Full text of stand-up comedian Kelley Lynn’s talk: When Someone You Love Dies, There Is No Such Thing as Moving On at TEDxAdelphiUniversity conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Kelley Lynn – Stand-up comedian
Best-selling author and widower C. S. Lewis said in the opening line of his brilliant book ‘A Grief Observed,’: “Nobody ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”
It’s a powerful statement: fear. But fear of what? The fear of losing yourself. The fear of growing old alone. The fear that this intense pain will never stop. The fear of forgetting the sound of his voice or his laugh or that others will forget him, that his life won’t have mattered.
Grief makes you feel isolated, alone, terrified, and damaged, and scared of absolutely everything.
On October 27th, 2006, at the age of 35, I married my very best friend, Don Shepherd. Four years and nine months later, my healthy, active, beautiful husband left for work one morning and never came home. They found him collapsed on the floor – a massive heart attack. No symptoms, no warnings, no goodbyes – just here one minute and then, boom, gone.
In the past five years or so since my husband’s death, I’ve become friends with and met a lot of other widowed people. A few months ago, a dear widower friend of mine gave me a challenge. He said, “Kelly, I want you to change the world.”
“Is that all?” I said to him.
“I will get on that right after my morning cup of coffee.”
But when I stopped to think about that concept, a favorite phrase of mine came to mind: “Change your mind, and change the world.” In other words, the way that people see or perceive an idea has to change in order for everything surrounding that idea to also change.
So I’m going to speak the truth today about grief and then wait for that truth to then become contagious. Any widowed person or any person who has lost someone they love to death will tell you about the well-intentioned but sometimes insensitive comments coming from those on the outside.
“It was God’s plan.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
There are many more, but these are some of the “greatest hits.”
Now, the justification for these comments is always the same: They don’t know what to say. I feel like it’s time we change the conversation from “They don’t know what to say” to “Well, then let’s teach them.” Like the great Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.”
So let’s focus on the most insensitive comment of all time and the one that I feel is the most harmful: “You need to move on. Get over it! Get on with your life.”
Let me say this as simply as I can: When it comes to the death of someone that you love, there is no such thing as moving on. It’s a lie. It’s a made-up concept created by people who are too uncomfortable with death and sadness and grief.
But here’s the thing: It’s not their fault. They are only repeating what has become familiar to them throughout the years, what’s been taught to them by society over and over again. “You need to move on” is a phrase born out of centuries of ignorance and fear because grief feels a hell of a lot like fear.
Now, the “move on” mentality starts very early, it’s constant, and it doesn’t really ever end. Within minutes of my husband’s sudden death, I was attacked with questions: “Will you be donating his organs today?” “Would you like cremation or casket with that?” You know, “When can somebody come by your apartment and pick up some of his items?”
Now, at the time, I was told by people that these decisions were for my benefit, that it would help me to let go, to put all this behind me.
At my husband’s funeral, a total stranger came up to me, stood right by his casket, and said to me, “Today, you grieve. Tomorrow, you get out there and find a new man!”
Really, tomorrow? That seems a little soon!
A widower friend of mine was offered this proposition from a relative of his: “For every picture you take down of you and your wife from your bedstand, I’ll give you 50 bucks.”
A widow goes to the cemetery all the time to visit her husband, and she keeps the lawn chair in the back of her car so she can sit with him at his graveside.
One day, she goes out to her car and notices her chair is gone. Her friends, thinking that they are helping, said, “We took your chair. We don’t think you should go there anymore. It’s not healthy.”
Another friend was told by her priest after her brother died in a skiing accident, “Stop talking about him; you need to let him rest in peace.”
Another friend: father – two sons. When he filled out a school field trip form as such, he was told by the school principal, “Your other child has died, so you only have one son now.”
These heart-wrenching stories are real people, and this is the kind of treatment that they face every single day.
Taking away someone’s connection to someone they love who has died: What purpose does that serve? What kind of message are we sending? That the people we love are replaceable? That the love you have for your daughter, your mother, your brother, your best friend has an expiration date? That their life didn’t really matter?
When someone you love dies and you are told over and over again to “move on,” something inside of you breaks. And when that happens, you don’t really feel much like living anymore. You figure, “Hey, why should I stick around when I’m not allowed to continue to love my person that I miss?”
So you start isolating; you keep to yourself. Your world becomes smaller and smaller. You disappear.
My friend who was offered money to get rid of pictures of him and his wife? He no longer talks about his wife anymore with anyone. He says it’s just not worth it and he’s tired of being silenced.
The widow who had her lawn chair taken away? She still goes to the cemetery. But now she does it in secret. She tells nobody because she’s tired of being judged for loving her husband who died.
The woman who was told by her priest to stop talking about her brother? She did. She also stopped going to church, and her faith has suffered greatly because of it.
The father that was told, “You only have one son now,” was recently asked by his six-year-old boy, “Daddy, if I die like my brother did, does that mean I’m not your son anymore?”
This is not the way to honor love, to honor those that we love who have died. You can’t move on from love – love is the only thing that never dies.
So if there’s no such thing as moving on, then what is it that I’m proposing? What is the message that we need to make contagious in the hearts and minds of people, the message that will change people’s minds and in turn change the world?
Well, here’s the truth: Love grows more love. All good things are born out of love.