My child is dead: stop telling me to “let go”
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
I once interviewed an heir of a national seed company — you likely would recognize his family surname. He told me a true story that, to paraphrase, went something like this:
Every year at Thanksgiving time, when he was a child still living on the family farm, many of the family’s free-range geese would be herded into the barn. Inside, one would be selected for the family dinner, separated from the others (who would then be released), and then the chosen goose would be killed in the traditional way of axe and block. It was something of a tradition for a boy of a certain age to kill his first goose, and when he came to be that age, the other male family members helped with the roundup.
On that year, as the selection was made, the mate of that particular gander stepped in front of the goose and spread his wings, as if sheltering her behind him. He then approached the boy who was holding the axe, offering his own neck instead of hers in his final act of charity, bravery and love.
The image of that goose approaching him is an indelible image etched in the now-adult’s memory. He could not kill the goose. And after hearing the story, the scene is burned in my brain, too. It is such a universal and cellular-level desire to shield those we love from death. Especially our mate and most especially, our children.
When we cannot step in front of them and let the car hit us, let the rope slip around our necks instead, or let the illness corrode our bodies, it is an acute agony. When their crossing over is at the hands of another, a senseless death with an unknown assailant, or suicide, it is especially hard, I think, to shift our mindset from grieving the particulars of the death to moving ahead with acceptance and any semblance of peace.
"Please respect the fact that peace is possible but letting go is not an option for me."
People oftentimes confuse “peace” with “letting go” and I don’t know if folks who have not lost a child can ever fully appreciate the psychological or relationship damage they can do by hinting that it’s time for a grieving parent or grandparent, a sibling or cousin or aunt or uncle, to “move on” or “let go.”
We may let go of a body or let the ashes slip between our fingers, give up our hopes and dreams of futures imagined or promised. But we do not let go of our dead children and our love for them or memories of them. We do not pretend they never had a birthday. We remember that birthday and that death date and we may grieve anew on those days and holidays -- and dates marking firsts that never came or will never be repeated. But we do know that by not pretending that with their physical disappearance they disappeared in importance in our lives, we frustrate some people who are uncomfortable with grief or with loss.
So be it.
How can I build a bridge from grief to peace without “letting go”?
Time is the strongest foundation. It sounds cliche, that time heals all wounds, and it is. This wound does not heal, but it scabs over. Peace is learning how to acknowledge it without picking it. Peace is finding a way, somehow, to carry our child (whatever their age at death) forward with us in a psychologically healthy way that integrates yesterday and tomorrow and laughter and love again. It allows us to surface from the numbing shell we have necessarily put up, and feel anything beyond guilt, grief or remorse again.
If you need bridge building help, ask for it. I can't overstate how helpful a good grief counselor can be. Connections are the building blocks of any bridge, and we are here for you, too.