Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “Maybe it’s time to move on…”

These words are actually offered as (presumed) words of comfort to grieving people! I still shake my head at the idea that this is said by a friend or family member to someone who is hurting.

Move on…to me this suggests “moving away from” as in packing your bags and boxes and leaving. Or it suggests making a switch from one thing to another, as in “I don’t like that sushi restaurant, let’s try the new one down the street.”

I don’t understand how one can “move on” from the relationship of a mother or brother, dad or lover, dear friend or grand parent. A relationship is not static, it is not an object to be packaged up. It cannot be replaced. A relationship is as unique as the proverbial snowflake, as unique as you and I, as unique as the experience of grief each person feels when a loved one dies.

In fact, I have found that my work with folks who are grieving has led me to occasionally use the phrase “militant griever,” to help them find their voice and claim their grief. I coach them to respond to such comments with, “Thank you for your support but I have found I have to do this in my own way.” Respectful and polite, but setting clear boundaries to support self-care.

And then I introduce alternate language… “moving forward.” It feels less pushy. “Moving forward” embraces the idea that you are alive and that life involves moving. These are not small ideas in the world of a griever, many would rather stay inside or avoid change. In their minds, accepting change means accepting their loved one is really gone.

So moving, in any way, is huge. Moving forward can be inviting, because any place without pain would be a good place. But its also scary because moving forward suggests moving away from what was, and what was included him or her in the picture. Moving forward requires accepting, once again, that the beloved is indeed absent from our life.

I hope there can be seeds of freedom in “moving forward” as well. I hope that image of forward movement can elicit hope itself as one considers what life might bring down the road.

It occurs to me, though, that these two “movements” in response to loss are not an adequate description. It’s not about moving on or even moving forward. It’s about “moving in.” Grieving catapults us – our emotions, our intellect, our psyche, our spirituality…boom! We are thrust right into the depths of ourselves without any warning or any guidance.

For some, this experience is as frightening as it is sad. They have lived their lives caring for others or fulfilling responsibilities that has precluded much time for reflection. Others might have a road map due to their religious tradition, that acknowledges their pain and the new reality it creates, so the inner world is a bit more familiar.

Some people look for help, for any kind of reference point to make sense of the senseless. And some have instincts that lets them trust the painful and circuitous process of grieving. All of us, though, must respond to the two major demands of loss: 1) living life without him or her and 2) living life with myself!

Grief, ultimately, becomes a process of moving inward, into an unknown territory of oneself. Without the beloved, we must face fears, loneliness, or inadequacy. The pain of the loss, coupled with this vast emptiness of uncertainty often creates resistance to traveling within. Its hurts way too much. This is unfortunate, because along with our flaws and foibles, our inner world also contains precious jewels.

Deep within we may find courage or creativity, hope or compassion. We may discover a new or renewed connection to the Divine that has been waiting to offer us further healing in these painful, broken places. The journey of grief, as some call it, is a process of discovery in an unwelcome and mysterious territory. C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed, described it this way, “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”

Many grievers, many people in general, resist the journey within. The hard work and painful acceptance that it demands is just too great. This is unfortunate, because the energy to resist the depths of ourselves is not very discriminatory. When we push down our deep fears, we also will be pushing down seeds of new insights, of confidence, of gifts we never knew existed. But of course this kind of reasoning is not very attractive when one is hurting. What everyone wants is for the pain to stop.

Grief, dear friends, is indeed a process. Our job is to find the tools and people that can comfort us along the way, along the difficult journey of grieving. Our job, as grievers, is to allow the process to move within us and to trust the outcome. Our job is to believe, to know, that the love we experienced with those who passed away will care for us still in this new time of our lives.


Lisa Irish

Lisa Irish, MEd, MA, BCC incorporates her experience in chaplaincy, spiritual direction and her own journey to guide the way in the Land of Loss. As former bereavement coordinator for Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Hospital of St Raphael, she ministered to individuals, groups and community organizations. Of her book, Grieving – the Sacred Art: Hope in the Land of the Loss, Fr. Richard Rohr says….”the roadmap is wise, but sensitive – grounded in hope – and reminds us to rest in God’s healing love.” Lisa shares her understanding of grief, healing and hope through rich retreat programs and in regular messages found at "Grieving with a Grateful Heart," Abbey Press. "Finding Healing in Times of Grief and Loss" (contributing author) Abbey Press "Grief - the Sacred Art," Skylight Paths Publishing in 2018.

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