ll know it when it gets here.”

    – You will, absolutely.

    Much love,

  23. So, I’m super late in responding to this. I just wanted to say that I was married for almost 10 years. My divorce was final 3 years ago…and I still have our wedding bands.

    We have a beautiful daughter, Monater Teen, and one day I want to have my band put with his band (it fits inside his), and have it made into a pendant with her birthstone in the middle.

    I think of it as a reminder for her that we loved each other. We love her. And not one minute of it was a mistake because she is here.

    Just my thoughts…about your rings I’ve noticed mentioned several times.

  24. garden2day says:

    There is no wrong way to heal and grow as long as you keep moving. There is not a deadline. It hurts if you have any kind of a heart–speaking from my experience–and each anniversary of each death or divorce, etc. is difficult. This was the first year I was able to get through the death of my mom’s anniversary without really losing it–it was 21 years last week. I’m slow. I feel for you and wish you didn’t have to go through it. Building new memories will help but it’s like a scar–there will always be a place. Sorry. :|

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