Monday, March 7, 2011

The struggle to let go

A couple of weeks ago, I encountered two funerals of people, both of whom died of cancer. In both cases, there was a painful parting of spouses at the point of death, as is usually the case. It was easy to feel much empathy for their loss. And in both cases, I was told that when the time for that parting came, the spouses who were going to be left behind told the one who was dying “it’s ok, you can go safely to Jesus who waits for you”, or in similar words. Both cases struggled with a difficult parting.

These sharings tugged at my heartstrings because they brought home the fact that this is something each one of us human beings struggle with throughout our lives – that tension between holding on, acquiring, attaining and the antitheses of these, which is a releasing, a loosening of one’s grip, and letting go. In the world of flora and fauna, there is a similar struggle that goes on. Only perhaps less dramatic and painful.

I remember having a potted Phalaenopsis on my desk a couple of years ago. This is the Orchid that also goes by the common name “Moth Orchid”. I acquired it at the height of its full blooming glory, and it had a most beautiful cascade of elegant flowers arching over my desk lamp. This bloom was very hardy, and it managed to keep its brilliance and beauty for slightly over seven weeks. By the eighth week, the flowers started to wilt, and one by one, the withered and shriveled blooms began dropping from the stem. But each one was clinging on tenaciously till the very last moment. If nature in its inchoate forms like plants show a resilience towards parting with life, what more when we humans are on top of the pyramid of creation?

Much as spiritual writers and life-teachers remind us often that life is not about acquiring, attaining, grasping, collecting and building up, but divesting, giving up, surrender and release, each one of us will find it a struggle, at least on some level, to make that final letting go. What makes it easier and less painful will be when the people around us give us their blessing to do this.

I believe that is what happened to the two dying people. What is a blessing in its deepest level? It is an acknowledgement; a permission; a validation; a giving of confidence and an assurance. Even a blessing of houses, medals, statues and holy cards have this at its deepest essence. A good blessing of a house gives one the confidence to live there, knowing that they are secure in God’s loving embrace and presence. A blessing of a statue imparts a sense of assurance that the saint whose image the statue bears will be praying for us, and that we are not alone in our struggles. A blessing of a crucifix gives us great hope that our carrying of our individual crosses of life is never something that we do alone, and that Jesus carried one too.

A blessing at death’s door by our loved ones does all that and more. It assures the one dying that they will not be forgotten; that they are loved, and that the ones remaining behind are in good hands – and give them permission and blessing to go into hands that love them far more ours ever can. The hands of God.


  1. Dear Fr. Luke,

    You were right. I do like your latest blog. And I do not at the same time, similarly to the acquiring and letting go. No one really likes being reminded of the greatest loss of control.

    Yet, death is what equalises us all and I am happily reminded by you to let go of thinking too much (and morbidly) about death and learning to live.

    Thank you.

  2. Death i do not seek, but when i realised that it is by letting go of this life that i can see God face to face, the fulfilment of my baptism, i joyfully welcome it :)


  3. "This is what Yahweh asks of you; only this:
    to act justly,
    to love tenderly,
    and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

    These familiar words of the prophet Micah are more appropriate guidelines for the art of living rather than for the art of dying. Yet, they spring to mind when I read your blog - especially the beautiful & insightful part about giving the blessing or validation to the dying partner that 'it's ok, you can go safely to Jesus....'

    We act justly & love tenderly when we honestly want the good of the dying partner and help to lighten her struggle of letting go, by being the first to release our claim on her, however painful this may be. The vibrancy & colour of life is heightened & sharpened by illness & knowledge of our finite-ness so the struggle to let go will be painful - no matter how mundane the living has been all the while.

    We walk humbly with our God ( and with our dying partner) when we actively engage her in living the dying ( process) - living the 'now-ness' of each passing moment and affirming her by our presence... but also acknowledging that we are entrusting her into the hands of the One who love her more than we ever can.
    Thank you Fr .


  4. I went to be with my father during his last weeks, and was with him as he died. We had the opportunity to share with each other how much we loved each other, how much we would miss each other. These words were spoken in love, as were the words we shared "letting each other go". I thank God we had that opportunity.

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  6. dunno why but the thing that strikes me the most about your entire post is how both the deceased were cancer victims. and how they both left behind a spouse. reminds me of what happened to some friends almost a year ago.

    why does it seem like the pain of loss never goes away?