Grief and the art of “moving forward”

I am a widow. I was widowed when I was a young woman of 35 and my life has never been the same since. In the blink of an eye, I went from eagerly awaiting becoming an adoptive parent with my amazing husband to being a grieving widow.

In those early days of widowhood, I was told over and over again that, eventually, it would be time to “move on” with my life. Every time I heard those words in the weeks and months after my husband died, I felt a sense of anger that people would dare to suggest that I could just move on as if Paul was never a part of me. But I tried to tell myself that people meant well; that they had my best interests at heart.

More than eight years later, people are still telling me I need to move on. People are asking me when I plan to move on.

After spending three weeks in my Homeland this summer, I began to understand that this big push for me to move on is because some people feel that my unmarried status is a sign that I have not “moved on” since that fateful day.

Sometimes, it’s a statement: “You need to find a new husband/boyfriend/whatever so that you can move on…”

And sometimes, it’s a question: “Do you think you’ll ever move on and find someone new?”

I have realised that when people ask me about moving on, they are suggesting that the only way to heal is to find someone new; to find someone to “replace” Paul. It feels as if I am being told that I cannot live in the present and dream of a future if I do not have a partner to share those things with.

It feels as if I am being told that I am doing widowhood wrong.

Get over it.

……Move on.

………Don’t dwell on it.

…………Move on. Move on. Move on. Move on!

The truth is, of course, I have been moving forward from the very beginning. Sure, I spent a few days in bed, barely able to move from the pain of grief that enveloped my soul. But that was way, way back at the beginning of this horrible journey. And even on those days, I wasn’t going backwards. I was just on pause. And even then, those “paused” days are a perfectly normal part of the grieving process and are vital parts of the inevitable act of moving forward.

I have moved forward in leaps and bounds. I said goodbye to the home we bought together. I said goodbye to most of the lovely treasures we accumulated together. I said goodbye to most of his personal treasures. I left my job. I returned to Scotland. I completed my Master’s degree. I started (and have nearly completed) my PhD. I have even dipped my toes into the dating pond (unsuccessfully).

If you look at me and think I am living in a wee bubble of grief where my life is on hold waiting for my husband to return, then you are looking at me wrong.

Just because I haven’t had a new relationship…

Just because I haven’t stopped wearing my rings (although now on a different hand)…

……Just because I haven’t reverted to my maiden name…

………Just because I am not on the same timeline as other widow(er)s you know…

…………Just because I am not doing what you think you might do if you were ever faced with the life-shattering experiences I have been faced with…

… doesn’t mean I am not moving forward. It doesn’t mean I am stuck in this little bubble of grief, unable to function in my daily life or society as a whole.

The fact is that moving forward in your grief doesn’t have to mean meeting someone new.

Moving forward isn’t about new love or forgetting past loves. Moving forward is about waking up each day and living your life in the present and, hopefully, with thoughts towards the future. Moving forward is about carrying on despite the pain and the grief that you carry with you.

I have moved forward. I have moved so far forward that my life today is far, far removed from the life I had with Paul; the life I had before I was widowed.

Yet despite the great strides I’ve taken in this journey forward, there will always be those who feel I’ve not moved forward enough – simply because I have not found a new partner to share my life with. There will always be those who feel that my lack of a new relationship means that I am stuck, frozen in time; frozen in grief.

Part of me understands this because I know that, for some people, being coupled is seen as the best way to be. Being alone, therefore, is seen as a sad and pathetic status in life – almost as if one can only be truly happy and truly content if they are part of a couple.

But my solo status is not because of my grief. My solo status is because I have yet to meet someone who can change that status for me. And it isn’t because of Paul, it is because of me. It is because I would rather move forward alone than to move forward with someone who merely fills a space.

Grief and the art of moving forward is a process. A very long, very personal process.

And closure, well that’s a different thing altogether. But others have already covered that topic quite well.

So please, do not ask me when I plan to “move on”. And please, do not suggest that my solo status means I am stuck in the past. I have moved forward so very much. And if you cannot see that, then you do not know me enough to comment on my love life.

6 Replies to “Grief and the art of “moving forward””

  1. It amazes me that people feel bold enough to comment on something so intensely personal. I don’t pretend to understand what you’ve gone through, but I know you’ve done it with grace and strength. You’ve rebuilt? resumed? reimagined? your life since you lost Paul and I am always in awe of it. I hope the people making these comments are doing it because they genuinely care about you and are not judging you. How anyone could judge someone put in that horrible position is beyond me. Just keep keepin’ on, my beautiful friend. xoxo

    1. Thanks, Corinne. I know that (most of) the comments are made because people honestly feel that the reason I have not remarried is that I am not facing up to the fact of my widowhood. And there is a bit of comparison between divorce and widowhood, too. After all, a common post-divorce activity is to “get back on the horse” and find a new/better man.

      It just feels that I am under a great amount of scrutiny by others, even though those “others” have absolutely no idea what I’m going through. Still… I have to do what’s best for me. And it’s not that I am against dating, it’s just that I don’t believe that finding someone new is a vital part of the process. (But it would be lovely to have someone to share my life with!)

      I hope you’re well, my friend!!

  2. Thanks for this read. I totally get you about the audacity that people will tell you to move on. In my case I didn’t lose a partner or a spouse, I lost both my parents. imagine people telling after a month or so that I should move on. The audacity the nerve. They have no idea how devastating it is, yes I also tried to tell myself that people just meant well; that they had my best interests at heart. But the choice of words where still to early to tell, because the gravity of the loss, the lengthy time it is to process everything and the grieving process, it’s just that moving on from it or the pain of it will never go. I can move forward with life now. But the choice of words so bold as to move on. I’m not sure what they meant by it, without them putting their selves in my shoes first, I wouldn’t wish anyone the same experiences I had, to be told constantly that I should move on is just plain insensitive. It’s already been 2 years, it might appear that I am okay, but the pain will remain constant. And people grieve differently and people can be toxic too even if they don’t intend to do you harm, it’s the choice of words that do more harm than good.

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. My own mother passed away about 18 months ago and I am still heartbroken. It is a different kind of pain, and a different kind of processing, than I experienced with my husband’s death — but it is very real and I imagine the grief will live in me forever. In fact, my mother talked about the pain and sadness of missing her mother (my grandmother) more than 40 years after she passed away.
      There are some losses we will never, ever, ever “get over”… instead, we just need to do our best to move forward in our own lives so that we can keep living. As we move forward in life, we carry our grief with us. And the greater the love, the greater the grief.
      For me, I have found that I carry my mother and my husband in my heart with each step I take into the future. Whilst I still cry at times and the pain is still present, I am blessed with so many happy memories that I am able to focus on that and hope that tomorrow will bring more laughter than tears.
      A little aside: My father and I took a little road trip last week along a coastal highway where my parents had their honeymoon. One of the places we stopped was a lovely beach were they camped overnight, and I found an interesting little grey and white rock that Mum would have loved. So, I took it away and will have it made into a necklace. Something to help me carry Mum with me as I walk forward in life.
      All my best to you as you move forward in your own grief. I hope you are able to find more laugher than tears today.

Join the conversation!