By: Cassandra Dussault
The story “Moving on” by Diane Cook demonstrates how hard moving on can be for someone after an unfortunate event; it takes time to grieve and the process of grieving cannot be rushed or forced upon you. But what does moving on actually mean? I believe that moving on is to put a difficult experience behind and progress mentally as well as emotionally. Although, it may not be as easy as it seems. We can clearly see this in this story. The protagonist’s husband passes away and she is immediately taken to a ‘shelter’ where she is told that she needs to move on as soon as possible in order to be ready to marry another man. In my opinion, wanting to force this on someone is ridiculous. Everyone undergoes the process of moving on differently and it should take as long as it takes; it’s not something you can put a due-date on.
Right at the beginning of the story, the author shows how hard it is for the protagonist to cope with her husband’s death “I can stay in my house, pretend he is away on business while I stand in the closet and smell his clothes. I can cook for two and throw the rest away, or overeat, depending on my mood” (Cook 44). She is pretending that her husband is still around instead of accepting the fact that he’s actually dead; she obviously knows that he has passed away because after all, she’s just eating her feelings away and it shows how this is affecting her behavior. But I believe that in a way, this is all part of grieving. She just lost someone that was very important to her, she is trying to deal with it the best she can and it isn’t supposed to be easy.
The ‘shelter’ the protagonist was staying in was described and seemed like a prison. She lived with other women and they all had rules to obey; they couldn’t even have contact with the outside world. It was inhumane. Why punish them when they did nothing wrong? You would think they’d need emotional support more than anything else since they’re all recent widows. But instead, they come up with methods that every woman has to follow to get them to ‘move on’. One of the methods that the women had to follow was to ‘forget’ any good memories they had with their loved one and replace them by bad memories instead “I’m to remember seeing my husband for the first time (…) then imagine the moment happening differently” (45-46). This method claimed to help the moving on process by making it faster and easier but does this really help someone move on? I strongly doubt it; it’s crazy. I believe that this is a bad method because I don’t understand how someone would want to turn someone who was good and meant so much into someone bad and meaningless just because they’d want to forget them in order to feel better. Another method the women had to follow was to “practice not feeling a thing” (48). I believe that this is also a bad method because not feeling is inhumane. Humans have feelings and you can’t just tell someone to shut down their feelings just because you want them to move on faster and expect them to suddenly feel nothing. We are humans, not robots. You can’t program a human to stop having feelings, erase their memories and make them move on to the next guy they’re supposed to marry. As humans, feelings are very normal and not having any is actually abnormal. It’s impossible to force something like this upon a human being, especially after they’ve been emotionally attached to someone they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with. I believe that feelings are also a part of grieving because the women need to cope with their feelings and be able to control them. But compressing them and pretending that they don’t have any can’t be effective. Memories and feelings are a part of us and in order to move on, they need to do this at their own pace; it can’t be rushed upon them.
To prove that the methods that the ‘shelter’ make the women follow are ineffective and that moving on and forgetting the past isn’t as simple as it seems, the protagonist is still having thoughts about her dead husband when she goes to sleep at night “in bed, I imagine my husband lying beside me, warming the rubber-coated mattress, beneath the thin sheet so many women have slept under before me” (48). She still misses him and thinks about him; which is normal because she actually loved him. Even if the ‘shelter’ wants to make her feel like moving on is simple, it isn’t. Also, this seems like a cold image in which the protagonist wouldn’t feel comfortable sleeping. But she imagines her husband beside her and him warming the rubber mattress even if in reality he isn’t there; she finds comfort in her thought of him being with her. So many women have probably felt what she was feeling, sleeping on the same mattress as she was and its sad because they were all going through the same thing at some point during their stay.
I don’t think that the protagonist’s case manager has ever tried to put herself in the women’s shoes and understand how difficult it must be for them to lose their significant other, because never once has she tried to emotionally help the protagonist. Instead, she promotes erasing memories and feelings. She even gave the protagonist a manual that said “in order to move forward we must change” (51). I find it harsh how it is basically telling people to change the way they are, forgetting their past and becoming a completely different person, just to move forward. I also think it is hypocritical because that’s not how people move forward and it’s impossible to change who you are as a person just like that. The person needs to progress on their own; not change who they are. That same case manager told the protagonist “that’s a respectable amount of time” (54). when she was ‘chosen’. As if they are the ones who decide how long it should take for someone to move on. Moving on is a step that needs to be taken individually and it should be a long and patient process for people to get back on their feet. The duration of grieving and forgetting someone can’t be forced upon someone like that. The case manager has no right to tell her how long is a ‘respectable’ amount of time to move on.
Throughout the story, I can hear the sadness and helplessness in the protagonist’s voice. It was obvious that she didn’t want to be in the ‘shelter’, she wanted to be free. Deep down, she wanted to take her time to move on and do it at her own pace. She didn’t need anyone to tell her how to or when she was finally considered ‘moved on’. She was hurt, she went through a difficult life experience. Even if she was ‘chosen’ and the ‘shelter’ told her she fully moved on, I don’t think she did. No one can force themselves to move on and then love somebody else right after. It can’t be as simple as that and it’s impossible to love someone you know absolutely nothing about. Deep down, she knows it too.
Cook, Diane. “Moving On.” The Best American Short Stories, edited by T. C. Boyle, Mariner Books, 2015, pp. 44-55.