Losing someone you love is a desperately painful experience. It was for this experience that words like ‘desperate’, ‘harrowing’ and ‘grief’ were invented. And they seem empty when you say them because they can’t come close to describing the feelings we experience at this time. We are left in pieces, and surrounded by people who struggle to hold it together while the world falls apart. Nothing can be the same again. We are left with a million connections in our brain that want to turn to the one we love to joke about the whole thing. We want to quarrel, play, watch something on tv, kick back, go out, do something. Anthing other than sit around trying not to think about it, feeling guilty when we do. Feeling guilty when we don’t. And of course we want to do all those things with the person we miss so terribly, even if they were driving us up the wall only days before. For me the most difficult pain was in the empathy I had with the people around me. While they were struggling with their loss I couldn’t help but feel their sorrow as acutely as my own. This left me confused as to what was mine and what was other peoples. I remember shutting down from the experience. I figured if I can just get through the first few hours, days, weeks, months, years, eventually it will go away.

The drama goes away. The emotions stabilise. But the feeling of loss is hardest to bear. It is a constant, always ready to suck you in, should you choose to go there. And whenever I went there, I would be there for a long time.

So I made a decision one year. It was the year that, looking back, I couldn’t believe how long ago it was. I decided to let him go. The trouble is, how do you actively let someone go? How do you actually go about DOING that. I remember how hard I had found to actively give up smoking. I was always doing it. I became an expert, given I’d given up so many times. Eventually I made a decision to live my life in a healthier way. Smoking just dropped away. It wasn’t part of my life anymore. So how could my grief become not part of my life any more? How could I let go of him without ruining my relationship with him, my memory of the bond we shared?

Zen loves the art of non-doing. Taoism too. Being all mysterious and eastern can make it seem like a real challenge. Something to step up to. To practive the art of non-doing. To enter the flow of the tao. Trying to do these things can leave people in a real muddle. You can’t do doing nothing. It just doesn’t work. Surrendering to the moment is a release. It is a passive experience. It is a yielding. ‘Abandon any hope of fruition’ says an ancient Tibetan text. If you want to get enlightened, you’ll have to bear in mind you’ll probably never get there.

So I made up my mind what I was not going to do and I called up some members of the family to tell them my plan. One decided to ‘not do it’ alone in her own time. One, my sister, decided to ‘not do it’ with me, together. We arranged a time and made our preparations.

Which left my sister and I standing in a street one night, clutching our helium balloons. I seem to remember mine was a blue star. Her’s, a smiley face. They were relevant choices at the time. It didn’t matter to me though. It wasn’t about the balloon. It was about what the balloon represented. A pain that always wanted to rise to the surface, wanted to push its way through the years of supression and dread. It represented him. The sorrow he would be feeling for being somehow responsible for our loss. A want to comfort, but being a constant reminder of how absent he is whenever he appears. A pull to leave, to rise out of here, but unable to go for fear of causing more pain. The worry that by wrenching away from my attachment to him, he would somehow leave me barren and alone. All these things were represented by the bobbing piece of plastic held here by a long, thin, red ribbon, tightly held by my trembling fingertips.

My sister and I looked at each other, both wishing we had done this alone, and glad for the company and more determined as a result. We steeled ourselves and counted down, eyes looking upwards ready to smile the balloon on its way. Where it would go was anybody’s guess. There was no way to know for sure. Yet I was certain of something, because it was then, in that wonderous, eternal moment, I stopped holding on.