by Emilie Cohen
“’Moving On’ by Diane Cook”
Life is always unexpected. Life always takes unknown curves, turns and detours and never happens in a straight line. No one’s paths are ever the same and no one’s path goes exactly as expected and that does not change for the main character in “Moving On” by Diane Cook. The main character has a happy life, a life where she is perfectly content and then unexpectedly loses her husband to an illness.
Her husband is someone she loved, cherished and connected with. However, within a short period of time of finding out about her husband’s illness he passes away, leaving her on a path of life she never expected until much later. Now being a widow, Diane Cook’s “Moving on” establishes that life is nothing but unexpected events and as people with feelings, they learn to manage with the unforeseen.
The main character experiences and manages her grief throughout her stay at the center, a center where widows must go in order to be placed with someone and to better deal with the unexpected. After she loses her husband and as she grieves for him, the institution where widows, widowers and people who have been abandoned by their spouse go to find ways to move ahead in their life prior to being paired with someone new. Within her first few nights, she sees “a man […] awake, like [her]. He pads around his small room in pajamas – hospital blue, like ours. [She wants] to be seen, so [she stands] in [her] window” (Cook 48). It should be noted that this man reminds her of her late husband because, after seeing him through her window, she lies in bed alone and she “[pictures her husband] dissolving into thin air like in a science-fiction movie, vaporized to another planet, grainy, muted, then gone. The sheet holds his shape for a moment before deflating to the bed. [She practices] not feeling a thing” (48).
The main character misses her husband and is in the first stage of grief, a very basic form of denial for her as she is unable to understand the stage of grief in which she has found herself in and because she misses her husband and is angry at the thought of being alone and lonely. She later says that “[she thinks] of the man from across the road, [her] window friend. But [she] can’t even remember what he looks like. [She tries] to picture him in his room, but all [she sees] is [her] husband, waiting, in his plaid pajamas and wooly slippers” (53). The main character is denying that her husband has passed away by picturing him. She uses these memories or images of her husband to make the impact of this loss less difficult. She uses it to make the blunt emotions of losing her husband less powerful which allows her to slowly process the overwhelming feelings of losing her husband.
The main character comes to understand that she has only one chance left. She attempts to better control herself but it is with a very fatalistic approach and very much in the bargaining phase. Her attempts are always thwarted by her reluctance to take the leap into the unknown; a new life and maybe a better life. She reverts to writing a letter to her husband and saying that
“[She] won’t buy bedding [they] can’t afford. And [she]’ll be more fun. […] [She’ll] never cook him things he doesn’t like because [she thinks] he should like them. [She] won’t forget to do small things like pick up the dry cleaning or rake the leaves in [their] yard” (53)
The main character is bargaining, if her husband comes back she’ll do all the things. It’s her way of hoping her husband comes back, if brought back to her.
The main character also finds herself grieving and she grieves by overeating. Once again trying to fill the voids, there is a sense of denial of melancholy which turns into anger by overeating. She sees all this food which, in her eyes, is there to fill that void and loneliness that she feels: “for a couple of weeks [she allows herself] a little moment. [She scrapes] other women’s leftovers onto [her] plate.” (53). This behaviour demonstrates her attempt to find comfort in eating because she feels she deserves it. As she’s lost her husband, she’s lost a part of herself, she feels like she deserves to eat more, almost as if she’s earned the right to overeat.
When we are first introduced to the main character she says that she “can cook dinner for two and throw the rest away, or overeat, depending on [her] mood” (44). This again demonstrates the basic denial that still cooking for two through her own difficult path of knowing that she can throw the food away or overeat depends on how she feels whether in grief or in denial.
The final stage of grief that the main character goes through is the acceptance and hope for the future. The main character finally accepts that the life she expected to have is not the life that she will have. She states that “[her] husband is gone. So [her] future will be something much quieter. It won’t be some dramatic feeling in the wild unknown. There are other ways to be happy. [She] read that in the case manual. [She is] trying them out” (54). Which demonstrates some level of willingness and acceptance that her future is no longer what she thought it would always be but that she doesn’t have a choice in what happened. With the passing of her husband she does now have a choice with her future and what it will be like and the new changes that will come her way.
Also, the fact that the main character was surrounded by people, by women, who lived through the same thing as she did and as she grew close to them she felt an overwhelming amount of emotions rather than numbing them out. She was taking in the companionship from the women and this comfort allowed her to move on.
In conclusion, Diane Cook’s “Moving On” explores how life’s expectations are never completely one’s reality and how each person deals with the shock of these unanticipated events. The main character first experiences denial, denial that her husband has passed away. She then experiences anger. Anger, that she is left alone in the world and lost her most cherished love, her husband, which she finds solace in overeating. Once she passes the stage of filling her void she then reaches the point of acceptance that this is now her life and that nothing she can do will change the passing of her husband and accepting her loss will help her deal with her future in finding happiness once again.
Boyle, T.C. “Moving On.” The Best American Short Stories, 2015, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2015, pp.44-55.
Cohen, Mary Anne. “Grief and Eating Disorders.” EDReferral.com, Nov. 2016, https://www.edreferral.com/blog/grief-and-eating-disorders-by-mary-anne-cohen-director-the-new-york-center-for-eating-disorders-47