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We Don’t Really “Move On” From Grief, We Move Forward With It, Says Author Nora McInerny

Mark Andrew

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While no one of us enjoy experiencing grief, we have to face the facts: it’s totally unavoidable and we’ll face it sooner or later in our lives. Losing a loved one, for example, can be heartbreaking but that’s the reality of life.

In our most difficult days, well-meaning people sometimes counsel us to “move on” but how do we exactly do that? According to book author and podcaster Nora McInerny, the truth is that we don’t really “move on” from grief but move forward with it.

Using her trademark wit and humor, Nora shared in a TED talk about how she handled grief in her life and how she discovered “moving on” to be a myth.

She reflected:

“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 3, I lost my second pregnancy. And then October 8, my dad died of cancer. And then on November 25, my husband Aaron died after three years with stage-four glioblastoma, which is just a fancy word for brain cancer.

“So, I’m fun.”

The founder of Minneapolis-based non-profit Still Kickin continued:

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

“I’ve written some very uplifting books, host a very uplifting podcast, I started a little nonprofit. 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.”

Fast forward to the present, Nora has remarried to “a very handsome man named Matthew” and they now have four children together in their “blended family.”

She pointed out:

“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 we 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…

“Here, he’s present for me in the work that I do, in the child that we had together, in these three other children I’m raising, who never met him, who share 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.”

Nora likewise reminded the audience:

“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…. 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. But yes, absolutely, they’re going to move forward. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve moved on.”

Watch the entirety of Nora McInerny’s TED talk here:

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