We don't "move on" from grief. We move forward with it | Nora McInerny (2023)


In a talk that's by turns heartbreaking and hilarious, writer and podcaster Nora McInerny shares her hard-earned wisdom about life and death. Her candid approach to something that will, let's face it, affect us all, is as liberating as it is gut-wrenching. Most powerfully, she encourages us to shift how we approach grief. "A grieving person is going to laugh again and smile again," she says. "They're going to move forward. But that doesn't mean that they've moved on."

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So 2014 was a big year for me.

Do you ever have that just like a big year like a banner year for me? It went like this, october 3rd.

I lost my second pregnancy and then october 8th.

My dad died of cancer.

And then on november 25th, my husband aaron died after three years with stage four glioblastoma, which is just a fancy word for brain cancer.

So I'm fun.

People love to invite me out all the time packed social life.

Usually when I talk about this period in my life, the reaction I get is essentially I can't.

I can't imagine, but I do think you can I think you can.

And I think that you should because someday it's going to happen to you, maybe not these specific losses in this specific order or at this speed, but like I said, I'm, very fun.

And the research that I have seen will stun you everyone.

You love has a 100 chance of dying and that's why you came to ted.

So since all of this loss happened, I've made it, um, a career to talk about death and loss, not just my own because it's pretty easy to recap, but um, the losses and tragedies that other people have experienced it's a niche.

I have to say, it's a small niche.

I wish I made more money.

But um, I I've written some very uplifting books, host of very uplifting podcast.

I started a little non-profit I'm, just trying to do what I can to make more people comfortable with the uncomfortable and grief is so uncomfortable it's so uncomfortable, especially if it's someone else's grief.

So a part of that work is this group that I started with my friend.

Mo who is also a widow? We call it the hot young widows club and it's real.

We have membership cards and t-shirts.

And when your person dies, your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, literally, don't care.

If you were married your friends and your family are just going to sort of look around through friends of friends of friends of friends, until they find someone who's gone through something similar and then they'll push you towards each other.

So you can talk amongst yourselves and not get your sad on other people so that's, what we do it's just a series of small groups, where men women gay straight married partnered can talk about their dead person and say, the things that the other people in their lives, aren't ready or willing to hear yet, huge range of conversations like my husband died.

Two weeks ago, I can't stop thinking about sex is that normal, yeah, what if it's one of the property, brothers, less normal, but I'll, accept it things like look when I'm out in public? And I see old people holding hands like couples who have clearly been together for decades.

And then I look at them.

And I imagine like all of the things they've been through together, the good things, the bad things, the arguments they've had over who should take out the trash.

I just find my heart filled with rage.

And that example is personal to me.

Most of the conversations that we have in the group can and will just stay amongst ourselves.

But there are things that we talk about that the rest of the world, the world that is grief adjacent, but not yet grief, stricken could really benefit from hearing.

And if you can't tell I'm only interested in slash capable of unscientific studies, so what I did was go to the hot young widows club and say, hello.

Friends, remember when your person died, they did.


Do you remember all the things people said to you? Oh, yeah, um, which ones did you hate the most I got there were a lot of comments.

A lot of answers.

People say a lot of things, but two rows to the top pretty quickly moving on.

Now since 2014, I will tell you, I have remarried a very handsome man named matthew.

We have four children in our blended family.

We live in the suburbs of minneapolis, minnesota, usa.

We have a rescue dog.

I drive a minivan like the kind where doors open.

I don't even touch them like like by any measure.

Life is good.

I've also never said measure.

I've never once said it that way I don't know where that came from, I've never heard anyone else say it that way, but it looks like.

It should be said that when that's why the english language is trash so I'm.

So impressed with anyone who like speaks it, in addition to a language that makes sense.

So good job, um.

But by any measure by any measure life is really really good.

But I haven't moved on.

I haven't moved on, and I hate that phrase so much.

And I understand why other people do because what it says is that aaron's life and death and love are just moments that I can leave behind me and that I probably should.

And when I talk about aaron, I slip so easily into the present tense.

And I've always thought that made me weird.

And then I noticed that everybody does it and it's, not because we are in denial or because we're forgetful it's, because the people we love who we've lost are still so present for us.

So when I say, oh, aaron is it's because aaron still is and it's, not in the way that he was before which was much better and it's, not in the way that churchy people tried to tell me that he would be it's, just that he's indelible and so he's present for me here, he's present for me in the work that I do and the child that we had together.

And these three other children I'm raising who never met him who shared none of his dna, but who are only in my life because I had aaron, and because I lost aaron he's present in my marriage to matthew because aaron's life and love and death made me the person that matthew wanted to marry.

So I've not moved on from aaron.

I've moved forward with him.

We spread aaron's ashes in his favorite river in minnesota.

And when the bag was empty, because when you're cremated, you fit into a plastic bag, there were still ashes stuck to my fingers, and I could have just put my hands in the water and rinsed them.

But instead, I licked my hands clean because I was so afraid of losing more than I had already lost.

And I was so desperate to make sure that he would always be a part of me.

But of course, he would be because when you watch your person fill himself with poison for three years, just so he can stay alive a little bit longer with you that stays with you.

When you watch him fade from the healthy person, he was the night you met to nothing that stays with you.

When you watch your son who isn't even two years old yet, walk up to his father's bed on the last day of his life, like he knows what's coming in a few hours and say, I love you all done bye bye that stays with you just like when you fall in love, finally like really fall in love with someone who gets you and sees you.

And you even see, oh, my god, I've been wrong.

This entire time.

Love is not a contest or a reality, show it's.

So quiet it's, this invisible thread of calm that connects the two of us.

Even when everything is chaos, when things are falling apart, even when he's gone that stays with you, we used to do this thing because my hands are always freezing and he's so warm where I would take my ice-cold hands and shove him up his shirt press him against his hot bod.

And he hated it so much, but he loved me.

And after he died, I laid in bed with aaron.

And I put my hands underneath him, and I felt his warmth.

And I can't even tell you if my hands were cold that I can tell you that I knew it was the last time I would ever do that.

And then that memory is always going to be sad that memory will always hurt, even when I'm 600 years old and I'm, just a hologram.

Just like the memory of meeting him is always going to make me laugh.

Grief, doesn't happen in this vacuum.

It happens alongside of and mixed in with all of these other emotions.

So I met matthew my current husband who doesn't love that title, but it's so accurate, I met matthew and there's this audible sigh of relief among the people who love me like it's over she did it.

She got a happy ending.

We can all go home and um, we did good.

And that narrative is so appealing even to me.

And I thought, maybe I'd gotten that too, but I didn't, I got another chapter and it's, such a good chapter.

I love you, honey, it's, such a good chapter.

But especially at the beginning, it was like an alternate universe or one of those old choose your own adventure books from the 80s where there are two parallel plot lines.

So I opened my heart to matthew.

And my brain was like, would you like to think about aaron like the past the present future like just get in there? And I did and all of a sudden those two plots were unfurling at once and falling in love with matthew really helped me realize the enormity of what I lost when aaron died.

And just as importantly, it helped me realize that my love for aaron and my grief for aaron.

And my love for matthew are not opposing forces they're just strands to the same thread they're the same stuff.

I'm, um, what would my parents say, I'm, not special? Uh, they had four kids.

They were like, frankly, um, but I'm, not I'm not special.

I know that I am fully aware that all day every day all around the world, terrible things are happening.

All the time like I said, fun person, but like terrible things are happening.

People are experiencing deeply formative and traumatic losses every day.

And as part of my job, this weird podcast that I have, I sometimes talk to people about the worst thing that's ever happened to them and sometimes that's the loss of someone they love sometimes days ago or weeks ago, years ago even decades ago.

And these people that I interview, they haven't closed themselves around this loss and made it the center of their lives.

They've lived their worlds have kept spinning, but they're talking to me, a total stranger about the person.

They love who has died because these are the experiences that mark us and make us just as much as the joyful ones and justice permanently long after you get your last sympathy card or your last hot dish like we don't look at the people around us, experiencing life's joys and wonders and tell them to move on do we we don't like send a card that's like congratulations on your beautiful baby.

And then five years later, think like another birthday party get over it like yeah, we get it he's.

Five, wow.

But grief is kind of one of those things like falling in love or having a baby or watching the wire on hbo, where you don't get it until you get it until you do it.

And once you do it once it's your love or your baby once it's your grief and your front row at the funeral, you get it.

You understand what you're experiencing is not a moment in time, it's, not a bone that will reset, but that you've been touched by something chronic something incurable it's, not fatal.

But sometimes grief feels like it could be.

And if we can't prevent it in one another, what can we do? What can we do other than try to remind one another that some things can't be fixed and not all wounds are meant to heal.

We need each other to remember to help each other.

Remember that grief is this multitasking emotion that you can and will be sad and happy you'll be grieving and able to love in the same year or week, the same breath we need to remember that a grieving person is going to laugh again and smile.

Again, if they're lucky they'll even find love again that yes, absolutely they're going to move forward, but that doesn't mean that they've moved on.

Thank you.



Do we move on from grief? ›

It doesn't simply disappear. Grief can (and will) continue to remind us of our loss throughout our lifetimes, in different ways and at different times. We move forward with life, embracing the fullness of it, even as our loss becomes part of who we now are.

How do you move forward with grief? ›

How to deal with the grieving process
  1. Acknowledge your pain.
  2. Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions.
  3. Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you.
  4. Seek out face-to-face support from people who care about you.
  5. Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically.
Jun 20, 2023

What are good questions to ask someone who is grieving? ›

Ask questions that encourage reflection on his/her reactions to grief
  • Some people have trouble eating or sleeping after a loved one dies. Are you eating OK? ...
  • What about other difficult times in your life? ...
  • What coping skills have you used in past crises?

What does moved with grief mean? ›

It means acknowledging that your forward looks different than it did before loss — and grieving that fact. It means leaving in the past what no longer fits and embracing, fully, what does. Sometimes, it might even mean veering right, rather than going the way you know.

What is the difference between move on and move forward? ›

Forward (via Merriam-Webster) can be defined as “moving, tending, or leading toward a position in front.” It indicates a forward movement. It says nothing about leaving something behind, but rather a tendency toward movement. “Moving on” somehow says we are leaving something behind for good, and in a way, we are.

Does grief stay with you forever? ›

Although the intensity of your feelings may lessen over time, there is no timetable for how long you will grieve. The length of time is different for each person. For most people their mourning period is a long process and it can take years.

What is the most common grief response? ›

The most frequent immediate response following death, regardless of whether or not the loss was anticipated, is shock, numbness, and a sense of disbelief. Subjectively, survivors may feel like they are wrapped in a cocoon or blanket; to others, they may look as though they are holding up well.

What is the best way to support someone who is grieving? ›

If your life is shattered, we don't.
  1. Talk about the person who died. When a person dies it can feel like they are erased from people's memories. ...
  2. Focus on listening. ...
  3. Focus on the bereaved person. ...
  4. Help them seek additional support.

When grief finally hits you? ›

Delayed grief is your body finally processing emotions you've been needing to express,” Bruno explains. “The body finally feels safe enough to experience and feel these emotions fully.”

Why do people push people away when grieving? ›

Why Do People Push Loved Ones Away After a Death? Pushing loved ones away when grieving usually results from dealing with the significance of a tremendous loss. Withdrawing from others is sometimes easier to do for a bereaved person than facing their pain and suffering head-on.

Why do people shut down when grieving? ›

Our brain shuts down as a protective response to keep us safe when our nervous system is overloaded,” he says. Initially, emotionally numbing is helpful, because it helps calm our overwhelmed minds. Over time, it can be harmful and lead to behaviors with serious consequences to our emotional and physical well-being.

How does God comfort us when mourning? ›

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

The Good News: God comforts us in our darkest times so that we are able to have strength to give others help and strength during their worst times. We look to God as an example on how to provide comfort and love during times of sorrow.

What does the Bible say about grief? ›

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.

What are three tips to help someone cope with grief? ›

How to Help Someone Who Is Grieving
  • Be a good listener. ...
  • Respect the person's way of grieving. ...
  • Accept mood swings. ...
  • Avoid giving advice. ...
  • Refrain from trying to explain the loss. ...
  • Help out with practical tasks. ...
  • Stay connected and available. ...
  • Offer words that touch the heart.
Jul 1, 2018

What is another phrase for move forward? ›

On this page you'll find 21 synonyms, antonyms, and words related to moving forward, such as: growing, progressing, accelerating, advancing, continuing, and developing.

What is the purpose of moving forward? ›

Moving forward in life helps you to avoid stagnation. It allows you to maintain your pace, without being lured away by the various temptations of life. Similarly, the willingness to move on helps you to explore new opportunities where other people see only problems.

What's a synonym for moving forward? ›

What is another word for moving forward?
going forwardgoing ahead
making headwaymoving ahead
pushing onpressing on
going onmaking progress
63 more rows

What year of grief is the hardest? ›

Often the second year is the hardest as that's when the real grief work might begin. This is the time when you may be ready to face your grief head on and deal with any issues that are holding you back. If you're not ready yet though, don't feel guilty. There is no deadline and everyone grieves in their own time.

Which stage of grief is the hardest? ›

What is the hardest stage of grief? Depression is usually the longest and most difficult stage of grief. Depression can be a long and difficult stage in the grieving process, but it's also when people feel their deepest sadness.

Is grief the final form of love? ›

Grief is love; a reluctance to let go. Grief is the final act of love we give to those who have passed. Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life's greatest sufferings. Often, the pain of loss can feel too much; an intense feeling of sadness and overwhelming sorrow.

What are the 3 C's of grief? ›

Practice the three C's

As you build a plan, consider the “three Cs”: choose, connect, communicate. Choose: Choose what's best for you. Even during dark bouts of grief, you still possess the dignity of choice. “Grief often brings the sense of loss of control,” said Julie.

What is dysfunctional grief? ›

Abstract. Dysfunctional grieving represents a failure to follow the predictable course of normal grieving to resolution (Lindemann, 1944). When the process deviates from the norm, the individual becomes overwhelmed and resorts to maladaptive coping.

What are the 4 types of complicated grief? ›

According to the ELNEC, there are four types of complicated grief, including chronic grief, delayed grief, exaggerated grief, and masked grief.

What is one unhealthy way someone deals with grief? ›

Unhealthy coping mechanisms may include: Denial- refusing to acknowledge their loss or grief. Risk-taking behavior- this could include acting without thought of consequences and acting out through unhealthy relationships. Substance abuse- turning to alcohol or drugs to numb their feelings.

What should you not do when someone dies? ›

Top 10 Things Not to Do When Someone Dies
  1. 1 – DO NOT tell their bank. ...
  2. 2 – DO NOT wait to call Social Security. ...
  3. 3 – DO NOT wait to call their Pension. ...
  4. 4 – DO NOT tell the utility companies. ...
  5. 5 – DO NOT give away or promise any items to loved ones. ...
  6. 6 – DO NOT sell any of their personal assets. ...
  7. 7 – DO NOT drive their vehicles.
Apr 13, 2019

What are five ways to support a grieving person? ›

5 ways to support a grieving friend or relative
  • Talk about it. It is normal to feel scared about making things more difficult or painful. ...
  • Make promises that you can keep. ...
  • Stay in touch. ...
  • Remember that everyone experiences grief differently. ...
  • Give them time.
Jan 24, 2018

How do you respect someone who is grieving? ›

Contact the bereaved person as soon as possible after their loved one's death. This contact could be a personal visit, telephone call, text message, sympathy card or flowers. Attend the funeral or memorial service if you can. They need to know that you care enough to support them through this difficult event.

Can grief destroy a person? ›

Researchers have long known that grief can cause physical changes to the heart. People who live through a very stressful event—such as the loss of a spouse or partner—sometimes develop stress cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome, or takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

Can grief make you nasty? ›

Experiencing a significant loss often results in intense sadness and other strong emotions. You may feel frustration, confusion, or shock — all feelings that could also fuel anger and irritability.

When grief is ignored? ›

Grief that is withheld and not recognised can have a negative impact on us emotionally as well as physically. If we unconsciously delay the grieving process and withhold emotions, this can manifest itself in physical ways such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, ailments and stomach problems.

Should I leave my grieving friend alone? ›

Some people will want to be alone in their grief, and many times that's perfectly ok. But even if they do want space to process things on their own, they will appreciate your efforts to be there for them.

Why is it so hard to stop grieving? ›

Grief is hard work

A grief response is often referred to as “Grief-work”. It requires more energy to work through than most people expect. It takes a toll on us physically and emotionally. This is why we often feel so fatigued after a loss or why we may feel very apathetic towards people and events.

What stage of grief do people get stuck in? ›

Anyone can get stuck in or regress to any stage of grieving, and, anecdotally, I've seen a lot of friends boomerang back to the third stage: anger. One of my friends passed several months ago, and in my social circle, anger seems to be the home-base grief emotion.

What is the difference between grieving and mourning? ›

➢ Grief is what we think and feel on the inside when someone we love dies. Examples include fear, loneliness, panic, pain, yearning, anxiety, emptiness etc. ➢ It is the internal meaning given to the experience of loss. ➢ Mourning is the outward expression of our grief; it is the expression of one's grief.

What is excessive grieving? ›

Symptoms of prolonged grief disorder (APA, 2022) include: Identity disruption (such as feeling as though part of oneself has died). Marked sense of disbelief about the death. Avoidance of reminders that the person is dead. Intense emotional pain (such as anger, bitterness, sorrow) related to the death.

Why am I not grieving for my mother? ›

Many psychologists believe this stems from an underlying avoidance or denial of loss. What is this? Of course you know that your loved one is gone; but the lack of grief symptoms results from being stuck in the first stage of grief (denial) and resistance to getting to the “acceptance” stage.

What are the stages of grief moving on? ›

They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, according to Mental-Health-Matters. These are the natural ways for your heart to heal.

Why do people move on after death of a loved one? ›

For some people, moving after the loss of a loved one is necessary to downsize for the sake of their sanity (the house is hard to maintain, waste of space, too expensive, etc.). For others, it's based purely on the reasoning that a change of scenery can be good for mental health.

Why is it hard to move on from grief? ›

It can be scary to try to move past the negative emotions that you feel after the loss of someone close to you. You might feel that, if you accept the loss, you're being unfair to the person who has passed or that you will lose your memories of that person. The fear of loneliness might also accompany your grief.

What is the hardest stage of grief? ›

What is the hardest stage of grief? Depression is usually the longest and most difficult stage of grief. Depression can be a long and difficult stage in the grieving process, but it's also when people feel their deepest sadness.

Is grief more powerful than love? ›

Love is one of the most powerful things in the world. It is, in part, because of love that we often grieve so hard. Grief is huge and it sometimes takes up so much space in our hearts that is feels like there is no more room; for anything.

What is grief that does not end? ›

This is known as complicated grief, sometimes called persistent complex bereavement disorder. In complicated grief, painful emotions are so long lasting and severe that you have trouble recovering from the loss and resuming your own life. Different people follow different paths through the grieving experience.

What is the ending of grief? ›

A final sign that grief is ending occurs when grieving people are able to think about their lost person, place or thing more as a happy past memory and less as a painful present absence. They may still feel pain at the loss, but it is not as acute as it once was.

How do I move forward after my husband dies? ›

Here are some ideas to keep in mind:
  1. Take care of yourself. Grief can be hard on your health. ...
  2. Try to eat right. Some widowed people lose interest in cooking and eating. ...
  3. Talk with caring friends. ...
  4. Visit with members of your religious community. ...
  5. See your doctor.
5 days ago

What happens to your body when someone you love dies? ›

Grief can cause a variety of effects on the body including increased inflammation,8 joint pain, headaches, and digestive problems. It can also lower your immunity, making you more susceptible to illness. Grief also can contribute to cardiovascular problems, difficulty sleeping, and unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Why do people avoid you when you're grieving? ›

Grievers avoid others because they are afraid and then isolate. Is anybody talking to anyone else, and if so, are they talking about anything important to the griever? Isolation and grief are not helpful for the griever.

What does unresolved grief look like? ›

Unresolved grief, or complex grief, is different from normal grief in various ways. First, it lasts much longer, at times for many years. Second, it's much more severe and intense, not lessening with time but instead often worsening. Third, it interferes with a person's ability to function normally in daily life.

How do you let go of someone you lost? ›

Steps for Working Through Grief
  1. Take Responsibility for Your Own Life: It's time to realize you are no longer responsible for your loved one. ...
  2. Change Your Way of Thinking: It's time to change any negative self-talk to words of affirmation. ...
  3. Do Something New: You are a new person so it's only fitting you do something new.
Mar 22, 2020

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