Moving On

The first time I’d heard the phrase “moving on” was a few months after Jeff died, and thereafter I heard it frequently.

Although people often think they are helping by urging grievers to get over it and move on with their life, they are merely showing that they themselves can’t handle the griever’s grief; showing that they can’t handle the new person the griever is becoming. Friends and family want grievers to be the way they were before their loss, and the griever can’t be. Loss changes you. Grief changes you.

Sometimes when people urge grievers to move on, they are not expressing insensitivity so much as a misplaced understanding of the nature of grief. (Which is why my book Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One was written both for grievers and for anyone who wants to understand this thing we call “grief.”)

The truth is, grieving is how we “move on.” Grieving for a spouse is a process, a process of change from a person with a mate and shared life to someone who can deal with the absence, loss, aloneness.

“Moving on” or “moving forward” isn’t just used about grief. It’s used for almost everything, and one of these phrases frequently shows up in tarot card interpretations, such as the card I picked today that is supposed to be about overcoming fears and boldly moving forward. The phrase also appears frequently in novels and in discussions about writing, such as moving the plot forward, or the characters moving on from . . . whatever.

All of sudden today it struck me that I don’t even know what that means. “Moving forward” seems to connote a linear path, which might work for writing, given that the plot has to go from beginning to a satisfying end, but in life, there truly is no forward movement except that which we impose on our lives, such as time or age or career success or even traveling. We feel like we’re moving forward when we walk or drive somewhere, but that’s mostly an illusion. Unless we are permanently moving to a new house or new property, we eventually return to where we started, so that turns out not to be a forward motion at all.

The universe seems to be built more on circular motion, atomic particles and heavenly bodies are always in motion, orbiting around each other, making their way around empty space, but not really going anywhere because if there is not really a “here,” there can’t be a “there” to move on to. It seems as if motion is important, but not necessarily forward motion. For all I know, we could be moving backward, and it is just the way our brain interprets things to make it seem as if we are moving forward.

A kaleidoscope comes to mind. If all the energy that ever was exists today, then a turn of the scope brings us to what seems a different place, but is really all the same place. Karma and the idea that what goes around comes around also connotes a circular life. As does a gyroscope.

A tarot card I randomly picked twice in the past three days was about fluctuation and change. It suggested that a person who is in harmony with her life is one who can adapt to all the changes that comes her way, and keep on moving, Like a gyroscope that only holds its position when it is spinning,

But not “moving on”. Just “moving”.

Assuming we are supposed to be moving on, moving forward, moving toward something, where are we supposed to be going? Well, death, we are all moving inexorably toward death, since death is our end on this earth, but is that really a forward movement? After a certain age, it seems more as we are being pushed rather than moving on our own initiative. But other than that, what are we supposed to be moving toward? Enlightenment, maybe, though that brings up the issue of what is enlightenment.

In the case of grief, even though I am not actively grieving and haven’t been for a long time — I seldom even feel nostalgic anymore — I never actually “moved on,” never “got over” it. It’s more that the loss became subsumed into the very fabric of my life.

Admittedly, I might simply be sensitive to the phraseology because of all the people who used these words or variations of them to urge me to get over my grief, but they still seem to be rather meaningless terms no matter how they are used.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

5 Responses to “Moving On”

  1. Charlotte M. Liebel Says:

    Hello again, and just wondering, which of your books will help me to process the grief and stability. And, thereafter, less devastation in my being. I want to be ahead of the loss. Thank you in advance.
    Charlotte Liebel
    aka Sharliebel

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m not sure you can prepare yourself to any great extent. Being with the person now as much as possible is the only real way. As for dealing with grief — Grief: The Great Yearning is compiled of blog posts, letters to Jeff, and journal entries from my first year. Many people find that following my grief journey on a day-to-day basis via the book helps them deal with their own grief.

      Grief: The Inside Story is a much more comprehensive look at grief, explains more about what grief is, why the current teachings are wrong, and helps people understand that their great grief, while agonizing, is normal.

      If you’re only going to get one book, get Grief: The Inside Story. You don’t have to read it cover to cover, but can use it like a guide book or a reference book.

      I am sorry you are dealing with all this. Best wishes.

  2. Estragon Says:

    Moving on (or not) really isn’t a choice. We’re all moving through spacetime at the speed of light whether we choose to or not. With enough energy, we can move a bit more in spatial dimensions and a bit less in time relative to objects outside our inertial frame, but basically we’re just hurtling through. Even the apparently circular motion of an orbit can be thought of as being a straight path through spacetime (distorted by the gravitational effect of the objects in the orbital system). Considering the speed at which the earth/solar system/galaxy is moving, the walk in the park I’m about to go on seems pretty tiny and won’t likely bring me back to “where it started”.

    Grief certainly has changed me, whether I wanted it to or not. Moving on (or getting over it) has always struck me as a rather daft description.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      True. I once used that same sort of analogy to talk about how far I’d come since Jeff’s death, as if I had left him back there somewhere. Apparently, I was in a “not moving on” state of mind when I wrote this, because it truly is a daft description when used with grief.

  3. Judy Galyon Says:

    Getting thru the loss of a loved one is very difficult, but different for everyone. I know some who just cease moving forward at all. Life can really throw us some serious curves that can be very tough to deal with. Everyone handles things in their own way, whether it makes sense to us or not.

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