Let it all Unravel

When soldiering on doesn’t work anymore.

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John Walter ⭐Dec 29, 2019 · 3 min read. [First published in Live Your Life On Purpose – Medium]

My grandfather was a fisherman. Never owned a car. Didn’t drink.

I think of him in winter sitting by the window watching the boats in the harbor. The open fire roaring, his pipe nearby ready to add aromatic smoke to the scene.

On his lap and all around his feet is a tangled mass of string. Over days, it will slowly transform back into something recognizable as a fishing net.

This is not a linear process. He is not starting at one end and finishing at another. Before he can start mending the net there is a period of unraveling. Loosening the tangle and knots. You cannot pull it apart, that would only tighten the knots.

You cannot focus on one area to the exclusion of others. You have to loosen the whole mass of string equally before working on any repairs. Let it all unravel.

This is where I find myself now in my grief process. My daughter took her own life 18 months ago. At first, my response was to find ways of coping. I organized the funeral. I checked in on people. I made sure they were ok.

There was some need to keep normal things going. To keep the job I had. To carry on with a musical project. There was a sense of struggling through the days.

I knew it couldn’t carry on. I started to hear stories of those who had soldiered on in their grief for decades only to succumb to mental illness themselves. One man had lost his job, was struggling in his relationship, and was returning to counseling and a grief support group after 30 years.

Let it all unravel.

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Photo by Brook Anderson on Unsplash

This is where I am now. Trimming my life down only to things that allow this unraveling. No big plans, no purposeful path stretching into the future. Just paying attention to this tangled mass in front of me.

Noticing that the more I experience my sorrow, the easier it is to let in the joy. Feeling my anxiety. Then feeling the layers of commitment behind the anxiety. Noticing anger and blame when they arise, looking behind that. Noticing that any feeling directed outwards has a source from within me.

Crucially, I experience all these things together. My image of my Grandad helps me to trust that I can only heal by allowing this unraveling. Lay all my feelings in front of me. Allow them to loosen, to gradually spread out and reveal the hidden layers.

Only then when it is all visible can I begin the repairs


Let it go,
Let it out,
Let it all unravel,
Let it free
And it will be
A path on which to travel.

(Michael Leunig)


  1. Well written John, it encapsulates what can happen when a loved one dies. Thank you for sharing your story. My choir are singing Let it Go at a local Hospice next month. It will be beautiful.


    • Thanks for responding. I am now a bereavement counsellor and still notice myself holding it all together when …


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