What Does it Mean to ‘Get on with Life’

Of all the statements and spiritual platitudes quoted to me since my son, Daniel, died, the phrase that I hear most frequently makes me squirm the most. “You have got to get on with your life.” Recently, I quit squirming long enough to ponder the meaning behind this phrase that is usually said to the bereaved in the form of a command. Exactly what does this phrase mean? What are people implying when they say it?

I was pregnant when Daniel died and three months later, I gave birth to a baby girl. Wasn’t that getting on with my life? I nurtured my three children, took them to school, the park and birthday parties. Now wasn’t that going on with my life? I even cooked dinner four times a week!

At first, after Daniel’s death, I would have liked to have had my life literally stopped and been buried next to my son, but I kept existing. Like the plastic bag tossed about by the wind, I was fluttering, being carried by the events of life. Seasons came and went. In the spring, I planted marigolds and tomato vines. In the autumn, I jumped in fallen leaves with my children. I continued and I am still continuing to live.

Now, I may be bereaved but I am by no means a fool! As I ponder the meaning behind “getting on with life,” I am incapable of knowing exactly what those who say this have in mind. “Forget about your dead child. Quit grieving. You make me uncomfortable.” Getting on with life means don’t acknowledge August 25th, Daniel’s birthday anymore? Forget how he slid down the snowy bank in the recycle bin, sand in the van and ate gummy bears? Forget he had cancer, suffered and died at only age four? Don’t see the empty chair at the dinner table, don’t cry, just live!!!

Some who are more religious would like to believe that a bereaved parent can claim, “My child is safe and happy in Heaven. Therefore, why should I yearn for him?” Perhaps, I pose a threat to certain types because I let it be known I question God. I weep, I have been angry. I miss Daniel. Many old friends feel if they hang around me too long, I might convince them that a few of their beliefs about life are just illusions. As my cries of anguish are heard, there are those who can only think how to make me quiet. They say quite sternly, “You must get on with life.”

I am living. I do move on with life with Daniel in my mind and in my heart. Although he is not physically here, as I continue to live, I continue to love. To sever his memory totally from my life would be creating destruction and damage that would ruin me. To push Daniel out of my life and not be able to freely mention his name or write and speak about who he was on earth would only bring more pain to my life. I’d shrivel up.

Comfort for me comes in remembering with smiles how he drew with a blue marker on his sister’s wall, ran outside naked and picked green tomatoes. For, in reality, getting on with life means continuing to cherish Daniel.

Alice Wisler

More Articles Written by Alice

Alice J. Wisler, founder of a grief-support organization, Daniel’s House Publications, is a full-time writer and author of contemporary novels. In 1997, her four-year-old son Daniel died from cancer treatments. Since then, her writing focus has been on how to help others in grief. She gives Writing the Heartache workshops across the country. Through her organization, she designs and sells comfort cards/remembrance cards and at her Carved By Heart imprint, carves personalized remembrance plaques. When she isn't writing or speaking, she is promoting her novels---Rain Song (2008), How Sweet It Is (2009), Hatteras Girl (2010), A Wedding Invitation (2011), and Still Life in Shadows (2012). Her devotional, Getting Out of Bed in the Morining, offers comfort and purpose for those dealing with grief and loss. Her cookbooks of memory---Down the Cereal Aisle, Memories Around the Table, and Slices of Sunlight, contain stories of food and memories of children who have died. In 2009, Alice married Carl in Las Vegas, and they live with her three children in Durham, NC. To Listen to Alice's Radio show To learn more about Alice visit her website: http://www.alicewisler.com and go to her blogs: http://www.alicewisler.blogspot.com and http://www.writingtheheartache.blogspot.com/


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  • rae says:

    i am sorry for you to have lose Daniel,the closes i can get to what you have sufferd is having a still born baby.i also lost my back bone ,my mum.

    people say the most alful things,all i can think is they have not lost someone yet?its to protect them selfs from your pain.They expect you to get over it in a few months.To lose a child you have lost his or her future to lose a parent you have lost the past.

    Peaople mean well most of the time,but to tell you to move on makes you feel they are saying that your lose meant nothing.

    one day these people will im sorry to say will lose some one they love,and will no excectly how you feel.

    To lose a child is not the way it should be,it must be hard for you i can only imagine.
    I think you have got on with it,i think i would lose my mind if i lost any of my 4 children.

    I know its hard but forgive them as they know not what they do.

    Remember and honour you Daniel for the rest of your life,he was important and loved by all of you.ive learnt to talk to people that understand ,maybe you should do the same.i hope there is people to listen to them when their world comes crashing down.

    Keep yourself safe from the comments. Rae

  • Alice Wisler says:


    Thanks for your comments. You are sweet to read the article and
    write to me. Your heart is tender and compassionate toward others, and I am sorry that you have lost your baby and your mum.



  • Mark canfora says:

    I am praying for God’s peace and will for your life. I am a father whose son also passed away and a firm and strong believer in Christ and God…I hate religion and religion (evil men/false leaders in a wicked, cult-like church, teacher/pastor/) is one of the primary things that lead to my Marky’s depression, suicide & death at age 18. If anyone had questions of God and about religion it was me at the time…

    I can assure you God had nothing to do with my child’s passing. Jesus was crucified at the order and hands of the “religious” of His time-the Sadduccees and Pharissees because He was a threat to their monopoly/control)

    I hate and am angry with a god…the god of this world/earth which is satan according to the Bible and my beliefs…,
    I know and love the God that gave us our boys even if it was not long enough…I have a chapter paragraph in my book about the measure of God’s love for us…I hope it’s ok to share that with you…I respect your grieving process…I am no hipocrite by any means…they sicken me.

    I talk about what I would give for just one more day with my Marky…even one more hour here on earth…you know if this were possible…hypothetically…I know you would agree we would give $10,000,000, 000 if we had it- & everything and anything for that hour…yet I got 6870 days… 6870 of those days I was blessed with that I would give anything for….I choose to view God as a loving God…not the god that tormented, torchured, had my son abused, hurt and wounded…there are 2 different Gods here I am talking about… (God and a god)

    I will gladly share my book with you for free…I’ll send it…anything…please do not misundersatnd my heart or intentions here…I know your pain…I did have questions for God…but I heard His voice, knew His sufferings, crucifixion, sacrifice… and chose to accept His promises about our sons in heaven…your friend, I hope…Mark Canfora Sr. Mark Canfora Jr. 1986-2005.

    A Child Died, A Father Cried…and God Answered (3 chapters there now)

  • Annette Mennen says:

    There is much wisdom in your observation of the real meaning of the words of others. Death makes most people uncomfortable. The death of one’s child is the single most traumatic event of a lifetime. Others sense this gravity, and frankly, I feel that most people are unable to envision a serenity or hope for us. In order to “encourage” us forward, they would feel much better if we deny the past, deny our child’s life and repress our memories. But we won’t be doing that. We are getting on with life. It’s simply not a life that most people will ever understand.

    You’re on the road to hope, and you are raising your children in the most positive way possible. That is enough. That is more than most people are able to do in a “normal” life. Each day offers another memory of our child, each day offers another opportunity to celebrate our precious child. This is the new normal.

  • Thanks for the comments here! Good to read your thoughts. So sorry for all the losses. Each day we learn new skills on how to cope and be present in a world that denies our grief. In this way, we honor our children.

    ~ Alice

  • Belinda says:

    Hi Alice

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that people want you to “get on with your life” so that they don’t have to watch your pain.

    I lost my 11-year-old daughter on 1 July 2008 in a freak accident. Nothing prepared me for the shock & devastation that I felt, and the effect it would have on my husband and other child.

    healing is a process not an event, and yes, we all carry on living even though we would rather be hiding under our beds. What kept me going in the first year was pure determination that my daughters death would not mean the total collapse of her little sister’s world.

    I can’t really remember much of that first year, even though I decided not to use medication – (amazing how thats the first thing that people recommend, as if a little pill every day will make everything ok). I have quite a responsible job and I dropped a few balls because I couldn’t think straight, and because my priorities had changed. This became an excuse for certain people to start lobbying for me to leave because I couldn’t do my job, and they felt that I was somehow “damaged”.

    Luckily I have a boss who is incredibly compassionate and who believed in me enough to make allowances for me during that first year. Almost 2 years after Carla passed, I am realising that what happened has not damaged me, but it has changed me. I’m stronger, I feel as if I have been tempered by adversity, and a lot of things that I thought were important before have become insignificant. Things that I never paid much attention to before have become central to my existence.

    I am grateful for every day and every minute I am alive. I bask in the love of my husband and my daughter and the support and generosity of spirit of my friends and family. This doesn’t mean that I don’t yearn for Carla, or that the hollow painful feeling has lifted from my heart. I still have her picture up at my desk, and the last mother’s day card she made me. I still talk about her and the silly stuff she used to do. And on her birthday we’re going out for sushi and cream soda, with whoever wants to join us!

  • Thanks for your words, Belinda. How wonderful that you can celebrate Carla’s life and all she meant/means to you. I grew up
    in Japan, and love sushi. Cream soda is great, too. What a meaningful and fun way to remember your daughter on her birthday.