My dear friend just lost his son, a man in the prime of his mid-life. When I read the obituary, and it said “he is survived by his mother and dad,” it made me cringe. The horror of having your children precede you in death overwhelms me. This young man had been suffering for a longtime and over these last months lived with his parents. In spite of their daily confrontation with his impending demise, it helped them find the courage to let him go.

My wife and I visited him during those last weeks, and it happened to be a time when he was completely lucid. He talked about his plans to move into his own place and that a photographer was coming to take his picture under the tree outside to give to his mother on Mother’s Day. This was a man who had not stood on his own legs for weeks but did just that a couple days later. He knew what he was facing, but he was not ready to let go of life. It reminded me of this story.

The Thohono O’Odham (the People of the Desert) tell this story about the time for letting go. Their mythical father is known as Pitoi; he came to the people to teach them how life was to be lived. Pitoi revealed to them the Man in the Maze symbol (see photo) and explained the center of the Maze was both the starting point, (birth) and the end point (death). As one walked this path called “how life is,” there were no wrong turns, only different points of exploration and learning.

The Creator knew that people would still be fearful when they finally peered into the darkness at the center, so the Creator made a small peninsula extending out from the center. The reluctant person facing death could move into that safe harbor and stay for as long as he wanted to. There, he could look back over his journey through life until he was satisfied with it and was ready to re-enter the darkness from which he came.

Don’t wait until the end of the road to take time out and sit in a place of contemplation. As we walk the labyrinthine path of life, we are always learning about attachments, losses, and experiencing new growth. Whenever you are looking at serious changes, find a safe harbor where you can review the events in your life and assimilate and integrate them until you’re ready to move on.