Life Goes On

Life Goes On

I’m guessing you may be familiar with this particular song by the Beatles.  They use the phrase “life goes on” as part of their refrain.  While the song is upbeat, the idea that life goes on can feel like a challenging one, especially when you set it next to some of life’s most painful moments.

  • You’ve just been diagnosed with cancer.  (Life goes on.)
  • You’ve lost a child–or a spouse, or a parent.  (Life goes on.)
  • You’re coping with overwhelming depression.  (Life goes on.)
  • You’re trying to deal with a challenging chronic illness. (Life goes on.)

Why That Can Feel So Hard

When your world is falling apart, the idea that “life goes on” can feel like a cruel joke. 
For you, life is entirely changed.  Often, just waking up in the morning can feel like a huge effort.  And the idea of moving forward is nearly unthinkable.  It can feel like an insult that the sun rises each morning, and that others around you can seem to move forward untouched by this earth-shaking change that you are facing.

This is challenging, because it is true that life continues, even in the face of our biggest struggles.  It can be even more difficult to take when someone tells you that “life goes on” in an attempt to cheer you up, or to move you forward out of your grief.  Thinking about moving forward is an issue of timing.  Hearing that life goes on, especially in early grief, can often feel dismissive–as though you are being hurried through your own grieving process.  As I have discussed in other posts, people who care about you will sometimes try to help you move past pain before you are quite ready.  This is often a reflection of their concern for you, but it can backfire if you feel dismissed or unheard.

If you are in this space, I recommend taking time to get good support.  That can include reaching out to a support group, having coffee with a friend or family member who can make space for your pain, talking with a pastor, or meeting with a psychologist.  Taking time to journal and focus on making space for your feelings can also be useful.

"It goes on"Because eventually, time does take the rough edges off our pain.  It won’t cure disease, or end grief entirely.  As you become accustomed to living with loss or illness, there are more and more moments when you aren’t defined by that loss.  When life does go on, and you find that maybe you can too.

What has happened in your life that challenged your ability to believe life could go on?  What losses have you survived?  What tools were the most useful to you during those times?  Please feel free to share in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Life Goes On

  1. Dr. Ann, I like that phrase “…time does take the rough edges off our pain”. This is particularly true in acute medicine and even in bereavement grief. But for those of us living with daily debilitating symptoms of chronic illness, it’s not so much that time takes rough edges off anything (particularly the reality of both our diagnosis and prognosis), but more that eventually we can become simply worn down by the pervasive exhaustion we face just thinking about it.

    I also like the concept of not being “defined by our loss or illness” (and living with chronic and progressive disease is indeed a profound loss of so many things, especially for those of us who weren’t born with our diagnosis and were thus happily living in the La La Land you’ve referred to here as “Healthy Privilege” – until now, that is).

    Sometimes, I do such a good job forcing myself to NOT be defined by my diagnosis that I “forget” my new reality. The other day was a good example: instead of coming straight home from a doctor’s appointment (to recuperate from that outing as I have learned to do), and feeling momentarily perky, I decided to stop to pick up a few groceries. Then on my way back to my car in the parking lot, I noticed that the driver’s side rear tire was flat. But what previously would have been a no-brainer decision (just call the auto service for a tow to the dealer to repair/replace the tire) now suddenly loomed so impossibly large that I couldn’t even begin to think what to do next. Some tiny part of me knew that a phone call of some sort to somebody was in order, but for the life of me all I could do was sit in my car and weep, feeling increasingly mortified that I (of all people!!!) couldn’t seem to cope with your basic flat tire. The stress caused a flare of horrific cardiac symptoms, which caused me to cry even harder. My humiliatingly helpless reaction to all of this was now causing me more anxiety than the !@@#$!! tire.

    I mention this incident only to point out that I’ve now been dealing with ongoing cardiac symptoms for years – YEARS! – and so you’d think I’d “get” it by now, yet setbacks like this hit me like a ton of bricks when they do happen. There’s a misunderstood downside for many of us who utterly buy into this “life goes on” concept whenever we deliberately dismiss reality.

  2. What a great, insightful post! I do think that well-intentioned loved ones tell grieving people to get on with life so they don’t have to see their loved ones in such emotional turmoil. For me, grief has been about cancer and losing loved ones to the disease. What helps life go on is, like you say, to get the support you need. I developed a great support system of friends and professionals who helped me through the dark times.

Leave a Reply