Sunday, November 21, 2010

Moving On

Some catch phrases tend to make one chafe and for me it is this notion of “moving on”. It strikes me that “moving on” is no longer what one does when a grieving period is over but what one feels obliged to do to make others feel better. People are told they should move on. People are made to feel selfish for not doing so.

I have heard a young widow say how friends and family were supportive for a short time but then lost patience with her.

I recall an extreme case of this when John F. Kennedy Junior’s plane was still missing. All things pointed to a tragedy and family members were gathering in Massachusetts. Caroline Kennedy had arrived and was seen riding a bicycle on the grounds of the Kennedy compound and this spurred one reporter to declare that this was Caroline’s way of sending the message that we must all move on. Remember – his plane had not even been found yet!

I am appalled by people’s impatience with the grieving process and the added toll that takes on those who find that they need more time to deal with a tragic loss and then feel guilty because of it.

This type of attitude was exhibited recently at the lunch table at my workplace. For the third time my lunch mates brought up the issue of another co-worker’s sister who is mourning the death of her son (a young man) from a sudden illness several months ago. This mother has been in an almost catatonic state ever since and is lost in her grief. She barely eats or functions in any way.

This is severely frowned upon by my lunch mates because, you see, there is another living son. The fact that the mother is not “looking after” this son (also a young man) is seen as outrageous and some even suggested that if she is trying to slowly commit suicide, they would gladly bring her a gun. This would be “better for the family”. One suggested she is being unfair to the remaining son and shouldn’t be “wallowing in self-pity”.

Having heard this too many times I said, “You can think of “fate” as being unfair to the other son and to the whole family, but we should not judge this woman. If she were lying in a coma due to a physical illness, no one would say that she was neglecting her son.” People still think of mental illness (including depression) as something you can snap out of it you weren’t so selfish!

My suggestion to not judge the grieving mother was met by an aggressive attack by one co-worker with rather extreme language and an accusation of being judgemental (ironic really, considering the point I was making).

When discussing this with a long-time friend whose son was killed in a plane crash many years ago, she recalled how she couldn’t talk about him for TEN years. Things take time.

Not everyone can comply with others’ timetables so we should accept the mourning period however long it takes. Sure, urge people to get help in the form of therapy or drugs and do whatever YOU can to help them but remember that there are processes that the mind and the soul need to handle in their own time frame.

Instead of criticizing those who are suffering, maybe we should all try to be more compassionate and also remember to be grateful that we are not in such a position.


  1. When my niece died suddenly at the ago of 5, her mother grieved deeply for a long, long time, and even then required therapy. There can't be anything much harder than the loss of a child. It goes against nature's grain.

  2. An interesting, and heartfelt, post with which I fully emphasise as I've experienced both sides several times.
    It's usually difficult for all concerned but as you rightly say we certainly nearly always need to show more compassion and understanding.
    Flighty xx

  3. Thank you both for your heartfelt comments.

  4. I couldn't agree with you more Do. The old saying "You can't really understand another person's experience until you've walked a mile in their shoes" is so true.