What do we keep and what do we let go?

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

Times of loss are times of transition as life goes on.

The tall muscular man doffed his hat, wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand and announced, “It’s not going to make it.”

“Really?” I asked as I wheeled down the driveway. “What’s wrong?”

“We can’t make the turn,” the mover answered. “The cab hits some low hanging trees and knocks the trailer sideways. It could turn over.”

“That’s not good,” I whispered.

We talked about other entrances, but all were too small.

“I could try to back it in,” he offered.

And he did.

Tom, the driver and lead member of the two-man team from Walker Transportation, of West Virginia, backed his 18-wheeler through the trees and down my street, parking in front of my driveway. The two began unloading the precious belongings, creating a steady flow of furniture and boxes.

And my past descended into my present.

After our mother’s death in December, my sister and I decided to sell the family home in West Virginia. In three short years, we’d lost both parents, propelling us into the deep waters of grief and the complex legal world of life after the loss of parents. We joined the ranks of those who daily battle the difficult business of moving forward, both physically and emotionally, in life after significant loss.

Tears and paperwork consumed our days. At its best, the paperwork forced us to push back the tears to focus on the business matters of the day. Bills needed to be paid, insurance statements checked and papers filed.

Attorneys patiently explained and re-explained estate matters. Grief numbed my mind or at least coated it with a layer of semi permeable haze. E-mail became my new friend to document the recurring questions and repeated answers.

As we navigated our way through the painful process, we leaned on professionals to guide us. An appraiser helped us decide what to keep and what to sell. A family friend became our remote real estate agent. And we used the same movers my parents had used when they shipped us some family treasures.

Our parents created many memories and decided to keep most of them, we learned as we cleared their home. Tom’s team unloaded 3,000 pounds of those memories that day. They were strong but gentle in their furniture placement. When my Excel spreadsheet erred in its calculations of space, they were quick to offer suggestions and willingly repositioned several pieces.

“We don’t move furniture; we move families,” Tom told me when I thanked him for his efforts.

And grief welled up again, grounding me quickly to the reality of the situation. Yes, new furniture graced my dining room and completed my den. But its presence signaled the end of one era and the beginning of another in which an uncomfortable transition began.

“In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on,” Robert Frost says succinctly, almost passively.

Although Frost is certainly accurate, life in transition — whether after death, divorce, job loss or any significant life-changing event — seethes with uncertainties and struggles. It is where we sort out what we keep and what we let go. What we cherish and what we forget. What we honor and what we lay to rest.

Transition is the time we redefine who we are by what we choose to do with what we have experienced.

Life indeed may “go on,” but we actively choose what we take with us. We decide what has value and what moves both with us — and in us.