Faced with Letting Go

Letting go is one of the most difficult tasks we face in this life, but it’s also one of the most courageous.

This past year has been a year of letting go for my siblings and me. We lost our sweet Mom in August of 2021, and yesterday we completed the process of selling our childhood home. It was not only our childhood home, but our mom’s as well.

She was five in 1945 when her family moved to Panama City, Florida from New York. She and her five siblings were raised in the house, and when our grandfather passed away in 1963, our parents, newly married, purchased the home from Nana. Nana and Mom’s youngest sibling, our Uncle Nick, bought and moved into the home across the street from us.

The six of us were raised in the same home, in the same neighborhood as Mom. We attended the same Catholic church down the street, attended the Catholic school, and grew up with the children of the neighborhood kids that Mom and our aunts and uncles had grown up with.

Our Mom (Right, next to the tree) with her childhood friends, Ann (Left) and Carolyn (Middle) circa 1948.
Just as they had been friends growing up, we were friends with their kids, and still are to this day.

For over seventy years, 1605, as we call it, was part of our family.

If the walls could talk, they would convey the story of a family’s love. They would recount tales of heartache and joy. They would chronicle the lives of the Chaknis family, the Nelson family, and the grandchildren that would be born and raised within its walls.

They would provide shelter and solace to countless nieces and nephews, cousins, and friends. They would remember fondly the gatherings, the Thanksgivings, Christmases, and Easter celebrations. They would recount the cookouts, Fourth of July watermelons carved on the back deck, and the hide-and-seek and Wiffle ball games played in the backyard.

They would share the story of our dad’s peaceful passing in 2010 and our mom’s faithful vigil to his memory. They would convey their gratitude for having been part of the fabric of our lives for so long. Yes, if the walls could talk, they would retell our stories again and again.

Our Mom with her parents and siblings in our family home in the 1950s. Clockwise standing from the back, John, Mary (Nana), Maryann, George, Nick, our mom, Penny, next to her father, Pete (Grandpa), and Bessie Chaknis.

Christmas 2019 at 1605. My sister Laura snapped this photo of all the grandchildren sitting on the sofa that was Mom’s favorite in the room she spent the most time in. Once we put the house on the market, we began the task of sorting through lifetimes of memories and ensuring that cherished items found loving space in our homes and in the homes of our children.

Acceptance and Presence

Yes, letting go is bittersweet, but it’s also part of life. There is no way around it. Life continues moving forward, and we, by design, are meant to move forward as well. In my life, especially in the last four years since entering recovery, I’ve learned that acceptance and presence are essential to the process.

Learning to accept and then let go of the past is hard. We use the past as the barometer by which we define ourselves so frequently, that we forget how to exist wholly and completely in the moment. We label ourselves by our experiences, adding them, one after another, to our stories, so that pretty soon they become our reason.

The reason we continue hurting. The reason we continue sabotaging ourselves at every turn. The reason we stumble blindly forward. We forget to focus on the moment we’re in and the opportunities and choices it provides. The ones that offer the hope and peace we so desperately long for. 

We must give ourselves permission to let go, while at the same time, carrying with us, the hard-won lessons and wisdom we’ve earned. We have to shift our focus to THIS moment, the one we’re in while surrendering tomorrow to the highest power that resides within us. In this, we find true contentment and the realization that THIS moment regardless of what it contains, is the most important moment and that how we choose to move forward is the only thing that counts. 

My sister, Sarah, had this painting of 1605 done for each of us. At the bottom are the words our Mom wrote in a letter that was given to us after her passing. In my home, it sits atop a small bookcase that once sat in the living room of 1605, where I now keep the pictures of our Dad during his Coast Guard days and the set of history books that use to sit on a shelf in his office. Mom’s words are simple because that’s how she was, uncomplicated, faithful, and unconditionally accepting and loving of us all.

“I love all of you very much. God bless you. Thank you for being wonderful children. God blessed me with wonderful gifts. A wonderful husband, and six wonderful children, daughters-in-law and sons-in law, and wonderful grandchildren. Remember, everything is a gift from God. I had a wonderful life. Thank you, dear God. O, Lord I am not worthy, have mercy on my soul. Please, pray for my soul. Thank you. Always remember God’s gratest commandments to love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, and being, and your neighbor as yourself and each other.”

Penelope (Penny) Theresa Ann Chaknis Nelson
July 2, 1940 – August 22, 2021

Letting go is one of the 

hardest things we’re called to do.

There’s a heaviness that fills the heart.

It’s bittersweet and poignant,

this grief that comes unbidden.

This knowing that what was,

will never be again.

That moving forward, 

the landscape of our lives 

will be different.

It’s difficult, this acceptance

we must embrace. 

This acknowledgment, 

that we’re not in control.

That our lives move in a rhythm,

set long before we took our first breath.

But there’s comfort in that too.

The realization that we’re not in control,

but that we can trust wholly, 

the One who is.

Whether we’re letting go of 

past mistakes and heartaches,

past hardships or successes,

past grievances or malice,

or saying goodbye to loved ones,

or cherished places or friends,

the beauty is not in the act 

of letting go itself;

no, the beauty lies in our acceptance.

In the manner in which we carry on.

And the grace with which we honor,

the lessons learned,

the forgiveness given and received,

the wisdom carried forward,

the memories forever cherished,

and the love that remains.

JN Fenwick (© 2022)

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