I never wanted to be one of those grief-stricken ladies who looks like she’s made her life a shrine to her lost child/spouse/sibling. I have a happy fulfilled life in my work, play, family and friends. What’s not to love about salsa dancing and surfing and writing to all you lovely folks?
But that's not what happened last month.
Holy guacamole did I ever fall into some mysto grief hole the size of Lake Michigan—and I spent a whole for week there!
As you might guess, I’m extra special SUPER DUPER motivated to not be doing any type of big mourning over my losses of 20 years ago any longer.
But no amount of motivation reduced my grief—not one tiny bit. In fact, it made things worse. Instead, I found myself employing the usual array of ineffective rationalizations and distracting suggestions in an attempt to get myself to snap out of it. You know, by asking myself winning questions like these:
It’s been over 20 years; why now with all the grief?
I don’t get it! Last year was so easy. What’s with the melt-down this year?
Yes, these are questions, but they're the kind of questions where we don’t really want answers. But eventually, even I could see my questions for the smoke screen that they were, so I decided to look into what they were camouflaging.
Which brought me to this: Exactly what did I think was going to happen after losing two children, no matter how long it’s been?
And my answer? I guess I thought I’d move on.
That seems reasonable, right?
But what exactly is moving on anyway? What would that look like?
And every single inquiry ended in the same answer: To move on—in our culture at least—is to forget.
Forget about my hilarious, beautiful, inspiring children that made me happier than I've ever been in my life?
That’s ridiculous. And so dismissive. Not to mention how it dishonors those relationships.
Besides, even if it were a good idea to forget my children, on a purely practical level, it's almost impossible to do. Frequently, the cost of shutting down one emotion (mourning) is that it shuts down all our emotions (love, happiness, joy). We can end up unable to connect with anyone.
But if all my energy around moving on is so impossible to do, and it yields such poor results, then where does this impossibly high bar that we set for ourselves and for other sad folks come from?
And then I remembered my hundred or so interviews with grievers and their friends: The Move-On Effect, comes from our collective fear of grief. It's our fear of mourning that urges us to say move-on style condolences such as these to ourselves and others:
Don’t you think it’s time to start getting out a bit?
You need some closure.
Jack would want you to be happy.
Why don’t you have a nice little fling to get over your ex-husband?
It's been 20 years; it's time to move on.
Move-on style condolences such as these attempt—unconsciously—to get grievers to stop crying. (For more on this, see, Condolences Pocket Guide.) And it works! Until we leave. And then it leaves grievers feeling worse.
Once I saw that the move-on effect was in operation in my grief, I decided to be brave and buck this trend. On the spot I gave myself permission to be as sad as I actually felt—the exact opposite of moving on.
Right away something magical happened! My mourning began to dissipate. Turns out it was my resistance to mourning—my mandate to myself that I should have moved on already—that had been holding me stuck in mourning.
Many of the grievers I interviewed back when I was doing research for my book reiterated the same sentiment: Now that x-amount of arbitrary time had passed since they’d lost their child/spouse/sibling, they felt they had no right to feel sad.
So if you or someone you know is grieving a loss, consider offering them the counter-intuitive but healing reminder that they’re fine and good even when they’re mourning again after many years.
They’re as tired of their grief as you are—moreso! It will ease their pain to remember that having memories of our loved ones means that sometimes we feel joy and sometimes we feel sadness. And that’s just the price of love.
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Did I mention I have a book?