I was best friends with two people in high school - my now-husband Kyle and Jennifer. Our senior year we were the three musketeers, standing in the church parking lot long after the evening service was finished, never quite finding the end of our conversation sufficiently to say good bye. We swapped cars for the fun of it. We stayed up late watching each other’s childhood movies. We talked and laughed and hugged and filled up life together.
We all three lost a grandparent within the last month. It’s surreal, how old friendships take root in your heart and never let go. I hurt for all our losses and the struggle of how to navigate our current lives. I want to reach back through time to each other. We need people who remember our years past, those who knew us with braces and pimples and mood swings who loved us exactly like that. We need people who hold all the years of our lives in their hearts, under all the layers of maturity and performance, down where the reality of our true selves hides. Those old friends live there, and even though we may not need to dig them out all that often, it doesn’t matter how long it’s been, they’ve not washed away and we can find them when it’s time. We can turn to them when jobs fail and new homes feel foreign because they’ve never relied on our adult successes to know us well. It’s like visiting your childhood home, where somehow the air feels clearer because it’s familiar and you know it will take good care of you.
I am thankful for my old friends in this time of loss.
But most of all, I hurt for our parents, who have now lost their parents. No matter their age, it’s never an easy time to say goodbye to a parent. And the real goodbye doesn’t happen at the funeral, though for all the freshness of the pain and weariness of making arrangements it does seem most painful and raw. The real farewell happens slowly, excruciatingly, in the task of closing up shop on someone you loved.
It happens in their empty home as you pack their clothing to donate and cancel their mail. It happens as you clean out the memories they held valuable and feel like you are betraying their life by letting it go. Who gets the family photos? Or the furniture? Or the piano? Or the mementos of their years of child rearing, working, worshipping, growing, learning? Where do we take those memories for burial?
That is the hardest part of letting go. The body dies and we no longer have access to that beautiful soul we had known and loved, but that’s out of our control so we know we have to let it happen. It’s the voluntary letting go, literally discarding the physical things that keeps on hurting us, even though it’s healing at the same time.
My mother relayed to me a story shortly after my grandmother died. My cousin was sharing the news with her children and as they talked about it, her young son said, “You know what we should do? We should go outside and shout up to the sky ‘We love you Grandmother and we’ll never forget you!!!!’” I can’t think of his sweet idea without tears coming to my eyes, because isn’t that what we really want to promise to everyone we love? Whether it’s old friends or lost loved ones, we want to honor the impact they had on our life by remembering. We want our very lives to say exactly that. “I love you. You mattered to me and you still do. I will never forget.”
We have to find the balance between holding onto our memories of them and letting their personal memories go. I favor my grandmother in the face, so I want one of her old framed photos of her as a younger woman. That’s probably not the memory she would choose of herself, but it’s meaningful to me. We have to give ourselves permission to weigh for ourselves what helps us remember the people we have loved, and let the rest go. Let them, just like old friends, settle down into the foundation of who we are instead of holding an active spot - still defining us, still filling us, but quietly, from the past.
But, oh, the weight of the task of letting them sink away. I pray today for all those who are letting go in some way. If you’re not okay today, you may not be tomorrow either, but at some point, you’ll realize you have left behind the majority of the burden of loss and find yourself very able to carry the meaningful part of your shared history. That day will come. You will be okay. I will be okay.