August 23, 2014

Letting Grief Move In is the Way to Move On. ~ Christina O’Flaherty


In 2010 I lost my little boy a day after he was born.

Afterwards, I found myself in the darkest emotional space I have ever experienced. It took time, weekly therapy sessions, acupuncture, daily yoga and meditation to find my way to peace. Looking back, I learned some very important lessons. One of them was about what it means to move on from loss.

Anyone who has lost someone wonders when they will start to feel normal again. They wonder how they will ever “move on.” The concept is usually tangled with what family and friends expect of them and can feel like an impossible feat to those in the throes of grief.

Some will tell you that there is no such thing as moving on.

To share what “moving on” means to me, I should start with what moving on is not. It’s not stuffing your feelings and putting on a brave face to the world. It’s not forgetting or replacing one person for another. It has nothing to do with how grateful you are for what else is in your life. It’s not about letting go of the past, or as the phrase implies, deciding to move away from the experience by leaving it behind.

For me, healing wasn’t a decision but a process that involved letting this painful experience transform me and finding acceptance of it. Instead of blocking it out, it was about letting it in fully, embracing it as a part of who I am.

That might sound strange because we tend to think we have to fight against the bad things in life like loss and death, and the normal human responses they bring up in us like sadness, anger and hopelessness. But in order to heal, we have to let those feelings take up residence with us for a while. It’s the work of grief to sit with them, get to know them just as we would a guest in our home.

They need to be validated and given a voice while we find compassion and patience for ourselves in the midst of our pain.

If we don’t let our feelings in, they find ways to invade. They become bad dreams, broken relationships, physical or psychological symptoms.

It can seem like the feelings are here to stay, like they have unpacked and made our soul their new home. Some people around us, especially those who’ve tried to lock those feelings out in their own lives, will worry about us. They will want us to rush through the visit, ignore the guests. They will be afraid for us because they won’t realize that these feelings, once voiced and met with compassion, will someday leave. They will make us stronger, more compassionate, brave, and more capable of helping others.

They will leave us with gifts.

To see those gifts took a spiritual leap of faith on my part. It was just as the most painful feelings began to lessen, for an hour or two at first and in time for longer stretches, that I began to find deeper meaning in my life, sensing that the way for me to truly honor my son is to give his short life positive significance in the present.

I do this by practicing compassion instead of judgment, forgiving instead of holding on to anger and letting go of unnecessary suffering that comes from blame and guilt around his loss. I had to recognize that though it seems an especially unfair tragedy to lose someone so precious, I wasn’t being punished or victimized. Loss is part of everyone’s life.

We can either use it to connect or let it isolate us.

I had to honor my life as a whole, giving the experience the appropriate space while building on the other parts of who I am. In this way I’m not defined by tragedy but growing in it and letting it shape my life in positive ways. I had to collect lessons.

For me, the idea of moving on is replaced with a “moving in” of the experience that is transformative and empowering and keeps my baby with me in the present.

That’s my wish for anyone struggling with grief. Don’t move on. Let your loss move in and be patient with yourself while it’s with you. Collect grief’s lessons and share them.


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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Used with permission from Radley’s Boo Photography

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Christina O'Flaherty