The Art of Letting Go: How To Move Forward When You Have Lost a Loved One

Practices such as meditation and yoga speak of the importance of letting go. But when someone you love passes away, the concept of letting go can seem awful – even something to be avoided at all cost. “How can I possibly let go of my loved one when I love them so much?”

If you feel fearful of letting go, the chances are you might be misunderstanding the real meaning of the words. In this article, we’ll look at what is meant by the concept, the reasons why it’s so important, and some tips for how to let go of a loved one.

Why Is Letting Go So Scary?

As human beings, we are afraid of change. We tend to avoid it at all cost. But the experience of a loved one passing away is one that forces us into sudden change. It takes away everything we’re used to and throws us out into the world. It demands that we step out into the total unknown.

The idea of letting go of someone you love can also be scary because it suggests a loss of control. Your natural inclination is to hold on to your loved one. To grasp tightly to their memory, never letting it slip away.

But the art of letting go isn’t actually about losing control at all. If anything it’s about gaining control – learning how to rebalance yourself when the world turns upside down. There’s no need to be afraid. You don’t need to forget about your loved one.

It’s quite common to feel like the pain of grief is the only thing that still connects you to the one you loved. People can feel like they don’t want to feel better or move forward, because that would mean leaving their beloved friend behind.

In reality, the process of letting go is not the same as forgetting the person you have lost, or forgetting your love for them. It’s a process that will bring you healing and peace. It will make you realize that there’s no need to cling to the memory of your loved one – because it’s already yours, unquestionably, forever.

The Truth Behind Letting Go

In Buddhism, attachment is seen as one of the main things that will keep you from ever being truly happy. Upādāna is the Sanskrit word for “attachment, clinging, and grasping”, like the kind of grasping you might be doing in fear of losing the love you once felt. But Buddha is quoted to have said, “You can only lose what you cling to”. This desperate attachment to how things used to be might be the very thing that causes you pain.

The famous existential philosopher Alan Watts says it well. “Whether we like it or not, change comes, and the greater the resistance, the greater the pain,” he says. “Life is like music in this: if any note or phrase is held for longer than its appointed time, the melody is lost.” His advice? “Drop the craving for... permanence, for particular circumstances, and go straight ahead with the movement of life.”

We may not want to think about it, but nothing is permanent. Death is a part of life. The more we can come to terms with that, the more comfortable we can be moving forward and living courageously without the person we are so grateful to have known.

Buddha is quoted to have said, “You can only lose what you cling to”. This desperate attachment to how things used to be might be the very thing that causes you pain.

4 Tips for Letting Go of Someone You Love

How exactly DO you move forward, without the grasping? No one teaches this stuff in school, so it’s normal to have no idea where to start. Here are some real tips that I hope can help you begin the important healing process of letting go.

  1. Have a Ritual to Say Farewell

One of the most important ways to find peace and closure when your loved one has passed away is to have a farewell ceremony. You can have your own ritual for the person you love, separate from the funeral, just between you and them.

There is a reason for rituals. Human beings have had goodbye ceremonies for their loved ones since caveman times. That’s because it allows us to mark the spot where it’s time to say farewell.

If your loved one was cremated, you could sprinkle their ashes in a beautiful, scenic spot, or even have something beautiful made from their ashes. You could write a letter to the person you loved, thanking them for everything they brought to your life. You could light a candle and speak out loud to them, telling them how much you loved them.

  1. Feel Your Grief

Let yourself experience the emotions that come with grief. It’s so hard, I know, but it’s vitally important that you allow yourself to feel the pain. Sogyal Rinpoche, in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, says, “Whatever you do, don't shut off your pain. Accept your pain and remain vulnerable. However desperate you become, don't shut off your pain because it is in fact trying to hand you a precious gift -- the chance of discovery through spiritual practice, what lies behind sorrow.”

The only way to get through grief… is through it. Sit with your sadness, your hopelessness, your fear, your loneliness. The feelings won’t harm you. In fact, allowing these emotions to come out will actually help you – whether they come out in the form of tears, words, or even uncontrollable sobbing.

For advice on how to cope in the first few weeks of grief, take a look at this article.

  1. Memorialize Your Loved One

Your loved one will never leave your heart. Sometimes it helps to memorialize the one you loved in order to remind yourself of that day to day.

Some people choose to have a beautiful painting made of their loved one, or to keep a favorite photo of them on the nightstand. A lot of people choose to get a tattoo, so that they can feel as though their loved one is there with them all the time. It’s comforting to have precious keepsakes that remind you of them.

  1. Keep Your Bond Alive

As you begin to let go, you’ll realize that you open yourself up more and more to be able to celebrate your loved one’s life in a joyful way. There are lots of ways you can keep a strong bond with your loved one even though they’re no longer here with you.

You can talk about them with people who have never met them before, telling them all about how wonderful your loved one was. You can honor their memory during a special holiday with a beautiful ornament that reminds you of them. You could take a trip they’ve always wanted to take. And most importantly of all, you can live your life in a courageous and loving way that they’d be proud of.

What Will Happen When I Let Go?

When you are able to let go of your loved one in a healthy and peaceful way, you’ll open your life up to being able to experience happiness again. You’ll be able to develop new friendships, try new experiences and find who you are, without feeling as though you’re betraying your loved one. You’ll feel stronger, braver and ready to take on the world.

Your loved one will never leave your heart. That’s the thing that won’t happen. You’ll realize in time that you don’t need to clutch their memory so tight in order for it to stay with you. The painful memories will be replaced by happy ones. And when you have the courage to move beyond the past, you’ll find peace in the present moment.