Just Move On Already

“Well, now, you’ve just to get over it, don’t you?” she said kindly, and placed a card expressing her condolences on my desk. It was a question that required no response.

Get over it… over it… over it.

The words resounded silently as I absorbed them, and transformed them into a heavy mantra. No, that isn’t quite accurate. The words were a challenge.

When would I get over it?

Perhaps they should have been asking, could I get over it?

Or even more significantly, should I get over it?

It was my first day back at work after learning that my  younger sister died in an accident while riding her bike to work in New York City. I’d left the office abruptly on a Thursday afternoon, and hadn’t returned for several days. Her memorial service was held on a Monday. I may have gone back to work a few days later, or the following week. I honestly can’t remember.

A few days ago the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recently drafted new language to define clinical depression. It reads that “feelings of deep sadness, loss, sleeplessness, crying, inability to concentrate, tiredness and no appetite, should they continue for more than two weeks after the death of a loved one, could be diagnosed as depression, rather than normal grief reaction”.

Really.

We get fourteen days and then a diagnosis of mental illness if we’re not “over” it?

This is the kind of pretentious, professional madness that really ticks me off. Fortunately, I’m not alone. The Lancet, a leading medical journal, echoes my personal response to the APA decision to classify grief as an illness in a succinct editorial that you can read here. The wise words of Arthur Kleinman, a widower and writer for the Lancet, buried themselves into my soul as I read them.

My grief, like that of millions of others, signaled the loss of something truly vital in my life. This pain was part of the remembering and maybe also the remaking. It punctuated the end of a time and a form of living, and marked the transition to a new time and a different way of living.”

So true.

Losing my sister ultimately pushed me into a world that was unfamiliar and unwelcome. Perhaps I have spent more time than is typical caught within the complexity that death brings… its questions and its tough non-answers. And I confess that four years after her death, I reluctantly accepted a PTSD-like diagnosis that was certainly due to the experience in which I suffered her loss in those early days, nights, weeks and months.

But is the answer to take two weeks  and then bring on the meds?

It is according to the American Psychiatric Association.

I say no way. We cannot continue to treat heartbreak as a condition that we can “fix” with a handful of pills or a shot.

Grief is not an illness of the body nor of the mind. It is, rather, a condition of the body, mind and spirit.

What’s the difference?

Grief is experienced uniquely by millions of men, women and children in infinitely distinct ways. Grief is unpredictable. Grief comes and goes according to its own needs. Grief hovers, like that special guest at the dinner table who lingers long after the last drink has been poured. Sitting at the bar at closing time, it’s the last guest to leave.

Grief is humbling in its ability to pursue you long after your loved one has died. Grief is powerful in its aptitude to resurrect itself just when you think it has moved on. Grief is expected, if not invited, into your home.

Grief doesn’t ask for permission to move into your heart. Grief knows that which only the bereaved truly understand.

Grief is a gentle friend when the world continues to tilt on its ever moving axis, and you’re feeling left behind.

Grief is a knife through the heart.

Grief is a journey. Grief never, ever truly says good bye.

And so when I’m encouraged to “get over it”, I say no. Not just yet. Perhaps not ever.

However.

Grief need not be the most important presence in the room, nor in my heart. Grief needs to eventually learn its place in my life.

It’s my life, and it does not belong to Grief. I don’t take orders from the ever sad, ever sorrowful, ever angry presence, gentle or not.

I am well.

Bereaved people are well.

I suggest we allow those of us who have lost loved ones to linger a bit longer than two weeks in our grief. Let’s embrace grief as part of our journeys – unexpected, maybe. Unwelcome, certainly. But most definitely a part of the process to heal.

Linking up tonight with Things I Can’t Say!

 

 

 

 

 

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47 thoughts on “Just Move On Already

  1. Jen Lee says:

    Perfectly worded, Sara. Amazing blog.
    You summed up the loss of a loved one and the experience of grief, at its best and at its worst, perfectly.
    Like you said, it wiggles into your heart and embeds itself into becoming part of you. How long it takes to go through the process of fighting that, accepting it, and then living with this addition can never be quantified. Come on, APA. Really?

  2. Marlene W says:

    It has been eight months since my stepson died. Reading this has helped me to feel that I will be okay. Others who have not suffered a loss can never understand, on any level, what we are feeling. Thank you.

  3. I’m so sorry about your sister. Your words describing grief are so powerful and touch my heart. We would be a much healthier culture if we were able to embrace grief and give it an appropriate place in our lives. Unfortunately, so many people are uncomfortable with it that we’re pressured, as you said, to “get over it”.

    • skpadilla says:

      Thank you for writing. I hope that by opening up the conversation about grief and death we are better able to heal and to hope. You’re absolutely right that our society does not support an authentic grieving process.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Foremost, I am so sorry for the loss of your sister. I can empathize with your loss. I, too, lost a very close sister when I was 16 and she was 23. She died from complications of diabetes. I find it OFFENSIVE at the “time to move on and get over it,” remark. I remember being in grief over my sister’s death for YEARS and to this day, I am now 53, there is NOT A DAY that I don’t think of her and sometimes shed a tear. She was such a part of me how could I ever forget her? Grief does not have an expiration date. It becomes part of who we are an it melds itself into our beings. It also, I have found, has many l layers. There is deep grief that we feel at the time we lose someone and then there is the gentle grief that befriends us thereafter. We cannot get rid of it, we cannot escape it because to do so is to erase our memories and how do we begin to do that? Do we want to do that? Not me. You are fine. You are more than fine. You are allowed the feelings which you go through and no they do not require drugs nor some clinical definition to define it. It is simply you remembering your loved one and navigating this new journey you now find yourself in. Blessings and ((hugs)) to you.

    • skpadilla says:

      Thank you so much for your heartfelt words. I’m very sorry for your loss as well. Whenever I meet someone who has lost a sibling, I am immediately drawn to their experience and empathize with them as only the bereaved can do. Your courageous words give me strength to continue in my own unique journey in which grief plays a permanent role.

  5. I am so sorry for your loss. I wish you strength. ❤

  6. I am so sorry about the horrible way in which your sister was lost. For different reasons, I understand your frustration with the “take meds” solution some doctors order for a PTSD experience if it “lasts longer” than the expected amount of time. Your post makes so much sense and I agree that grief is something that can never be given a time frame.

  7. Reblogged this on The Worthington Post and commented:
    Found this in @WriteonEdge’s weekend link-up. So perfect for this moment, as one of my daughter’s friends lost her mother this week to cancer, just several months after the diagnosis. Please be gentle with each other.

  8. Magnificent. Re-blogged and posting on fb, as I leave to take my daughter to pay a condolence call on her friend, whose mother died this week just a few months after a cancer diagnosis. Tragic – there are no words, and I hope everyone is a little more gentle with each other after reading this. Magnificent, truly. Thank you for writing it.

    • skpadilla says:

      Thank you so much. I am honored that my words may bring another some peace and perspective on the grief process. I’m sorry for your daughter’s friend’s loss, and know that your own and your daughter’s presence in her friend’s life during this agonizing time truly makes a difference.

  9. Shell says:

    14 days is not long at all. That definition isn’t really putting to much thought into human emotion and loss.

  10. Sara, so sorry for your loss. And you are completely right, grief never truly goes away.
    And 14 days?! That’s nothing in terms of losing a loved one.
    Your writing is beautiful.

  11. ADO says:

    Sara, first of all I am so sorry for the loss of your sister.
    I lost my little sister too and you never get over it. I’m sure you probably know that already. I’m so glad you get that a pill and “2 weeks” is not going to be the cure. I think there is a difference between grief and depression, and a significant difference between “sadness” and depression. You are grieving, you are sad. It is okay. Our society is so effed up when it comes to pathologizing our emotions. It really ticks me off. You are human. You lost your sister and a pill ain’t going to cure that. xo

    • skpadilla says:

      I’m so truly sorry for your loss, too. I agree that our society/culture isn’t able to cope with what is actually a very natural condition – grieving due to loss. Thank you for reaching out.

  12. Beautiful post. I was so caught up in your words about grief that I began remembering my grandfather. He’s been gone since 1996, and I still think of him daily. I still cry for him often. Grief has been my on-again/off-again companion for many years…I will look at it differently now.

    Thank you for that.

    • skpadilla says:

      And thank you for reading. I’m sorry for your loss, and yet empathize with your daily thoughts of him and his memory. I consider my daily memory of my sister to be a gift, though it often makes me sad.

  13. Wow. Just wow. Your piece brought me back to two incredibly powerful books on grief The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke. I think you would appreciate them both if you haven’t read them yet. The imagery of Grief as a constant companion is as healing as it is honest. The strength and integrity in your writing brings beauty to a dark place. Beautiful, Erin

  14. Stephanie says:

    Years after a profound loss in my life I still become a little bit irritated as I read your post. How many times I heard that. When will you get over it. Never. But I don’t require anti-depressants. We all grieve in our own way in our own time. Grief is like fingerprints. Unique to everyone.

  15. Beautifully written as always, Sara. I’m so sorry you had to experience that “get over it, here take a pill” mentality. Grief, as you say, is a process, not an incident you file away as something that happened.

  16. I have not lost a close loved one, but I can imagine that it would definitely take longer than 2 weeks to get over. That is madness to think otherwise. I think your post is beautiful.

  17. The coping cycle is different for everyone, depends on how close you were etc- I think the steps are the same it just takeslonger for some people to reach them. Kubler Ross cycle !

  18. January says:

    This post is beautiful and perfect and should be read by ANYONE who’s lost someone close to them. That is why I’m going to be sharing this today. Thank you for sharing your grief and your heart. Truly, this is wonderfully written.

  19. Stacey says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine ever “getting over” the death of a sister. Sure, I would hope for acceptance, to learn to be happy again, but “get over it”? That is true madness. Hugs to you and your family.

  20. Like everyone here, I am so so sorry for your loss. I hate the phrase, “get over it.” I couldn’t agree more that grief and loss of any kind is not something you get over. It takes years to even begin to accept that someone is gone, and one who has lost someone so special should be entitled to grieve and process for as long as they need to. Take care of yourself Sara. Thinking of you.

  21. Fourteen days? Please. Lost a dear friend to a car accident almost ten years ago, and I think about her and grieve a little every day. That doesn’t mean I’m not living my life with joy, but the grief will probably always be there. Beautiful post.

  22. Aubrey Anne says:

    I love this. It’s not the same, but your thoughts and feelings remind me of divorce. Eventually you have to say, “This person doesn’t exist for me anymore,” and “move on” but you never really do. You just let the pain slip to the back of your mind and allow other things to be more important.

    Thanks for writing.

  23. chosenchaosblog says:

    I truly appreciate this perspective. Coming from someone who has thought, maybe even said, just get over it before. Thank you for this.

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