A young husband in my extended family just died suddenly, leaving a younger wife and a two-year-old son. Talk quickly shifted to how she could possibly get on with her life. But it isn’t really possible.
Moving on is a myth. There is no “moving on” after a life-changing event like a personal tragedy. We do not walk down some linear path, wait for a few beats for the mourning to pass, and then keep walking in that same original direction.
It’s been about seven years since my husband died and eight since his game-changing diagnosis of terminal cancer. The family we created with three small children and a couple living and working as partners with workaholic habits and really really good cooking (him) no longer existed. I didn’t only mourn the loss of my husband, I also mourned our life. There was no moving on. That life was as dead as my husband.
Together with pain and loss came reinvention.
The reinvention process started without me. I was no longer Jeremy’s wife. I was Jeremy’s widow. The crazy-haired, red-eyed mom that just lost her husband and seemed to be losing it in general. People looked at me in a different way and they looked at my kids in that abhorrent, side-tilt, we-pity-you way too.
I needed to change the subject.
My next reinvention was the Runningmom. When people asked me how I was doing, I told them, “I ran 12KM today!” I needed time to mourn before I could even start to figure out who I was without my husband, and the Runningmom gave me some space to do so. As more time passed, I continued to redefine myself, as we all do as we move through different stages of our lives.
So what can you say to someone who’s life has just been kicked into a parallel plane?
What do you do when the worst happens and your life as you know it is changed forever? The best advice I received (though it was hard to follow) was this: Breathe. Drink plenty of water. Sleep.
But please don’t ask them to move on.