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That Grief Term: “Letting Go”

Letting go. The term and its derivatives come up frequently in grief circles. I detest them. I cringe when I hear them used.

It’s typically thrust at us, as in, “You need to let go” or if you do this or that “then you will let go.” Or we ourselves decide our healing is in “letting go,” thus we strive to stop crying, or obsessing, or feeling. Or we strive to release a loved one’s clothing. Or their car. Or their home.

adult art artist artistic

Photo by Anthony on

It seems so long ago that I sold the house where I grew up, the place where my parents died. I suppose that means my life has been filled with other pursuits for a year, but do not assume I did not miss the place. In fact, I’ve grieved letting it go. You can learn more about surviving this process in Letting Go of Where You Grew Up

I let it go in physical terms, but I most certainly did not emotionally. For the first several months I dreamed repeatedly about being there again. In my dreams, I’d work on cleaning the place up, or simply be touring around, and then the new owner would catch me.


My subconscious knew the bond remained. I had not let go.

Grief is a strange creature. At the same time I grieved, and at the same time I felt the bond with the house, I still knew I had done the right thing. I do not regret selling it. I mean, of course if it had been financially feasible to keep it, yes, I would have. But I knew in my soul it was time to – ah – let go. Physically. I didn’t have the same emotional grip on the house as I had the first several years after Mom died, however, I still cried. I still ached to go over to the house and experience the sensation of being with my parents. Of being in my safe place.

Eventually, the “being home” dreams subsided. After I happened upon the new owners renovating the house one day, my urge to visit the property waned. I was pleased with their work, happy my childhood home was in good hands.

Another term is “move on,” but it implies leaving behind the grief. And, we hate it because it’s as if we are also leaving behind the person who died. I prefer the term “move forward,” but it, too, is an imperfect explanation.

How did I know it was time for me to “move forward”?

Obviously, there are practical considerations, such as the financial, that may press against our emotional worlds and influence or force our decisions. Emotionally, however, I had been moving forward for years. It was like learning to walk or to dance. Forward. Back. Sideways. Repeat. Along the way, I got better at it so when the big moment came, the steps weren’t so difficult.

photo of girl wearing half sleeved dress near green leaf plant

Photo by Jaime Chambers Fausnaugh on

Interestingly, it was in holding on – not in letting go – that gave me the ability to move forward. What irony. Only by gripping my grief – the intangible emotions and the tangible objects associated with it – was I able to feel every part of it, deal with every piece of it, and heal from so much of it.

I wouldn’t recommend anyone keep their parents’ house for eight years, but I am so very glad I did. It was what I needed. As my life unfolded, I began to build a different life. That helped me “let go” of the old, physical one.

At the same time, I continued constructing an internal world linked every day to my parents. I speak to them in this unseen place, but mostly, I feel them. They’re embedded in my heart. Vividly depicted in my dreams. Fondly recalled in my mind.

I cannot tell you when it is time for you to move forward. Relationships and the grief that follows separation are too unique to say. But I can tell you that you will not leave your loved one behind you. You will take them with you. They will remain a part of your life forever – in a different way but a beautiful way.

You don’t have let go. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to let go.

Has someone urged you to “let go”? What term do you prefer that describes our coming to a place where grief is accepted as a part of a broader life practice?

Copyright © 2019 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved.



2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Betty Gumpert #

    Hi, Toni.

    Love your writings on grief. After my dad passed away, Al and I stayed in his house for six weeks so we could clean out the house, the attics, the barns, the out buildings, etc. I realized at the time that I was delaying the return to my home in NC and welcomed the ‘cleaning out’ process so that I did not have to face the finality of Dad’s passing. I cried when his tractors were purchased and taken away to their new homes. Surprisingly when the day finally arrived for Al and me to leave and make that drive back to NC, I was not sad. This was mainly due to our plan to return for the estate sale in a few weeks. Again as we left Cayce following the estate sale, my reaction was not one of great sadness. I think because we still ‘owned’ the property, there had been no final closure. I still love going back to Cayce, the place of my growing up. One day the property will be sold, and then I will finally have to face closure. We will see how it goes.

    You take care, Betsy


    April 30, 2019
    • Betsy, I see what you mean. This gives me food for thought. I think you are right. We can hold on to not let go, in essence. To not admit the loss in a way.


      April 30, 2019

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