Good Grief: Why Moving on Doesn't Have to Be the Goal

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"When I shared that I"d lost my grandmother in 2019 with my professor, he hadn"t said much during the semester. During winter break though, not knowing my other grandmother had also passed in quick succession, he sent me a poem. It was Dylan Thomas" "Do not go gentle into that good night." Even in the title alone, it breaks your heart a little, all at once begging your loved one to stay while knowing the good night comes no matter what, a good night where pain is nothing. I first read Thomas" poems, before I"d lost someone I loved, for a high school English class. I remember my teacher talking about how Thomas had written this grief-stricken poem for his dying father. It felt like a funny reminder from the universe; a poem that touched me once was being delivered once more when I could understand it better, feel it ring a little truer. The poem works because it reveals the vulnerability in the best of us, that we all rage against the dying of the light and we desperately want our loved ones to stay with us as long as they can.

It"s easy to believe grief can be a compartmentalized sliver of our lives, like TV show characters in a soap opera who live through grief like a plot line that"s quickly dropped from one episode to the next. The fact is, though, grief does spill out and we find ourselves holding space for someone who"s no longer there. It doesn"t go away, the way they linger around and you almost anticipate them when you turn a familiar street corner. The sting of grief stays with us for the rest of our lives, even if it does dull out over time. I don"t even know if we can work through all the stages of grief, like it ever comes to a completion, a full stop. Should that even be our goal, at all?

The truth is that grief has and is touching us all, especially in our current moment. We are allowed to grieve the time we"ve lost to COVID-19 and recognize the monumental loss of life we are facing. Chances are you or someone you know has lost someone to this virus. We don"t get to hold funerals for them, their name gets added to a statistic, and just like that, they"re gone. Work and obligations haven"t gone on pause for many of us in the U.S., so of course it"s hard, looking for a place to hold the delicate feeling that is grief. Sitting with our collective and individual grief is the opportunity to embrace the love that lights up our lives, by being comforted by those around us and remembering those whose embrace we miss.

It"s painful to remind yourself that you "have to move on," and as Nora McInery in her Ted Talk explains, "moving on" doesn"t really happen. People around you, who love you and care about you, don"t want to see you living in the pain of the past, which grief is almost always synonymous with. The phrase "moving on" to Nora makes it sound like the person we"ve lost and the love we shared with them are simply moments that we have to leave behind in order to live without grief. She reminds me that people grieving, like myself in some moments, continue talking about the person they lost in the present tense. Nora stresses that she hasn"t moved on from her ex-husband, but instead, she"s moved forward with him. Their presence stays with us, an indelible handprint on our hearts.

The task of grief is learning to carry on, without being consumed by the thought of someone who still lingers with you. When I go home now, I still think about taking a trip to Chinatown to visit my grandparents, then having to remind myself that their little apartment is occupied by someone new, someone with no connection to them other than that space. I know that even if I tried to go inside, only the view outside the window looking at Alcatraz would remind me of them both. Somehow, that little picture in my head brings me the most comfort, that someone new can now enjoy that view and that I once shared it with them for so many years."

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