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Moving Forward After Loss - 3 Tips

change grief grief support Mar 01, 2023
Moving Forward After Loss

by Kim Hanlon

“It’s truly a miracle how we are ever able sometimes to move forward. Note the language. Another thing I’ve learned. We don’t have to ‘move on,’ but somehow we have to learn how to ‘move forward.’ However slow, moving forward can happen. And everyone’s pace is different.”
-Tony Gapastione, BraveMaker CEO

This is a beautiful quote that we keep coming back to since our interview with Tony. This blog will provide tips for moving forward in grief, but first we want to unpack this notion of “moving on” versus that of “moving forward”.

So many grievers have heard the term or the general sentiment of “You have to move on” or “You can’t grieve forever”. This is usually shared from a place of caring concern for someone who has been “stuck” following a loss whether by death or end of relationship. And, oftentimes, while the advice-giver does truly care, they sometimes are also unsure of how to support a griever, and maybe even unsettled about the other person’s big feelings.

Encouraging someone to move on sounds and feels dismissive of their experience. It also implies leaving something in the past. But there is value in carrying our love, our lessons, our memories, and other aspects we value about a relationship, forward with us. Furthermore, we cannot erase the indelible mark loved ones make in our hearts.

When we instead focus on “moving forward” we can hopefully learn to acknowledge this impact, and find a way to heal so we are not forever suffering from the pain, but can allow joy and hope back into our hearts. Grief is a part of life, and we can carry it with us, integrating it into our lives. (And anyone who has experienced a huge loss can attest to how frequently you don’t have a choice - the grief “sneaker waves” can catch you off guard. Sometimes you have to learn where the riptides are so you can be aware.)

How do we move forward? Here are 3 tips to serve as a starting point. Those looking for additional tools can purchase our workbook, register for our course waitlist, or reach out to learn about more grief support options.

Tip # 1: Embrace that grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss

Because we aren’t usually taught adequate or helpful ways to navigate grief, the enormity of it following a loss can leave us feeling broken. Many berate themselves for not being able to move on, but as previously noted, we don’t have to move on, but we can find a way forward. And as the quote from Tony noted, we each have our own pace for that.

And we are not broken if we are “still” crying six months after a loss, or feel exhausted after a long day at work trying to hold it together and concentrate. In fact there are many symptoms of grief, and all are normal and natural. Here is a list of some common symptoms for reference:

While there are tools and ways to heal our heart and lessen grief’s impact, there is tremendous value in validating our experience and embracing that it is normal for loss to have so many ripple effects. Time and again we hear that it is so healing to have this acknowledgement and reassurance.

Tip #2: Release the worry that healing means moving on and forgetting

This is a common worry for many grievers.

In positive relationships we can feel distressed that we will lose memories or our connection to a loved one. It is also common to feel that healing grief dishonors our loved one and their importance. When we heal we can have access to happy memories, and also be better able to live life in a way that truly honors our loved ones. I shared more about my personal healing process here.

What if someone hurt us?

Grieving a less-than-loved-one can come with the worry that healing means we are condoning ways we were wronged. However, forgiving allows us to release the pain and the hold that past wrongs have on us. Part of being able to forgive and move forward is having that pain validated and witnessed by another person. It is healing to be heard and seen in our pain.

Tip 3: Acknowledge that you are more than a griever

Sometimes we lose something or someone who was so key to who we are that it hurts to have that relationship change and we cling to the grief. A parent who lost a child and understandably anguishes over having two kids to care for when they should have three. The divorcee who devoted her life to her partner and hardly knows herself outside the now-ended marriage.

I remember feeling like I had to introduce myself as “Hi, I’m Kim, my brother died.” Partly because I was anxious about how to answer small talk questions about family and wanted to just get it out of the way, and but mostly because my heart hurt so dang much I craved witness and support wherever I could find it. My heart longed to be heard. And eventually that was a key part of my healing.

Sometimes we don’t even realize grief is impacting us as deeply as it is - we are dissatisfied with life but can’t pinpoint the source. Our personality can become consumed with this dissatisfaction, and when we eventually find the tools to heal the root of it, we may need to also acknowledge the impacts those root sources had to our identity.

It was many months after my brother died when I had a lightbulb moment that I was more than my grief for Steven, or for my many other losses. I was grieving, but I could also love my fiancé, be in relationship with friends, be engaged at work, and embrace my graduate school studies. I didn’t have to stop living and focus solely on grieving. I could grieve and live at the same time.

Change is hard

And as life-changing as healing grief can be, it is hard to make the shifts suggested here. It involves changing our behavior in how we grieve, and our beliefs about how grief should look.

Ilana and I still have to encourage each other to do our own grief work. We have used our tools countless times, and still experience our own blindspots and resistance.

This is why we are so passionate about helping others, because as we always say, knowing there are tools available is the first step to healing. If you believe grief is a life sentence, it will be. If you find a way to allow grief to be a normal and natural part of life, the joy and gratitude can find space in your life again as well. And you can move forward, with peace in your heart.