There ain’t no way you can hold onto something that wants to go, you understand? You can only love what you got while you got it.
I woke up last night from a horrible dream.
In it, my son was a toddler, running barefoot in the grass, his bright blonde head bobbing up and down, laughing as he ran, unsteady on his chubby little legs. He was in a backyard that had a swimming pool. But he was all on his own, with not a soul nearby to supervise him.
I watched as he neared the edge of the pool and then, in one swift movement, he dropped right off into the deep end. And there wasn’t anything I could do. I tried to scream and to run to him, to reach out and grab him, but it was useless – I was paralyzed.
I woke up sweating and practically in tears.
It’s not a difficult dream to analyze, really. I would file it under the category of “out of control” in the catalogue of dreams. The ones where everything is spinning just beyond your reach, where you can only stand by, helplessly, while something tragic inevitably takes place.
But for me, the dream also highlights the reality of motherhood. From the moment they are born, our children are growing away from us. We nurse them, hold their hands, walk with them, and teach them. We send them to school.
And it’s then that we really sense the magnitude of their leaving.They look to other teachers, they are influenced by new friends.They begin to move away from us, and start to become people we hardly know, at times.
And we simply can’t keep up.
And I cling to this life as a mother, because I so loved the fullness of those earlier childhood moments – the good and the bad, the joyful and the difficult. Where there was so much love, and so much effort, but so much given back in return.
And this reality kills me – I hate that it has to work like this. Yet didn’t I always know my role as a mother was a temporary one? I guess I just let myself believe it would last forever, that I would never really have to let go.
But I am learning the painful truth that we simply have no choice.
Six years ago, when I was struggling with depression, I remember every day I feeling like I was at the bottom of some dark lake, treading water, but the weight of my mood made it too heavy to stay afloat.
I had no faith in the encouragement that people tried to give me. I felt that no one else could step inside of my murky pain and understand it. And how would I ever be able to take control of things, and find a way to go back to my old life?
I realized then, that I could only do what seemed like the hardest, the most counter-intuitive, the most risky thing of all – I could let go.
I could let myself drop down into that deep, black pool, with only a dim hope that I might float back up again. I’m not saying I gave up. I’m saying, I released myself into the pain, and into the possibility of wellness.
Pretending everything was the same, trying to hide and to fit back into the old mold, I couldn’t do that. My only choice was trust that somehow I would swim away from the shadows and back out into the sun.
But letting go was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life.
So, I guess there are ways we practice saying goodbye.
The first days of school, the empty nest, the lost pets, the break-ups, the disappointments, the failures. Struggling with disorders and addictions and estrangement from family members.
For me, abandoning my fears and beginning to write, leaving home and traveling to a new country.
And the way we all keep moving on to something new, not always realizing the cost of what we leave behind.
My mother has lessons still to teach me, and this one is about letting go. About realizing that our children are only temporary gifts. About accepting the possibility that what’s at the bottom of the pool may not be utter darkness.
About loving so completely that leaving can be marked by the simple act of stroking a cheek, without the actual word goodbye.
But most important, I’m learning that the love in my relationship with Mom is simply too big for me to let go of. It is held firmly in place by every tiny moment we experienced together.
Every now and then Mom used to say “I feel so fortunate …” And sometimes it was just random, but that’s how she was, she could just pluck an ordinary moment out and call it special.
Because she believed her life to be completely brim-full and abundant with gifts. And so I know it must have been so incredibly hard for her to let all of it go.
But I also know that she left this world having known so much love – including mine – and it must have been, it had to have been, in the end – enough.
People say that the more fully you live, the easier it is to leave when the time comes. But I’m not so sure. For me, I am still wholeheartedly tethered to this place.
This past year I’ve tried so hard to understand, to accept Mom’s final example, but it’s been incredibly difficult. I’ve really fought it.
Because I’m just not ready to say goodbye.
These dreams and memories, and even these blog postings, they have been my little dips into the pool. As I’m watching the bubbles rise above my head as I sink – I can practice staying down at the bottom like a big boulder, and I can almost imagine it.
But I’m still fully secure in knowing that my breath will inflate me and bob me up to the water’s mirrored surface. Because I’m simply not ready to leave this place.
There’s a graciousness to leaving, just as there is in saying goodbye. I want to know that kind of grace, that kind of acceptance.
And so I’m practicing – learning to love, even as I’m losing everything, and trying to believe, even when I’m drowning in darkness.
Because I’m definitely not ready to leave, not ready to say that, for me, it’s been enough.
I just want to be a little more comfortable with letting go.