Embracing the small deaths

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Photo credit: ©2009 Don LaVange, from Flickr used via CC-BY-SA licensing


In the end, death comes for all of us. It's something we can't avoid. It's also something we only do once, with no chance to practice or try it out ahead of time to know what to expect.

And yet, we have the chance to face smaller deaths all the time through the deaths of relationships, the deaths of hopes and dreams, or the deaths of situations we wanted to hold onto. If we will let them, these smaller deaths can teach us how to let go of that which needs to die so we can embrace that which comes next.

I have long loved images of death and re-birth, like the oak tree that grows out of the death of the acorn, that remind me death always makes way for something new. When I'm in the midst of watching some cherished part of my life die, it's easy for me to forget that. I am more likely to try to hang on that which need to die with all of my might.

I've been doing this for several years now with a piece of my identity that I deeply treasured. It was a foundational part of how I saw myself in this world, and despite clear feedback saying that my view of myself was not accurate, I have clung to this way of seeing myself for all that I am worth.

I couldn't imagine life without it!

And yet, my ability to live into this way of being that I thought was so core to my identity was crippled and damaged by a number of different things. I was clinging to something that I was not able to bring to life. I was stuck in that space between life and death by inability to let go of what needed to die.

Not long ago, I was finally able to bring myself to let go, to let that piece of my self-identity die. I even created my own personal ceremony to be a funeral for that piece of myself to mark the death.

It was painful and horrible and awful right up until the moment I finally pried the last of my fingers off this cherished ideal.

And then there was nothing but relief.

Yes, relief. That's not what I expected either after all of the trauma that preceded the letting go.

And then I remembered my grandma's death many years ago. She was in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease and had known who any of us were for many years. She had stopped being able to eat or drink several days before her death and was in hospice care. We all knew her death was imminent.

She hung on for several days this way, and when her death finally came, I remember feeling a similar sense of relief. It was not that I was glad she was dead, but that I was relieved that she was no longer suffering or confused. In many ways, we had lost her years before her death, and we had been grieving that loss all along the way. Her actual death was just the final letting go and marked the end of the grieving more than it did the beginning of it.

My relief after letting go of this part of myself felt the same. I had been grieving this loss for years as I clung with all my stubborn might to what had slowly become a worn-out shell of an idea as it died from within. I had known the death was coming long before I marked it with my funeral ceremony.

That final letting go ultimately came as a relief. I am no longer fighting reality (on that score anyway).

And in letting go of what I am not able to be, I am making space to discover what I am meant to be. It may take some time yet to see what kind of tree grows out of the death of this particular seed, but I can already feel the stirrings of growth underground.

As I see what grows out of the death of this particular piece of me, I'm hoping to make it a reminder to myself to be willing to let go sooner next time. Holding onto that which has died (or needs to die) only prolongs the inevitable grief, and I'd rather get that grief over with so I can move on to the new growth which follows.

What small deaths in your life are you avoiding? What do you need to let go of in order to make space for new growth? Is there anything you can do today to begin that process of letting go?


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