4 Things You Need to Know about ‘Moving On’ from Grief

Woman's hand leaving flower on tombstoneThe phrase “moving on” is common in the grief and loss world, but it isn’t very well understood or, frankly, all that helpful.

What does it mean? What does moving on look like? How does one actually do it?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer to those questions.

However, there are things it can be helpful to know about “moving on” after the death of a loved one, divorce, or other painful life event.

1. You Are Not Responsible for How Others Feel about Your Grief Process

Typically, it feels like what those around us mean by “moving on” is for us to stop hurting, stop talking about it, stop remembering, stop crying, and just stop grieving. They talk about wishing we would stop dwelling on the hurt and encourage us to just let go and accept what happened.

The truth is, what they actually want is for us to stop making them uncomfortable about our pain. Let’s face it—being with someone who is in pain and grieving isn’t the easiest of experiences. It’s difficult to watch someone we love hurting so deeply.

But other people’s discomfort with your grief is their business, not yours. You are not responsible for making them feel more comfortable.

2. Moving On Doesn’t Mean Forgetting

I suspect that the primary difficulty many of us have with the phrase “moving on” is that it often feels as if we’re being told to forget our loved one or the relationship we once had.

That’s not what moving on means. Moving on is more about learning to live what I call a both/and life rather than an either/or life. It’s not about grieving or forgetting, happy or sad, black or white. It’s shades of gray.

It’s about learning to live a full and happy life even as you miss and long for what you have lost. It’s about remembering and honoring the one you loved while also embracing the beauty and fullness of the life you still get to live. It’s about the brilliance of your love and the shadow of your loss coexisting in this complex and expansive experience we call living.

Grief and loss are complex, multifaceted, and multilayered. Loss and our experience of grief are integrated into our lives, not things we get rid of.

3. Moving On Doesn’t Mean the End of Grief, Either

Moving on from grief doesn’t mean a static end. It doesn’t mean suddenly we’re done grieving and will never hurt again. Moving on is more about moving forward than being done.

Grief and loss are complex, multifaceted, and multilayered. Loss and our experience of grief are integrated into our lives, not things we get rid of. Grief changes and morphs over time. We get stronger as we carry it, the edges of it round and dull, and with time it begins to take up less space in our lives. 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.

4. Ultimately, You Get to Define “Moving On” for Yourself

People will have all kinds of advice and well-meaning intentions about how you should move on, when you should do it, and what it should look like. They, however, cannot determine that for you.

There are no timelines or rules to the grieving process. You will move through it at your unique pace and not one minute faster. The process of grieving is unique to each of us. No amount of pressure from others can make us move through our process any faster, not in any kind of healthy way.

Only you can know when you are ready to move forward after your loss. Only you can decide what it means to let go or accept the loss you experienced. Only you can truly decide what it means to move on and move forward.

Whatever that looks like for you, it is perfect and right.

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  • Laurel

    June 23rd, 2015 at 11:22 AM

    There is no time line for grief nor should you be made to feel that there is. You have to process that grief on your own time and in your own way, in a way that helps you to resolve the pain that you feel.

    There is no certain amount of time that you should spend doing this because everyone grieves and deals in their own way.

    The people who say that you should be finished and moving on by now have obviously never know this kind of loss in their lives.

  • Emily

    June 23rd, 2015 at 12:58 PM

    Exactly, Laurel.

  • PEG

    June 23rd, 2015 at 3:22 PM

    The day that I woke up and didn’t grieve outright for the loss of my husband was the day that I truly became so frightened that because that loss was not so prevalent in my life anymore that I would begin to forget him little by little. But what I didn’t realize was that I wouldn’t forget about him but I would be able to look at our marriage with smile instead of only having tears, because I could now remember the good times that we had without always only thinking of the last few which were so bad with him being sick. It is bittersweet almost I guess you could say,

  • Emily

    June 24th, 2015 at 5:46 AM

    Peg, that’s a beautiful tribute to your husband. And a great example of how grief changes and morphs through healing and time. Thank you for sharing!

  • Kevin

    June 24th, 2015 at 7:31 AM

    I am not sure that there is ever any true moving on when you have gone through the pain and loss that would generally cause this kind of grief. But i do know that over time it will tend to fade a little and it will still hurt but maybe not quite as much as it does when it is all still so fresh and new.

  • audria

    June 25th, 2015 at 9:27 AM

    There seems to be more rush than what there used to be to just process that grief and then move on. In the prior centuries, people were in official mourning periods for years at a time! That might sound a little like overkill but sometimes when things are spelled out like that, then you know that they are still grieving for those that they have lost.

  • Dustin

    June 26th, 2015 at 7:12 AM

    It may ebb and it may ease but I don’t think that there is anyone who has gone through a profound loss who would ever say that the pain will go away.

  • Jill

    June 26th, 2015 at 1:47 PM

    As a widow of 8 years and a private practice psychotherapist of 30 years, I will confirm that grief is different for everyone. Losing my husband (best friend & love of my life = joyful marriage) has been bearable because of my faith. Sometimes pain is just too heavy and no earthly shoulders are big enough to help one carry the pain of grief that cuts that deep for so long. I miss my husband every day but I know that I will see him again and that thought comforts me.

  • aqua

    June 26th, 2015 at 3:29 PM

    ‘Move on’ and ‘let go, two of the most fatuous, meaningless and insensate things people can say.

    A friend of mine had a Reiki treatment on the first anniversary of her mothers and sisters death in an accident, quite understandably she started crying, and the Reiki ‘practitioner’ said ‘Havent you moved on yet?’

    Ironically its invariably the ‘New Age/psychobabble Love brigade’ who are most guilty of this kind of insensate callousness.

  • Carmen

    June 27th, 2015 at 8:54 AM

    How else would you describe the process, aqua? yes those terms may not adequately sum up the process but do you have any other terms that could be more sensitive and appropriate?

  • Jen

    June 27th, 2015 at 2:12 PM

    Peg – I am so sorry you have had to deal with the loss of your husband. Glad to hear you can move forward and remember the happy times.
    Kevin – We need to believe that we can move on, or forward is maybe a better term. I agree that time will help us to dull the pain, which will help to get us on that path forward.
    I am grieving the loss of my marriage after 26 years. My spouse is moving forward with his life but I cannot find that place of moving forward with mine. I am trying hard and do not cry as often. This is probably the time factor. I have heard many friends say that I need to find a way to get over him and be angry for the pain he has caused. My therapist had told me that we all deal differently and time will be what is needed to learn to live on my own. It would be easier if there was a step by step plan to help us get through this.
    I also have faith but have not been able to give that up to the Lord yet. It almost feels obsessive some days.
    Thank you for the article and confirmation that we all can do this in time and in our own way.

  • robin

    March 24th, 2018 at 5:55 PM

    Yes, there are many sorrows including, but not exclusively death. Other loses can shake us just as much. I have had both, and many. I know grief gets less sharp, and though you feel these losses forever, one day you think, I am spending more days and nights in peace or joy, grief is fading to a shadow. I will welcome that each time after each loss, and the idea that the day is coming, helps me through the darkest times. Just be gentle, kind to yourself, patient. Try to reach out to others to help or just be normal for part of each day… it helps, it gives a break from the pain. I think back to the greatest hurts/ losses, and realize, I never thought the sharp pain would end, but it did. It does. Help? Friends, meditation, movies, sleep, acceptance (I cannot change it) , borrowing from the past (over came loss) and the future (easier days are coming.) In the middle of it, we are one minute, one hour or one day at a time… until some future healing time, where the grief visits less, and is gentler in it’s demands.

  • manning

    June 28th, 2015 at 8:01 AM

    I find that most of the time you should take a minute or two to think back on the person that you have lost and really see that they would not want you mired in guilt and grief for all time. They would wnat you to find peace and joy in your life again and I think that once you have gotten to the point where you can really take this in and be mindful of that, then you can see that they would want you to go aorund with a smile on your face and not tears.
    Most of the people that I have lost in my life, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they would not want me to mourn for them forever. They are in a better place now, and for that we can rejoice and be hopeful!

  • aqua

    June 28th, 2015 at 8:28 PM

    I wouldnt Carmen, there is frequently no need to, we spend far to much time labeling and far too little time experiencing and understanding.
    The person is grieving and if its someone close, possibly will for the rest of their lives, varying in intensity at different times, and likely becoming more distanced.
    However it might not and thats ok to.

    Eitherway they will never be quite the same again.
    But id bet any money it would be a lot easier without the added burden of a timeline or exhortations to leave the state as if it was almost morally indulgent.

  • Robert

    June 29th, 2015 at 1:42 PM

    I find this article somewhat contradictory. Even using the term ‘”moving on” is part of the very problem being addressed in the piece. What if we didn’t use this phrase at all, but rather focused on staying with the grief and working it through? If we work with fried a Rickey, it resolves slowly over time and we increasingly let go of the person we lost. As this process happens, we naturally start living more in the present and have more energy to live in the present. On this context, the phrase “moving on” is really meaningless. It’s similar to forgiveness. If we are struggling to forgive someone, then we are not finished with our anger and hurt about what they did not us. Rather, I help people finish the anger and pain (processing) until it fades out. At this point, forgiveness becomes almost a non issue. You are simply finished and you have let go. So I think it best to not even use this notion of “moving on”. Iit is almost always a defense if we are thinking in this way, either as professionals or as someone who has experienced a loss.

  • aqua

    June 30th, 2015 at 1:06 PM

    I entirely agree Robert. And especially re your points about forgiveness.
    I was thinking about it all last night, and those terms in many ways are just a more New Age version of the attitude that used to be prevalent in the UK ie ‘ just get on with it’.

  • Robert

    June 30th, 2015 at 8:51 PM

    Thank your for your reply. Put very simply, the goal should be to get finished with it, no matter how long that takes, rather than to “get on with it”.

    The same with forgiveness. The goal should be to get finished with it rather ran to forgive. If forgiveness happens at the end if that process, wonderful.

  • aqua

    July 1st, 2015 at 10:53 AM

    My pleasure Robert although even saying ‘Put very simply, the goal should be to get finished with it’ kinda puts pressure – I think it is just what it is, no ‘shoulds’ about it. But yes I think we are in agreement.
    All the best.

  • Julia

    August 26th, 2015 at 4:28 PM

    I lost my husband of 28 years about a month ago. Along with greaving his loss (sudden) and starting to rebuild my life, getting health ins , changing names on bills dealing with insurance and researching any benefits. I need to deal with inlaws that just can’t seen to move forward. The repetitive re living of the night he passed and grilling of what happened. I had to come to the decision to just cut my ties. To move forward. Our relationship prior was difficult to say it mildly, these people just could not respect boundaries . The one who tied us together often said they will never change so why bother… Has anyone ever encountered this? I’m trusting my gut/heart reactions . Any input??

  • Robert

    August 27th, 2015 at 11:48 AM

    Julia, I am sorry for your loos. Please know that one month is WAY to early to even think about moving on. Most people are still in shock from a loss this significant after only one month. You can expect your grief to take a couple of years, although it will not be as acute as time progresses. Be kind to yourself and let the process unfold. Grief has a natural course and will slowing resolve it we can keep our mind out of the way and let it happen in full.

  • Janet

    April 15th, 2019 at 6:15 PM

    Completely understand. Lost my twin six weeks ago and am still in a daze because I found him gone after he said he would be laying down for a nap. The shock of finding this beautiful soul and not being able to help him has devastated me to no end as I go over and over in my mind wondering why he went so soon. When we love deeply we hurt and I am just not ready to “move on” from these feelings yet. I adored my brother who had who was a total innocent and cannot understand why God took him so soon in life.

  • Emily

    January 29th, 2016 at 7:32 AM

    Robert and aqua — Thank you! I had major losses (yes, more than one) as a child and young adult. At 40, it seems the processing is just beginning…. because the intense emotions I felt as a child have reappeared. Much time has passed when I thought I’ve “moved on.” Apparently, not so. Thank you for explaining what “moving on” or “forgiving” means…. ’cause now I have better understanding of what’s happening to me.

  • Janice

    January 29th, 2016 at 1:30 PM

    I have much experience in dealing with loss and grief. First as a child , losing my mother , then in mid forties, within three,four year period of time loss older brother, year later my husband of thirteen years who was love of my life and best friend, then year later my father. Too much too soon takes years of moving on plus losing a mother at such a young child of six is devastating to say the least. No matter how long time passes, grief will surface its pain and sadness from time to time thru something in present that reminds you. A song, a movie, TV etc. And it can make you cry again and feel it. It’s normal. Don’t worry about it. Just the way it is for sensitive souls. Everyone is different. Be and let be. Live and let live.

  • Lisa

    May 1st, 2016 at 8:47 AM

    I see from the dates that I’m a little late to this party. Excellent article. I’m going to share this with my bereavement support group the last week.

  • Tammy

    December 17th, 2016 at 2:54 PM

    I guess I’m looking at this from a purely basic perspective. I’m in a situation such as Julia and I’m just tired of discussing it all the time. I’m tired of explaining myself to everyone around me (e.g., at church, study group, my husband, family, 24/7, on and on). I just want to have the right to grieve when, where, how, and with who I want. I should not have to explain myself all the time.

  • Hayley

    April 17th, 2017 at 7:49 PM

    The anniversary of the death of my friend is in two days, and I don’t feel like I should be this upset. I’m afraid to go into my school and start sobbing, and have other people think it is just for attention, or that my friends will be embarrassed by me. Almost all of my friends have talk to me about how they’ve moved on, and I guess in a way I have too because of how much I’ve grown into what happened. But it hurts every single day, and I’ll cry and no one will understand why. I feel like I’ve been grieving for too long, but it also scares me how it seems that everyone has gotten through it so fast. I came here to see if one year is too long or too short to grieve, but it reassures me to know that it’s up to me.

  • Rosemary T.

    August 11th, 2017 at 4:26 AM

    I’m also a “little late to the party” but what a great blog. My husband put a gun in his mouth and committed suicide in April 2016. That was 16 months ago, and I’m still trying to survive. It’s nearly destroyed me.

  • Kathy

    March 31st, 2018 at 3:55 AM

    I call bulls*** at least for me. I was married for 40 years and it is over 5 years since he died, i wonder all the time will i ever be ok? Will i ever be able to move on . I don’t live i just exsist and try to cover my pain but a few can see in my eyes i am lost and don’t know how to find me. I even tried a few dates and it was the worst experience but tried. My family wants me to be ok so i pretend a lot around them and fall apart when i am ok to let it out. so i guess i am even past late for the party i just missed the whole damn thing. I just miss him and miss me too.

  • CJ

    May 5th, 2018 at 7:24 AM

    I just lost my husband on the 14th. He was the love of my life and my soul partner. He could not donate any body parts and it took me a bit to figure out how to honor him in his afterlife. But I did. I cry sometimes, laugh sometimes, the clock in the house reverts to two pm the time we were married 28 yrs ago and when someone is visiting it magically starts working again. I think the hardest thing has been that there are still so many people that do not know he has passed. We both worked at the grocery store here in town and i have recently gone back to work out of necessity. But there will be at least four or five of our customers and friends who will ask how he is doing. I put it in the paper in two towns. But don’t think anyone reads anymore.

  • Anna

    June 21st, 2018 at 6:35 AM

    I have come to understand that going through the stages of grief isn’t always linear.

  • Janet B.

    March 23rd, 2019 at 4:17 PM

    LOST my husband 5 yrs ago still feeling lost. scared of getting into another relationship. I thought we would grow old together. so much happened since then. I’m just a mess. how can i trust myself to go forward. just plain scared

  • Sandi

    March 30th, 2019 at 5:31 PM

    It’s not just the loss of a human. I had my horse for 17 years. He was 22 years old when he died. I spent hours every day with him, and the bond between us was incredible. Whether on the ground, or on his back, if I thought it…he did it. He was big, beautiful, and a true gentle giant. The loss has been much more difficult than that of any human in my life. To me, grief is not something you “move on” from. It’s something you move through, carry with you, adapt to, and hold dear. It’s indicative of the incredible love you have for the one you lost. It’s only been three weeks. I don’t feel the need to move on. I feel the need to hold the grief in my heart. It feels like so much love…with no place to go.

  • Burcu

    June 11th, 2019 at 9:25 PM

    I don’t even know where to start. Just trying to find little comfort for my aching heart in the last 3 weeks. My husband killed himself 3 weeks ago and since then I am lost,I am in so much pain. I still can not believe that he is gone. He was 28 years old. I never thought that I would be a widow someday with a horrible way. Here I am,a widow who is 31 years old and basically suffering everyday since he is gone. We loved each other so much that’s why I am so mad at him for what he did to us, to me, to himself, to his family,to our beautiful story. I am so angry at him but I also love him more everyday. I don’t feel like I am living anymore. I just beat the cancer and came back to the states. We were gonna have a new start together, we bought a house, he got a new job… and now I am sitting on our couch ,crying my eyes out and sharing my pain with the people who can understand me. I mostly don’t even wanna talked to other people because I am aware that only someone who had the same terrible life experience can understand me. I am hurt, I am scared and I don’t wanna live in this world anymore. I also have lynch syndrome which can cause to bring my cancer back. Stress and sadness are not good for my health at all. So, I just don’t know anymore. Moving on is not gonna work for me.

  • Annemarie

    June 18th, 2019 at 6:50 AM

    Barcu, so sorry for your loss, i also lost my husband for almost 25 years to suicide a year ago, let me know if you need a friend:)

  • Burcu

    June 20th, 2019 at 12:02 AM

    Hi Annemarie,
    Thank you and I am sorry for your loss too. There are just not right words to explain this kind of pain. I feel so alone even though I have so many people around me. I have started to stay at our house, in our bed. I shoul say my house, my bed… it’s just so empty, life is so empty. I am just trying to hold on a branch.

  • Robin

    June 12th, 2019 at 8:57 AM

    Healing comes bit by bit moment by moment…not fast and not soon enough…but it is coming. Never the same life but enough healed to begin again. Hang on to those close to you…be kind to yourself…and allow little joys to enter when they try to. Grief is a place and time and when I was there I just wanted out…I am so sorry for your loss I was in your shoes and also had three loved ones die in 6 years. Grief after grief after grief. But healing does come…and little joys will soon try to find their way into your life…let them in….give yourself permission to be sad and also to be happy in moments. To love is to risk and there is no way around that. I wish you a path through sadness lined with caring people. Patience and a series of small but sure joys. We have grief..loss…but we don’t have and are not ever only grief. As the volume of grief tunes down and lower over time..the joys will be louder and easier to hear. It takes time…but it…healing comes in th time.

  • Burcu

    June 13th, 2019 at 10:14 PM

    I am sorry for your losses Robin and I mean it. I can feel it in your words. I hope I can find a joy in this life again, otherwise I can not live with this emptiness and loneliness. I have so many beautiful people around me who really care and share my pain and I am thankful for them. I just miss my baby so much everyday and every second :(

  • Christopher

    November 15th, 2019 at 11:38 PM

    Ive been a CNA for 19 years now and grief is a hard thing to deal with at work let alone in my personal life! 16 years ago my oldest son (he was 5) was kidnapped by his bio mom and since Colorado has no extradition law I was helpless! 6 months after my son was taken my mom passed away from a heart attack! My world which was crumbling was now shattered and for 6 years I was lost in things that I shouldn’t have been doing but it seemed like it was the only thing that made the pain go away! When I met my ex wife she helped me get thru those dark moments and realize life is what I want it to be and there is always good I just got to look for it! We have since divorced but her words still help me today even though its been 16 years it still hurts when I think about my son and mom! there is no set limit to grief and if anyone ever says there is they have never felt grief! I was able to close one of those doors this summer as my oldest son(he’s 21 now) and I found each other on Facebook and have been communicating and hopefully one day he can come home and meet the family he has here!

  • Paula

    December 13th, 2019 at 8:42 AM

    My first loved passed away in 2002. I tried to grieve but in my mind he wasnt gone because i had not seen his grave, i know it sounds weird. He was my first love and first everything, we had lots of good times and bad times but always manged over the years to find each other. The year before he had passed he found me and i was married by then and we talked and talked about what went wrong in our relationship and both forgave each other, he asked me many times before the day he passed away if i was happy and at the time i was very happy. Drugs took him fro this world. Fast forward 17 years and i finally got to see his grave and get pictures of him that i had lost in a house fire and i find my self crying alot and feeling so sad to the point i cant function, i talk about him alot more than i used to over the years, i was even told the day he before he died he told someone he loved me so much. Is this normal or am i going crazy? i know there is no time limit to grieve but right now i feel like i am losing my mind.

  • Annette

    February 3rd, 2022 at 10:41 AM

    I know it’s been some years since you posted this but as I grieve the loss of my mom, your words struck so much truth. It is truly a gift to look at a precious memory and not feel pain, but joy. Love is a blessing.

  • Lisa

    May 11th, 2022 at 9:27 AM

    I hate the term moving on. I dont care what you think, it definately implys leaving your past life behind ( legit the definition). I prefer moving forward if you must label it. Cause its at least a direction you may be heading for without moving on from your loved one. I see people “move on” too quick, yes there is too quick. You think it will help, thats temporary. Just my two cents

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