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Goodbyes are hard. Even harder when you don’t want or expect them.

If you’re stubborn like me, you may hold on long after it’s time to move on. You keep carrying the person with you, bringing their memory into today and crowding out your chances for new happiness.

I’ve heard the standard advise – let it go, turn the page, focus on something else.

But how do you decide when to forget?

Six years ago, my best friend’s mother died. Last week another friend’s mother was unexpectedly taken. I don’t want these women to be forgotten – their smell, smiles, voices. I want their aliveness embroidered on the hearts of their loved ones forever so they don’t have to live a moment without them.

But death is non-negotiable. You can rile against it, hate it, and argue with it, but your efforts are in vain. It won’t change the truth.

So slowly you surrender. You learn to give up the fight and open yourself to the new world waiting for you beyond the pain.

But what about when it’s not a person who dies but a relationship? What happens when someone’s out of your life but still just down the road?

You go through all the same stages of grief as death – anger, denial, anger, anger, more anger… As hard as it is, death is understandable. Other people’s choices often aren’t.

Either way you face the same choice – move on or fan the flame of memory? Keep it alive or allow yourself to forget?

When I set my mind to something, it becomes part of my vision for the world; an operating assumption. Like a child promised an ice cream cone, no amount of explaining how plans have changed will make me understand why I can’t have the promised treat.

I create a vision of the future and commit to it. I’m all in.

My stubbornness has one big benefit – if you get woven into the fabric of my life, you’re in for life. Unfortunately it also means I keep people active in my emotional world far longer than their useful shelf life. I struggle to give up the vision I created of them and face the reality of who they really are, often to my own detriment.

Unfortunately, when you keep someone’s energy alive in your day-to-day life, you pause yourself in a moment that no longer captures who you are. After all, you grow and change, but by constantly returning to an prior emotional state, you deny yourself the benefit of the experience and the lessons you may have learned from it.

You also weigh yourself down with emotions that are no longer relevant, which robs you of vital energy you need to live fully and joyously now.

If those aren’t enough reasons to let go, here’s one more – by keeping someone’s memory alive, you also force yourself to lose the person – or who you imagine they are – all over again every time you snap out of your illusion. Ouch!

Next time you don’t want to say goodbye and let go, promise me you’ll do this:

Love yourself more.

Affirm that your happiness today is more important – more fulfilling, more satisfying – than any memory from before.

Then open to the opportunity pain and loss give you. Go through the stages of grief. Remember the person’s goodness then be overwhelmed by memories of their meanness. Ride the waves and with each one send a quiet wish to your heart that it knows without a doubt that you deserve of all the love and joy it can hold and then some.

Then put down the sword you’ve been using to fight reality, take a deep breath and get busy building new memories.

Smile, laugh, risk – do it all again and love yourself even more the next time.

And if your heart breaks a hundred times over, know this – each time you sew it up with your own thread, you slowly make it your own. You love yourself whole.

Where can you let go and open to your joy today?