My grandparents had a gorgeous old grandfather clock in their den where my grandmother rocked and knitted while my grandfather read his paper. I loved the deep, resonate sound it made every second of every day.
Tick… Tock… Tick… Tock…
That tangible reminder of time passing was as comforting as the very predictability of the ticks themselves.
Yet sometimes the passage of time, the chapters of your life ending and transforming into a new normal, isn’t so comforting. I have a distinct memory of just such a moment in my own life.
My son was driving off to begin his second year of college. He’d been home only a brief couple of days during the summer and this year, didn’t need us to take him back to school, a ritual that I hadn’t anticipated giving up. He was taking his own car, and explained with a gentle smile, “Mom, there’ll be plenty of guys to help.” I swallowed hard and smiled. So after tight hugs good-bye, his dad and I stood at the end of our driveway, waving while he drove away.
I could almost hear a “tick tock” in my head, as a tear rolled down my cheek. I looked up at his dad, who was suspiciously wiping his eyes as well.
Letting go a little at a time…
The next morning, I was back to my routine, rushing around, driving to work. I’d forgotten that the local schools were also starting their new year. And… to my initial dismay, I got stuck in a long line of cars in front of an elementary school. Marching along the sidewalk was a colorful parade of all ages and types of families, celebrating going back to school.
Dads were carrying tousled toddlers on their shoulders while moms were pushing baby carriages, and the family dog loped along, seemingly curious why this walk was so different. Younger kids clasped the hands of older brothers and sisters who were dressed in not-a-spot-on-’em-outfits with brightly-colored backpacks fit tightly onto their little bodies. Some children giggled and walked with a confident stride, others were staring down at their feet as if they were more than a bit overwhelmed. There was the occasional fourth grader who was far too mature for all of this ceremony and walked a few feet ahead of their parents.
And as I saw a young mother surreptitiously wiping away a tear, I couldn’t help but think of my own tears, watching a much older son drive away.
My irritation at being stuck in traffic dropped away as I realized what a difference a few years make, but also how everything is really just the same. You watch as time brings change. Pride, happiness, and satisfaction can all coexist with sadness as our children get older and and need us less and less.
Or as I like to think of it.. need us differently.
So, how can you make letting go a little easier?
What is anticipatory grieving?
Remember that time will keep passing, that your feelings will change because they constantly evolve. Even the deepest grief can abate because the human spirit heals if you nurture it and give it time. That clock keeps ticking, no matter what.
So you can make use of that time to begin what’s called anticipatory grieving. That may sound like a pessimistic thing to do, but it’s actually a useful skill to have. Whether it’s a child leaving home, or a loved one dying, retirement, aging, or having to cope with an illness, you begin to imagine what those changes will bring, and what skills you have to cope with them. What’s that old saying? Prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you’ve imagined living through it, you can at least to begin working on acceptance. Not resignation. Acceptance. And you can imagine yourself thriving as you accept the transition and go on.
Then get back to the present. Relish what you’re enjoying each day. Work through what isn’t so enjoyable. Because tomorrow it will be behind you; the memories you create today might just be ones you look fondly upon tomorrow or even decades later.
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Originally published August 23, 2014; updated and republished on June 3, 2023.