Category Archives: letting go

Hope in Seasons of Loss

traces of hope

How do I process my grief?
Does suffering have any meaning?
Do we live in a random chaotic universe?
Is it time to re-evaluate my understanding of “God”?

This book is for anyone who has suffered a loss – of safety, of one’s home, of health, of a loved one or a relationship, or of one’s faith … and found themselves asking, “Why?” And then wondering, “Who am I asking?” and hoping they were not alone.


Traces of Hope

Over the past few years I have used the opportunity offered by this blog to reflect on my journey of healing from the loss of my son. I thank all those who have reached out to me or shared their stories on this blog.

I have a new book coming out that tells the story of my healing journey and my journey through grief and loss if you are interested in my full story.



Pull back the veil of fate
Does it have to be this hard
Does it have to be this way
Am I too late

There’s another day
Speak to your power
Speak to your hope
Smoke another cigar
Light another fire

Pull back the veil of fate
Walk through that door
It’s not too late
We wait for you each day
We say your words each night
We need your voice

Unwrap your fate
Undo your choice
Don’t let it be too late

A post from the Loyola University Pastoral Counseling Blog: Meaning Making.

The Loyola blog is one I follow now. For the first few years after Malcolm’s death I would have been cynical and disparaging. I might have said…The author says she has been broken open. I was broken alright, but I wasn’t about to let God break me some more! She couldn’t know real pain, real loss. To hell with God…

But not today. Today I feel that there is perhaps a path forward. Not just one where I manage to keep breathing and keep going through the various motions involved in “living,” but one where my life can become intentional again.

It scares me even to imagine the possibility of finding something of value to engage in. But I don’t feel the guilt that I would have just a couple of years ago. I am okay with moving on. I am okay because I am not letting go of my son. Never that! Rather I am taking him with me into a new adventure. He will remain at my side and in my heart always, but my grief and guilt are no longer blocking my view of the future.

Read the post below from Making Meaning.

Letting Go, by Dayna PizzigoniPosted: 22 Oct 2013 06:58 AM PDT

“Slowly, she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.

First she surrendered her green,

then the orange, yellow, and red…” Macrina Wiederkehr

About two years ago I decide to let go. I let go of my insistence to predict God’s plan for my life. I had just experienced a falling apart, a heart-break that invited me into a profound surrender. I held on to only two things: hope and a desire to know God anew.

I let go of my idea of God’s will for me because I had no answers anymore and the search seemed too clouded by my fear and will to control it. My sacrament of letting go began with re-discovering the grace inside myself. I couldn’t start to get to know God any other way. I had to accept the Truth inside me before I could trust the Truth anywhere else.

I can’t tell you how I got to know myself again. I did not take on this self-discovery like a project or goal that I had to carefully note and analyze. I accepted the beauty of uncertainty and let the process unfold. (By the way, this feat, by this recovering perfectionist, would not have happened without the gift of being broken open.) I remember doing things like going to yoga, eating at a restaurant by myself, attending mass during the week, seeing my therapist, and allowing time and space in my life to do whatever I felt like (eg coloring).

“And then, the sacrament of waiting began

The sunrise and sunset watched with

Tenderness, clothing her with silhouettes

They kept her hope alive.

They helped her understand that

her vulnerability

her dependence and need

her emptiness

her readiness to receive

were giving her a new kind of beauty.

Every morning and every evening she stood in silence and celebrated

the sacrament of waiting.”

Macrina Wiederkehr

In this surrender, I waited for whatever life would present. I practiced trusting myself more and waited for God to reveal Herself however She wanted. I risked greater vulnerability and let God love me.

I sit writing to you now on a small porch outside my apartment enjoying the autumn sun with my husband inside. From heart-break to heart-bounty, I rest in the grace of letting go and waiting for God to surprise me again. Let go of something this fall as the leaves surrender. Wait for God to surprise you. Life is not a statistical analysis where we predict outcomes. Life is unfolding.

Stages and Cycles

Whatever theory of grief I might find useful at any particular time, one thing is clear: the process is never as tidy as the theory – there is no linear journey through grief. Six years after Malcolm’s death a bout of severe depression brought me back to the very beginning of the grieving process: Denial.

I entered the hospital in a state of suicidal depression and found myself fantasizing about being with Malcolm. I began to speak about him in the present tense to other patients. So one of the first goals of my healing became overcoming denial and accepting his death, then once again letting him go. In order to let him go I needed to work through my guilt once again. But this time around I moved to a new place in the grieving process: I began to get angry with him.

Using a process of psychodrama in which someone sat on a chair and took the role of Malcolm, I began to tell him how much he had hurt his dad and his brother. Then I spoke from his point of view and told myself that Malcolm would not expect or want me to follow him, instead he would want me to stay with his dad and his brother. I am home now and mending well. As I look back over the last six weeks I am reminded how tenuous one’s grip on serenity can be and how arduous the process of grieving. But, despite the re-cycling of the cycle and the stepping backwards in the stages, I can clearly see a forward movement and a deepening of acceptance.

I know I will see Malcolm again, whether it is in the fleeting seconds of my death or in some future eternal moment of new life. For now the most important thing I can do is be “in the moment.” Not in the past, not in the future, just now. And be grateful.


The Play

When will I stop listening for the gunshot on March 19? When will I be able to leave the house without asking myself, if I’d stayed home that day would he still be alive? If I’d just told him I love you that morning would it have been enough to tip the balance? Why did I hesitate that day when I so often added those words? When will I relinquish the magical thought that doing it differently this year would bring about a different outcome, and he’d re-emerge from his other dimension and join ours again? When will I be able to drive away from the house on March 19 without thinking I was causing his death over again, abandoning him again, complying with the script of history instead of fighting it, re-writing it, recreating it?

Like a late night re-run the morning passes and everything is old and familiar and predictable; I know the words and the actions, the schedule. And now he is heading to class. And now he is handing in his last paper. He’ll get an A. And now he’s returning home unexpectedly, instead of going to his on-campus job. And now he is gently taking down the family portrait from the kitchen wall and placing it in his back pack. He will be adding his gun to that bag soon. A gun we didn’t know he had, didn’t want to know. A gun he kept hidden from us but legal, documented, following all the rules of safety. And now he is driving to the lakefront and choosing his location. He will lie down on the levee in view of the water, out of site of the houses. He will listen to the water and the birds one last time. He will breathe in the smell of spring grass and dust, oyster shells and fish. He will turn his face to the sun and feel the warmth, closing his eyes to savor the last moments of life. Then he will turn his right shoulder towards the ground and with his right hand pressing his gun against his heart he will squeeze the trigger and muffle the shot with his body, not wanting anyone to see his wound if they walked by.

A neighbor will hear the shot and call her friend who lives across the street from us. I think someone just shot himself on the levee near my house. I’ve called the police. I wonder who it is. And soon afterwards our neighbor will see a car pull up in front of our house and two plain clothes policemen will walk up the path to our door. Mal will be doing the dishes. I will answer the door. Does Malcolm villarrubia live here? My husband or my son? Your son. When was the last time you saw your son? Do you have id? Mal it’s the police asking about Malcolm.

They’ll come in then and we’ll sit down at the kitchen table. Is Malcolm in trouble? Ma’am your son is dead…we found his body…

And the air will be sucked out of the room and someone will be screaming I don’t understand over and over but in a soft voice – the screaming going on inside her head. Then the script will take over and we will be actors in a drama we would never audition for, and cannot remember the words to. But somehow we will move from one scene to the next, lip syncing while someone speaks our lines for us and someone else rearranges the set. Now the funeral parlor, now the house again, and then the chapel at Jesuit and someone is lowered into the ground.

I wish the play were over and we could go back to normal but someone is asking me to move closer. I don’t want to move closer I don’t like burials. Is this someone we know well, everybody here looks familiar. And then there is a party at our house. Where’s Malcolm, he should be here if we’re having a party? Why is James in town shouldn’t he be at school? Then everyone leaves and the play seems to be over but no one has told us how to exit. We are left on stage with the empty theatre and echoes of the last scene. What do we do now? I don’t know. Do we sleep? How can we sleep? It’s not our life any more it’s a play. Do we exist between the scenes – an R and G question? Will someone enter soon and give us our cues? And the floorboards in the darkened theatre creak in sympathetic tones as the lights slowly dim.

Spring cleaning

Grief, like spring cleaning, is all about baby steps. Last week I decided to sort through a desk drawer and made piles, what was important enough to keep and what I was willing to part with. And then my husband sorted through the discards and pulled out a map of Austria, Malcolm spent a summer there, and a pair of nail clippers, Malcolm cut his nails with those. I know, that might seem morbid – nail clippers. But after those first horrific hours passed and it began to sink in that we would never see him again, I collected his hair from the drain in his shower; if I had found nail clippings I would have kept those too.

It has been four years, as of yesterday. Four springs when we have asked ourselves, are we ready yet? Is it time to clean out his room? Timing is very delicate here. When my husband washed my son’s sheets a few weeks after he died, it nearly put me back in the hospital. How could he decide to get rid of any of Malcolm’s smell. How could he? I was hysterical, hardly able to breathe through my sobs. Now only traces of his musky odor linger … a camping jacket, a knitted cap. And our younger son’s friends have slept in Malcolm’s bed during Mardi Gras visits, and I have replaced the sheets.

Going forward there will be hundreds of decisions to make. Every article of clothing, every note, every memento. His desk contains fragments of the life of the boy and the man, from grammar school to graduate school. Every one of them precious, every one of them a tenuous connection, every one of them holding out the elusive hope of an answer. What if there’s a letter hidden between pages of a book, a note in a pocket? Some revelation of a broken heart or a paralyzing fear. But did he really know why, on that day in March, 2007, just three hours after handing in a paper to his professor, he took a gun and shot himself through the heart?  I’m not sure any more.

I think this spring what we need to let go of is our need for an answer. Maybe then we will be able, finally, to let go of Malcolm’s things. But not this year. Not yet.

Kiss the Joy

The end of another year. Time to reflect. How have we done, what have we done, who have we “done” and why? 

  • Have we used our grief as an excuse to do less, expect less, care less, hurt more? 
  • Have we allowed the one we lost to determine our joy instead of those we still have in our lives? 
  • Have we let fear of more pain hold us back from making changes or  commitments? 
  • Have we resigned ourselves to sadness and befriended depression because it is just so damn easy to do so?
  • Have we forgotten our “bliss”?
  • Have we bound ourselves to the joys that were, instead of putting effort into creating or pursuing new joys?

“He who binds to himself a joy
does the winged life destroy;
but he who kisses the joy as it flies
lives in eternities sunrise!”
                                      William Blake

Grieving a Loss — again!

As I sat through the Synagogue service last night (when I wasn’t running to the bathroom to blot my face and rehydrate) I realised that this was more than about Billy leaving.  And I realized that grieving a loss is something that you revisit when another loss occurs.  Billy isn’t my son, but my grief over his leaving has become exacerbated by my ongoing grief about losing Malcolm.  So this is about Billy, but it is also about my other loss. Truth is, when my bunny rabbit “Pretty Girl” dies (she’s already 9 year sold) I will probably grieve excessively then, too.

Maybe it is the heart’s way of surviving a profound loss. It isn’t possible to feel all the grief associated with the loss of a child at one time, or in one season of grief, and so, when your life moves into a new season of grief because of a new loss of some kind, your heart gets in touch with some of your original pain and helps you release and process a little bit more.

Once I understood this I was less judgemental about my tears and more compassionate towards myself. I actually let myself cry and it was ok. I didn’t die and no one laughed at me, or got angry, or over-reacted as if I needed emotional triage: they just let me be and later just checked in with me and asked if I was ok. And… I was.  Sad, damp, but basically ok.

Throwing out the olives!

Last night I threw out a jar of olives from the fridge. They were out of date by three years and looked like a science experiment. But it was still hard to throw them out because they were Malc’s. Silly, I suppose, but there you are. Mal paused too, but I said, “You know we can’t keep everything as a souvenir.”  He said, “I know, I know.” And I am pretty sure he was thinking about the one inch of rum left in a bottle that was Malcolm’s, and how he is not ready to drink it or throw it away. But we take baby steps. Yesterday it was olives.