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.