Never Let Go

 In Community, Culture, Duty, Family, Fred's Blog, Fred's Blog, Gratitude, Inheritance, People, Uncategorized

My mother died of Parkinson’s disease in 2004, and my father passed away in 2007. Neither of their deaths was sudden or tragic but the end of a long life for both.

Friends told my siblings and me we would grieve in our own ways and there would be no predicting how our grief would show up or affect us. Of course, there are principles and common patterns of grief we can read about in books, but our friends were right. Each of us has worked through it in our own unique way.

In letters and cards now from friends we hear often about the passing of parents so when I read this passage from Mary Oliver’s “In Blackwater Woods,” I was surprised by my reaction. At first, I quickly agreed, but then I knew there was something pulling at me in the opposite direction.

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

Sometimes we let go and yet the people we held so dear and who loved us come back to us. It’s not hearing their voices in the night or seeing ghosts in the house. Rather, there is something of their lives left unfinished and in us they are still working to complete it. It is the sense that the best of who they were (and often the part we knew the least) is being lived out for them in us. We joke about the abrupt discovery that we have become our parents, and the older we get the more obvious it is in the mirror. Yet, there is truth in the discovery – and it is a good thing if we understand it.

I tell men who have lost their fathers that they will be sitting alone three or four years from now and realize traits of their fathers have been coming to life in them that they thought were his alone. It’s more than recollections. It is a kind of waking up to something long dormant. Sometimes the very traits and mannerisms we understood the least and resisted the most are the very things we begin to recognize in our own lives. It is their way of living on through us.

There was a time in my life when I would have thought each generation has their own dream and no right to foist it on the next. To live vicariously through your children or to allow yourself to carry the burden of a parent’s dream for their own life was unacceptable. My job as a son was to find my own mission independent of my family. My task as a parent was to help my children discover their individual paths independent of mine. But, I have come to realize I am part of a chain of generations and each is part of the other for a reason. We are not a collection of unrelated short stories. Our lives are chapters in a novel whose author has linked us together.

I know Mary Oliver is right about “when the time comes to let it go, to let it go,” but I also know there is a deep joy of being part of a story that continues with each generation. I have come to understand and appreciate my own parents and their lives because they have not let go, and I hope they live on in my own children…and theirs.

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  • Avatar
    Michele Elyachar
    Reply

    Beautiful!

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Michele. You know what I’m talking about!

  • Avatar
    Megan Willome
    Reply

    Fred, this is fantastic. You had me at grief & Mary Oliver, and then, “We are not a collection of unrelated short stories. Our lives are chapters in a novel whose author has linked us together.” Amen!

    I lost my mom in 2010. The letting go has been of who she was as I knew her then. I’ve never let go of her, and as you describe, I find her now living through me, especially as I was writing my book about her, “The Joy of Poetry.” It is what she wanted me to do that I never could have done until she was gone.

    The book has led to teaching, which was her gift, and there are moments when I really feel like I’m just living the next chapter in her novel, which also extends back in time to her mother and forward in time to my daughter. I especially appreciate your words about the next generation’s task being larger than finding their own individual way and my role in helping her see her link to the larger story.

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Megan. I don’t know how it is with women so this is so interesting and encouraging to me.

  • Avatar
    Nan
    Reply

    “There was a time in my life when I would have thought each generation has their own dream and no right to foist it on the next. To live vicariously through your children or to allow yourself to carry the burden of a parent’s dream for their own life was unacceptable. My job as a son was to find my own mission independent of my family. My task as a parent was to help my children discover their individual paths independent of mine. But, I have come to realize I am part of a chain of generations and each is part of the other for a reason. We are not a collection of unrelated short stories. Our lives are chapters in a novel whose author has linked us together.”

    Poignant, Fred! Thank you.

  • Avatar
    Charles Gordon
    Reply

    Fred you should write a book!

  • Avatar
    John Tolsma
    Reply

    As parents, Lee Ann and I are so preoccupied with strapping parachutes on our kiddos to be ready to jump out of the plane on their own. Fred, what a great reminder that we need to make sure that we are packing those parachutes with memories and moments that can lead them home!

  • Avatar
    Ann
    Reply

    Thought provoking and true for me.

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Ann. Haley headed back to LA last night. It’s hard to let go.

  • Avatar
    Sam Griffith
    Reply

    An eloquent reminder, Fred, that we should not see life as either a sprint race -life is too long to race full speed – , nor is life to be perceived as a marathon race – a long solo run -, but rather we are runners in a multi-generational relay race, each runner passing the baton on to his own next generation, and if done well, passing the baton further down the road than it was handed to him.
    And it is not foisting one’s own dreams on the next generation. Rather, it is fully equipping our children to live boldly that role for which GOD created them (Ephesians 2:10; Jeremiah 29:11).
    When I was the juvenile court judge, I would often explain to those before me that their parents were not trying to foil their ‘fun’, but had only the highest hopes for their children’s futures. And often, as I pointed out that it was their own misdeeds had caused us to meet in juvenile court, the youth suddenly saw their parents in a new light, now as nurturing, hopeful guides through youth. And they then realized that mom and dad were not foisting ill-fitting aspirations on them, but were attempting to launch them into a bright future. Truly giving them “a future and a hope”.

    • Fred
      Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Sam. Your life is an inspiration to me and so many others.

  • Avatar
    Sasha vukelja
    Reply

    Looking back on mine and my mother’s life I see now such a similarity and reflection of her in me. I like the idea that she is still here and living through me. I have gained a different understanding and appreciation of all aspects of her life and style of her parenting as I became the parent. At time I wished I had second chance to relive part of my life but I know that would have change who I became. My love for my mother is and was very strong and intense and I am grateful for life that God has given me. Yes Fred write a book !!

  • Avatar
    Sasha vukelja
    Reply

    As I reflect on my mother’s life I see such a resemblance. I like the idea that she still lives through me. I’ve gained such understanding of her style of parenting as I became a parent myself.There were times that I would have change my life and circumstances if could but I know that I would have become a different person.I’m grateful to God for the life that I had and I’m grateful for the mother I had. She was a gift to so many and still continue to touch others through her art. I miss her dearly.

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