Monday, January 16, 2023

My Year of Letting Go



 My husband died on September 9, 2022. My world has completely fallen apart, and I must learn to build it back again. Piece by piece, just like my husband would have wanted me to.

My husband was the handy one, a self-taught engineering genius with sixteen patents to his name. There wasn't a thing he couldn't fix whether it was a twelve-foot high molding machine or a broken buckle on my shoe. But for all his mechanical skill, a broken heart might have been too great a challenge, even for him. Then again, when I think really hard about it, I know he would have come up with an answer, probably something along the lines of, "Don't just stand there crying, get to work! Come on, dry your eyes and grab that hammer." Yep, he was a man of action.

With the onset of his illness however--stage 4 liver cancer that suddenly appeared the day we came back from a trip to Texas--I found it next to impossible to continue my usual creativity-based schedule. On the good days when my husband was sleeping or watching TV, I managed to do a little drawing or some editing on my WIP, but blogging, and on any kind of regular basis, was an activity that left me cold. How could I blog when all I wanted was to bury myself alive?

In the early years when I started my blog, my initial intention was to help beginning writers. As time passed, it grew to include art-making, beading, travel, a variety of topics to encourage creativity in anyone who stopped by to read, no matter their level of skill. To round out the theme, I always wrote two kinds of annual "bookend" posts: one listing my personal highlights of the old year followed by a related post listing the things I hoped to achieve for the New Year ahead. Included with my list was also a chosen word for the year. 

For the start of 2022, I wrote out a few simple goals (most left unaccomplished) but more importantly, I wrote that I was going to be open to whatever life brought to me. To accompany my new attitude, I chose with no sense of irony whatsoever one of the happiest words I know: optimism. Seriously. Optimism. I'm still reeling from the disconnect, wondering, "what on earth was I thinking??"

And yet. There might have been something profound life was trying to tell me, a message that perhaps wasn't applicable to 2022, but certainly can be considered for 2023. Optimism might be the word telling me that if I can put aside my fear for five minutes, it might be the very thing that will keep me from utter despair. It might be the only word I will ever need to help me stay focused on all that is good and worthwhile.

During the worst of my husband's illness, I would try to help him sit up in bed and drink some water or juice by holding onto the glass for him. My reluctance to hand the glass over without hovering to catch it would drive him nuts. Repeatedly he would say, "Let go!" and I would say, "No, YOU let go." This would go back and forth until one of us gave up and the water spilled everywhere and we were both drenched, when we would start all over again. Eventually it became a sort of game, something--as crazy as this sounds--we would laugh about.

One afternoon though, after changing the blankets for the umpteenth time, I found myself thinking about what "let go" really meant. In my heart I knew, as much as I hated it, that my husband had to let go of life. It was inevitable, a kind of "if not today, then tomorrow" type of knowledge. I knew the longer he remained alive, the longer the suffering would continue, for both of us. I had to let go of wishing this wasn't happening; let go of my expectations of what our life was "supposed to be"; let go of the business we had spent twenty-seven years growing together. I had to let go of, well, everything.

Nearly five months later, I'm beginning to understand that letting go isn't the horror I thought it would be, and that optimism can help in ways I never thought possible. Optimism is helping me let go of the big things along with the small: accepting that we no longer share a creative work space that allowed for car restoration along with novel-writing; that we're not going to order cocktails at the top of Sandia Peak ever again, or share a plate of potato chips while we watch Jeopardy!, or that we won't be moving to Portugal, an idea we toyed with while drinking our cocktails.

In other words, I've started to let go, not of my happy memories or even my grief for that matter, but letting go of hyper-vigilance, fear of the future, constant worry about what will become of the material things I've had to release, the business being number one. As I let go of what were essentially terrible burdens, I am discovering that there is now room to keep the things my husband would never want me to be without: Gratitude for the wonderful life we had together--forty-eight years!; belief and reliance upon the power of creativity to pull me through to wherever it is I'm going; and my strong belief that each one of us has an undying purpose and reason for existing in the first place.

One of the last entries in the journal I kept while I was still actively resisting the idea of letting go turned into a poem of sorts:

Wild Horses

I wish wild horses could take me away,

that I could fade into ink

and never return, just spread out 

fainter and fainter until I was only a

landscape, emerging from a stranger's pen.


Re-reading these lines, I realize the horses have always been by my side, waiting patiently for me to give them free rein. It's time I let them take me into a new chapter, the one I promised my husband I would eventually enter and that I would make the best of. For that promise alone, I will let go and begin to write not with sorrow, but with hope.

Thank you for visiting and thank you to everyone who has continued checking in on my posts even when I wasn't here to write them. I appreciate you all so much. Have a happy and creative New Year. I'll be back.