I’ve been humbled as of late. A few health scares have caused me to look even deeper at life and how I clutch on to fears.
I’m doing OK so far — thankfully. But when faced with issues out of my control, I’ve had to face the ugly truth. I really don’t trust. Really don’t let go. Want things to go my way.
What’s so frustrating about all that is I feel I’ve learned much over the years about letting go. But it’s just been that. For the most part, simply head knowledge.
How does one really let go?
I had the privilege many years ago of being a hospice volunteer. I had never done this type of work before, and truthfully, I was frightened. But I feel we are often drawn to those experiences we most need to be healed of — and I had, and still have, some healing to do around death and dying.
The first man — let’s call him Sam — was cantankerous. He didn’t like me coming round once a week. Especially when his wife would leave for a couple of hours. I didn’t get “it” then but I so appreciate now why she beamed when I arrived at the front door. Having been a caregiver for almost four years since dad had his stroke, I have come to realize how any type of relief is welcome, no matter how much I love my father.
Sam was on oxygen and coughed a lot. After his wife would leave the house, he cursed at me and then would ask for a beer. I was new at this and called the main office of the hospice group about him drinking alcohol. “Give him whatever he wants,” they gently advised. “He’s dying.”
So I learned. Enjoy life. Now.
The next gentleman tugged at my heart. His hospital bed sat in the middle of the living room, his body hooked to tubes of all kinds. He could barely speak. Other than a nurse’s aide who came to the house, he was alone.
So I sat with him. I cried. I held his hand. One night I told him, “You must be tired. It’s your choice. Whenever you’re ready to go, it’s OK. God loves you so much.”
The next day he died.
A few months ago, I had the privilege of listening to a talk by Kathleen Dowling Singh. She’s written some insightful books on “grace” including The Grace in Dying. She has said:
“We live in a culture where we walk around believing we can choreograph the way things are. If I just rearrange this little piece — then everything will be OK. We have that illusion. That we’re in control. Dying strips it away.”
Many spiritual traditions speak of death as the greatest spiritual opportunity of a lifetime. And in that moment, is grace.
Dowling writes, “In that process of dying, that nanno second of surrender, we are merging with grace. Grace is always here. It could not be here. In any moment, all we do is pause. That’s grace. We make it so difficult, complicated and out of reach.”
When we pause, when we empty our minds, we are present to the sacrament of surrender, she says. That movement into beyond self is accomplished simply by our willingness to let go, she says. We pause. We surrender. We enter the formless awareness that is sacred. “That is grace,” she says.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs must have been filled with grace when he was dying. It is reported that his last words were, “Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Oh, wow!”
And I recall a personal story of a religious sister I knew many years ago. On her death bed, she was surrounded by her community and told them, “Oh, please don’t keep me here any longer. They are lifting the purple veil. And it is too beautiful to describe. They are calling me. I must go now.”
To contemplate our mortality, to surrender our beliefs, our identities to which we are so attached is never easy. But when we pause and fall into the emptiness, the uncertainty, when we “let go” — we fall into the heart and the heart opens.
So how do we let go? Surrender? I have no words of wisdom because I still don’t do it well.
But perhaps some of the insights I have shared by Kathleen Dowling Singh have helped. They are gentle reminders, for myself more than anyone. Simply pause throughout the day. Invite and allow grace to take over. Again and again.
When we surrender to the little deaths in life — disease, disappointment, divorce, or whatever “it” may be — we prepare ourselves for the ultimate letting go. And we learn there is really nothing we can hold on to.
The good news is grace is always present. And we come to see the truth — that we are each a manifestation of grace.