By Emily Long
The phrase “moving on” is common in the grief and loss world, but it isn’t very well understood or, frankly, all that helpful.
What does it mean? What does moving on look like? How does one actually do it?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer to those questions.
However, there are things it can be helpful to know about “moving on” after the death of a loved one, divorce, or other painful life event.
1. YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR HOW OTHERS FEEL ABOUT YOUR GRIEF PROCESS
Typically, it feels like what those around us mean by “moving on” is for us to stop hurting, stop talking about it, stop remembering, stop crying, and just stop grieving. They talk about wishing we would stop dwelling on the hurt and encourage us to just let go and accept what happened.
The truth is, what they actually want is for us to stop making them uncomfortable about our pain. Let’s face it—being with someone who is in pain and grieving isn’t the easiest of experiences. It’s difficult to watch someone we love hurting so deeply.
But other people’s discomfort with your grief is their business, not yours. You are not responsible for making them feel more comfortable.
2. MOVING ON DOESN’T MEAN FORGETTING
I suspect that the primary difficulty many of us have with the phrase “moving on” is that it often feels as if we’re being told to forget our loved one or the relationship we once had.
That’s not what moving on means. Moving on is more about learning to live what I call a both/and life rather than an either/or life. It’s not about grieving or forgetting, happy or sad, black or white. It’s shades of gray.
It’s about learning to live a full and happy life even as you miss and long for what you have lost. It’s about remembering and honoring the one you loved while also embracing the beauty and fullness of the life you still get to live. It’s about the brilliance of your love and the shadow of your loss coexisting in this complex and expansive experience we call living.
Grief and loss are complex, multifaceted, and multilayered. Loss and our experience of grief are integrated into our lives, not things we get rid of.
3. MOVING ON DOESN’T MEAN THE END OF GRIEF, EITHER
Moving on from grief doesn’t mean a static end. It doesn’t mean suddenly we’re done grieving and will never hurt again. Moving on is more about moving forward than being done.
Grief and loss are complex, multifaceted, and multilayered. Loss and our experience of grief are integrated into our lives, not things we get rid of. Grief changes and morphs over time. We get stronger as we carry it, the edges of it round and dull, and with time it begins to take up less space in our lives. It doesn’t simply disappear. Grief can (and will) continue to remind us of our loss throughout our lifetimes, in different ways and at different times.
We move forward with life, embracing the fullness of it, even as our loss becomes part of who we now are.
4. ULTIMATELY, YOU GET TO DEFINE “MOVING ON” FOR YOURSELF
People will have all kinds of advice and well-meaning intentions about how you should move on, when you should do it, and what it should look like. They, however, cannot determine that for you.
There are no timelines or rules to the grieving process. You will move through it at your unique pace and not one minute faster. The process of grieving is unique to each of us. No amount of pressure from others can make us move through our process any faster, not in any kind of healthy way.
Only you can know when you are ready to move forward after your loss. Only you can decide what it means to let go or accept the loss you experienced. Only you can truly decide what it means to move on and move forward.
Whatever that looks like for you, it is perfect and right.