Letting Go

An elderly couple, wearing hats, sits on a bench with their backs to the camera. A dog lounges at their feet.

When my 85-year-old parents moved into their retirement home five years ago, my Dad found a comfortable role schlepping mats, blocks, and straps into the room where the Sunday yoga class was held. He was the only male, but it didn’t take him long to be an active member of the class instead of sitting on the sidelines waiting for class to be over, so he could carry all the equipment back to its storage home. For almost five years, he faithfully attended the class while my mom went to church. His face lit up when he spoke of yoga.

But then my mother’s dementia made it more difficult for her to attend church on her own and my Dad, being the generous person he is, gave up Sunday yoga.

I was furious—at my Mom for insisting that Dad, who abhors church, accompany her, and at Dad for going along with her wishes. I wanted to make sure that Dad, as a caregiver, cared for himself first. For months I tried to reason with him—to no avail. I was sure I knew best. I had seen my Dad do his exercises every day when I was growing up. I knew he loved to walk and greet neighbors and valued physical activity. I wanted him to still do those things, because they were good for him.

It’s not easy to step back and release the control we strive to have over a situation. Many people think that letting go is an indication of complacency or apathy. I was reminded in my meditation class a few weeks ago that we can’t control external events, but we can control our reactions to them. I can choose to question my Dad’s actions or just be present when I visit and enjoy his company.

When I finally stopped badgering my dad about yoga and exercise in general, I began listening closer to what he had to say. I asked my dad why he was willing to go to church with Mom when he disliked it so much, especially when it meant not going to yoga. He paused. “Mom and I are not the same people we were. We’re both forgetful and need help." He added that he was choosing to be with her. This came at the expense of his own health. This letting go is really difficult!

I can tell when my desire to control takes over. My stomach muscles tighten and my jaw clenches. Taking a few deep breaths and reminding myself to just listen is helpful. Then I can actually enjoy our time together.

My parents have been together for almost 70 years. Who am I to tell them how to be with one another?