Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Post Estrangement: Grieving and the well Intentioned advice to "move on"

When we are grieving we often hear the well-meant advice to “move on” or “let it go”. 

The problem is that when “they” think we need to move on and when “we” think we should move on works on different schedules.  They are not experiencing our pain; they are only seeing the effects of our pain as it affects them. For you see, we are different while we grieve.  We are withdrawn, we don’t fully engage and they miss the “us” they knew in the before times.

However there is a lot that we can learn from our reactions to hearing those words and this is where I want to encourage you to look. It is in understanding your reactions to words that there is an opportunity for revelations that can actually help you on the path toward moving on.

When we are in the midst of grieving this advice to “move one” makes us estranged parents once again question ourselves as in “What is wrong with me?  Why is it taking me so long?  Should I be ready to move on?” With our confidence already shattered by what has been done to us by the estrangement this advice from others can actually be counterproductive to our healing.   

However there is also opportunity for healing in confronting those feelings.  It is in becoming aware of these self-doubting thoughts that we can find the seeds of strength to change the harmful self-talk words into powerful self-enhancing words.  I started to dislike the negative way I was talking to myself and resolved to change that habit. It was a huge change for me and became a huge step forward in my healing. 

For me it was this small first step in healing, that actually stated me on the path of "moving on".  I was still grieving the loss and all that had been taken from me but I started to learn that there were better ways to encourage myself, better ways of relating to myself and my feelings than constantly negatively judging myself.  I started to accept the sadness and the hurt and the sorrow and stopped putting judgements on my feelings.  I started to accept that they were my feelings and I was entitled to feel my feelings.  They were neither good or bad they just were.  The time to process them was not too long, it was the amount of time that I needed, because of my unique temperament and my unique circumstances.

I also remember very clearly a time when hearing that advice from others used to make me angry about their insensitivity.

Looking back now I realize that this actually was another early sign of my healing.  I was starting to reassert my rights to grieve and heal at my own pace.  I started to say “my feelings and stop telling me how to process my feelings”.  I started to acknowledge to myself that my healing was not something I do for their convenience; it is what I do for myself.

No one can tell you when or how to move on.  That has to come from inside of you and at a time when you are ready. When you react badly upon hearing the words "move on" you are simply not yet ready to move on. 

When you are in fact ready, you start to respond, "yes that is what I am doing".   

What most people do not realize is that the act of moving on and letting go are not instantaneous.  You don’t say the words and magically the process is over.  Rather, the first time you say “I think it is time to move on” is actually a small shift, a change in direction, a new beginning.  But the process is far from over.  

As I write these words, I have been in the process of “moving on” for 3 years now.  I am much more clear now in knowing what parts I “can let go of” and what parts I know will always be part of the sorrow and the regret that remains.  

And even now I realize that “moving on” is a daily choice to be made.  It is not simply a state of being, it is a state of choosing.   I am now far more forgiving of myself on those days when I don’t choose to move on.  I accept that there are days when I need to grieve, and that too is alright.  I have also learned that those are moments or days that I can only share with those who do understand because they have walked the same path as I have.

I realize that I live most of my life now in “moving on mode”, and yet I retain the right to have the stuck in sorrow moments.  And I no longer judge myself for having those moments.  They are now a part of who I am, I come by that sorrow honestly, by surviving the trauma of estrangement.

When someone says those words now I understand that the thought that comes out of their mouths is really about what is going on in their own minds, and those thoughts are what prompts the words.  

What they are really saying is they are tired of hearing our story because it makes them feel uncomfortable.  When they hear our story they feel fear about what it would be like if they were faced with a similar situation.  They don’t want to face that fear.  So they offer the poor advice of “move on”.   What they are really meaning is “move on to a different topic because this one causes me fear and discomfort.

It really is a poor way of communicating and it is actually less than honest.  But I forgive them, for it truly is hard to face the fear of estrangement.  To come face to face with the thought that they too could suffer abandonment, that life’s relationships are never guaranteed. That is a dark thought to contemplate.

So next time, when someone asks you to “move on”, try to hear what they are really saying; “I can’t deal with the fear and pain of facing the reality that there is no protection from being abandoned so I really can’t talk about it anymore, so can we please change the subject”

Now that I understand where the message comes from I no longer hold it against them.

I have also learned to recognize my own desire to avoid certain topics.  When parents start talking about their own families and their children and grandchildren and all the joy that goes with that, I am often tempted to say “move on” to other topics.  Facing their joy opens up the well of fear inside me that I will never experience those moments with my estranged daughter and her family. I now can temper my need to change the topic with more kindness and compassion and acceptance of their joy. 

Learning to understand the sentiments behind the words “move on”, has made me a better person, more accepting of those things I cannot change.

Renate Dundys Marrello
2016 – 03 – 02 

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  1. you hit it exactly! thank you!

  2. Hi Renate, your blogs have such relevance for those of us who've been estranged by our grown children! When are you going to write a book on this subject?? I'm glad you're having such a wonderful time in the UK!

    Best Wishes from your Grand Rapids, MI friend, Marilyn

  3. How do you "move on" when your adult child doesn't ask you too she just remains silent? Texting sometimes to check in but canceling every event and holiday, keeping you at a distance always making you wonder what you said or did but never wanting to talk about it. The pain I carry my heart everyday is unmeasurable, I miss her so

  4. what I have found is that it is a "choice" that you make when you can't live in that pain anymore. The choice comes down to this; 'will I continue to give away my power to someone who obviously does not care about my feelings and has no intention of changing or will I chart a new path for myself a path that will allow me to lead a fulfilling life under these new circumstances.'

    the day you choose to take back your power is the day you start to move in a new direction. You remember what was in the past but you don't allow the past to direct your future.

    It is a hard journey (I am now in my 3rd year of my healing journey) but I can tell you this, it is so worth it.

    I wish you well on whatever path you decide is the right one for you.

  5. Yes I had to stop letting her have power. miss my grandchildren sooo much. 2 1/2 yrs .. there r triggers that sadden me ... I do my best :(

  6. Yes, people say 'move on' too soon and too casually. However the reality is, there comes a point where being unwilling to move on and heal becomes mentally unhealthy. If a year has gone by and you are still weeping daily, you need professional help. If you cannot get through your day without being beseiged with pain and longing, seek help. There are limits beyond which remaining in pain becomes seriously unhealthy.