Moving On

American impatience, American optimism, all seem summed in the phrase, “Move on.” We have a death or another greater or lesser loss and we’re adjured to get over it, to move on, not to wallow.

Eight years ago I was badly injured in a car crash–a kid going 80 on a Chicago expressway rear-ended us, knocking us across four lanes of traffic into a retaining wall. It took two years before I could walk more than a city block, and I will always have numbness in my hands and arms from the injury to my cervical spine. I was a runner and weight-lifter, now I’m a walker and a stretchy band user. I used to think a good day’s writing was 3 or 4000 words, now my stamina limits me to 15-1800.

I am nonetheless a grateful person: I can walk, I can travel, I can still write, sing, eat. I’ve “moved on,” but the loss is also always with me.

Many people endure far greater losses, of limb, of loved ones, of capacity. Last year, one of the White Sox fielders suffered a murder in his family and had a shaky year . The Chicago Tribune adjured Alexei Ramirez  to get over it, not bring it on the field with him (I didn’t clip the story so I don’t have the exact quote.)

How do we grieve in a society that doesn’t want to dwell on loss? I’ve had a run of deaths in my circle this year, some of family members, some of friends. My energy is low; I am often depleted, unable to reach out and respond  to the needs of others. My husband, whose grief is compounded by age, diminished memory, loss of all but one old friend,  makes me  feel some times that there isn’t room for my own mourning in the house, so my grieving goes underground. There are days when one foot in front of the other is a struggle.

Grief counseling is recommended, grief therapy. These are helpful for some people in some contexts, but they also seem to say that grief isn’t part of everyday life: turn to a grief expert as you do to a computer expert or plumber. Solve that problem and get back in the saddle.

I want people to know that we all mourn at some point, we all need to weave loss into the fabric of life. Telling a mourner to move on is a form of shaming: you’re too weak, you’re grieving.

Loss creates a permanent hole. Some losses, some holes, are bigger than others, but they are all permanent, like my loss of physical ability. We learn to live without the limb, or the loved one, or the skill we once rejoiced in. We can enjoy love and life, maybe more deeply because we’ve woven loss into our lives. I don’t want to wallow or linger in my grief, but I want to respect it, learn from it, learn from others on how to cope with it.

We are all on the same journey, from birth to death. How we make the journey is the crucial challenge, not how fast we move on toward that finish line.

  • Pepper Woodford

    I also have had some losses that threatened to be crippling -my life partner of a few decades, all my material possessions. I understand –it doesn’t get better, but it does become bearable.

  • Cheryl Kohan

    Thank you for this. Mourning is healthy and we all need to grieve in whatever way will help us to make sense of our loss. Grief counseling was definitely not for me although I was urged to give it a try. Nope…not for me. And anyone who suggested that I “move on” was way off base. I had many days when putting one foot in front of the other was struggle, too. A year has passed and I’m getting there. Day by day. I’m content. That’s enough for me, at this point. I know you have good friends and family but if you ever just need to talk, Sara, I’ve got a good ear.

  • AtlantaKim

    Grief, like depression in some ways, is helped by having people in my life who “get it”.
    I have a weekly koffee klatch with women who share similar experience in this area. We laugh, we learn, we cry, and we’re there for each other. Impossible to describe.
    I dislike labels, but it can be exhausting to be a survivornin a world where being a winner is the expected norm.
    I’m a big fan of treating myself to small things when I get through something difficult too.

  • Pepper, I’m so sorry for these deep losses. You so often share helpful, deep, wise comments online, and I see they come from a very intense experience. AtlantaKim, your community is a gift in your life, one which I need to find a way of building in my own. Cheryl, I know you’ve had a load to carry and thank you for your support–you’re one of my earliest cyber-friends (with Ginny and Terry) so I feel we go back a ways together.

  • The Bag Lady

    (Seriously, Disqus?? You ate my comment?? Sigh.)

  • The Bag Lady

    (attempting this again)
    Sara, this was beautifully written. The current trend to ‘get over it’, ‘move along’, or ‘get some counseling’, as if feeling sad is a sickness to be dealt with, annoys me. There are times that wallowing is cathartic.
    I, like Cheryl, have a good ear, and if you need to vent to someone, don’t hesitate to contact either one of us. In fact, if she gets that garden built that she was contemplating on facebook, we could both go hang out there with her indefinitely. It would be a gorgeous spot to wallow.

  • Jeannie

    This certainly gave me much pause to consider my own journeys with grief, not all involving death. Your words, as always, are wise and bring forth empathy and compassion tinged with a real understanding of what you are talking about! Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you, and everyone here, for your empathic response.

  • cewilch

    This was great, Sara.

  • Mary MS

    Sara you often move me deeply, this post is one example. I empathize with loss, grief, and transitions created by major life changes – like getting older. I also relate to physical loss of mobility, stamina, strength. I’m very grateful that I’m doing much better now after several years. I wonder if you have considered an excellent Feldenkrais practitioner [there’s one in Evanston], homeopathy or anthroposophical medicine. These are transformative modalities when they suit the individual. I hope you know how gifted you are. I feel selfish in looking forward to your next book when you have so much on your plate, but I really really do. Wishing you better days.

  • Ann Giles

    These are important issues to discuss. We are all a little different, and no one can really know quite what another human being needs. Thank you for what you wrote here, Sara, and as others have said; we are here in case you need a – more distant – ear to talk to.

  • terrymurray

    My mother died (more than 20 years ago) three years after suffering a catastrophic stroke. During that time, I commuted almost monthly from Toronto (where I live) to Chicago (where she lived. A week after her funeral, a colleague of mine asked, “So, are you starting to put your life back together again?” “Are you kidding?” I replied. “I haven’t finished falling apart.” Insensitive clods like that need to have their insensitivity pointed out to them.

  • Dear Terry, Thank you for writing. Words are failing me this morning but thank you for sharing your experience. On days that it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other, it’s a help to know t hat you kept doing so.

  • terrymurray

    Quick addendum: I saw a therapist after my mother’s death. (During the period of my mother’s illness, I too lost several other friends, so it was a period of unremitting loss.) The therapist said to give myself at least a year to grieve and integrate (not “get over”) my mother’s death. Many religious and cultural groups give themselves a year (Jews say Kaddish for a year after a death, don’t they?). So try to be good to yourself and patient with yourself. I feel for you and you’ll be in my thoughts.

  • Kristine M.

    I read this quote the other day & it seems to fit well with your post. “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” ― Rose Kennedy

    I am sorry for your losses.

  • Cheryl Kohan

    I’m just now finding this comment, you silly thing! I’m going to get going on that garden! It’s not large but it will be perfect for wallowing. xxoo

  • Cheryl Kohan

    Yes, we do. It means a lot to me.

  • Cheryl Kohan

    That is so true. And Rose Kennedy did know whereof she spoke.

  • The Bag Lady

    I can hardly wait, Cheryl!


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