The Guilt of Moving Forward

When it comes to weddings, I think of breakup songs, and when it comes to birthdays, I think of death. I’m still the girl who smears her name with her pinky, and wears the cake icing on her nose before making a wish, but somewhere down the line, I’ve begun to value life, so much so that it makes me think of the end of it. I guess that’s what aging is about: no longer thinking you’re immortal but risking and living as if you are. I will spare you the ass-twitching “love like you’ve never had your heart broken” crap, but I am, I warn you, about to unapologetically take a turn into a marsh of maudlin.

Sometimes I hold the possibility in my mind, because one day it might be a reality, that you’ve died. I feel a deep ache and most of all an extraordinary sense of missing you. A fear of forgetting details about you, an anger that you won’t be there when I need advice, an unfairness that I didn’t know every last thing there was to know, a guilt that I could have tried harder, could have spent more time making memories, savoring, giving me more stories to tell, and more to hold on to of you. The comfort of you. The peace and security I feel simply knowing you’re in my life. At every touching moment of my life after you’re gone, I’ll be overwhelmingly saddened by the fact that you’re not there to celebrate it, to cry over it, to curse it, complain about it, make me laugh about it, or to experience it deeply.

I’ll have to remind myself that while you were here, in your own timeline, however long or brief, you felt love and joy. And for me to experience those things fully in my own life, it means enjoying the moment as it’s happening, savoring my own joy and not clouding it with the sadder thoughts of unfairness. Of “why didn’t I?”‘s. Of “what if?s” Because they’re useless, really, and always lead us to the same place: that we can’t take it back. We can only do it better the next time we have a chance.

One thing I’ll always know is that you loved me unconditionally. You loved me when I made mistakes, when I failed, when I was chosen last, and when I wasn’t the best. You loved me win or lose. With or without a job. Without the makeup, with the extra weight, even when I smelled. When I was cruel or reckless, when I flat out chose wrong, you didn’t give up and made me believe and know I was capable of more. Whether you know it or not, being loved so fully by you has made me who I am. I’m a mold from that love, which enables me (it’s a gift from you) to love in the exact same way: win or lose.

I think the key to a happy life, a full life, is to love all you have, to feel lucky for each interaction, to watch and interact and learn from the people in your circle, BUT to realize that they’re not yours to keep. When you go at life with this outlook, you take responsibility for your own happiness and don’t overstep your bounds and force your crap onto someone else. You have to love deeply, but loosely, knowing each of us has our own journey and that those in our path will forever change it, change us, but they’re not ours to keep. We all have to embrace the unknown. And one of the hardest things to realize is that it’s not disloyal to move forward. I think so many of us allow guilt to discolor our happiest moments because we think we’re betraying the person who’s gone. We worry that if we aren’t constantly grieving and missing and aching that it means we loved them less. We wrongly equate the severity of our pain with the depth and sincerity of our love.

The truth is–and it’s hard to always live it this way–that it’s a cycle, and one day when it’s our turn, we’ll leave behind loved ones who’ll feel angry that we’re not there to experience things with them, angry that we didn’t have more opportunities to experience the highs. It’s why in honor of those we love, we have to commit to eating the marrow, to live without the self-inflicted guilt, to live our lives out loud while they’re ours to live.

I’m not saying it’s easy to love loosely. The truth is we can’t live our lives in prevention mode, keeping our feelings under lockdown, hoping to escape the inevitable pain one day. Because, frankly, it never works. But it has to make it easier seeing each moment as a loan.

As a mother, I remind myself that I get their spirits, am allowed to witness their joys, see and come to understand the way they make meaning of things, watch as they handle change and heartache, see them grow. I remember when Abigail was just able to pull herself into a stand. I watched as she toyed with the idea of gripping onto an activity table with one hand while testing the limits of her body. How she learned to bend to the side and still hold on, to pick a toy off the floor while still standing. I love that I’m able to observe their lives, that they’re mine on loan.

All that I love is a part of who I am. Those moments together are mine, but THEY are not. Each of us has to let go and let one another live our own lives.

So if you ever die, if it ever seems like I’ve moved on, know that you’ve changed my life and I’ll forever be changed because of the life you lived and allowed me to witness. You’ll always be a part of me. I’ll try to imagine that you’re there with me, experiencing it all with me, every last drop because no matter what, you really will always be with me. Out of my love for you and all those loved ones I’ll one day leave behind, I owe it to all of us to make the kind of memories that last a few lifetimes. And I hope you, dear reader, will do the same while you’re here.



  1. "it's a cycle, and one day when it's our turn, we'll leave behind loved ones who'll feel angry that we're not there to experience things with them, angry that we didn't have more opportunities to experience the highs. It's why in honor of those we love, we have to commit to eating the marrow, to live without the self-inflicted guilt, to live our lives out loud while they're ours to live."

    This is so beautiful. Thank you

  2. This has to be one of the best posts you've written -at least that I've read since I found your blog a few months back now. Just beautiful, very pensive and speaks to all who've ever loved anyone -parent, sibling, child, friend, spouse, significant other, etc!

  3. This is beautiful. It made me tear up – partly because I'm pmsing, and partly because I'm remembering a friend who passed away last year. "Loving loosely" is a brilliant description of how we should love. We have the choice to experience and enjoy those in our lives but we don't have the choice as to how long we get to do this and that realization should make us appreciate our loved ones even more. In the midst of daily life annoyances, we forget that.

  4. bravo! this hit the nail right on the head:

    "And one of the hardest things to realize is that it's not disloyal to move on."

    The guy I was dating doesn't want a relationship now but wants to keep me around as a friend so it's been hard for me to move on because I don't want him to think I love him any less. I know your post was about life & death…but sometimes life takes people away from us in other forms and this line really touched me.

  5. "When it comes to weddings, I think of breakup songs, and when it comes to birthdays, I think of death." So greeting card writer is officially off your to-do list? FWIW, I tend to think the same things on such occasions, but I long ago gave up any pretense of being cheerful. You're still young. All's not lost.

  6. I needed to read this today. Last Tuesday marked on year since I lost Stephen and it's been a rough week. I'm living it over and over. And, at the same time, considering life without him.

    So yeah, thanks.

  7. Stephanie this was so incredibly lovely and moving and you really really as much as I hate to use that stupid expression- hit the nail on the head.
    You really have.

    I hope everything is ok and you are not writing this out of some need to, with anything going on in your life. Knock on wood….

  8. Barbara E., you crack me up! When are you gonna have a blog?

    Stephanie, this was very profound and deeply touching. It's good to have writing like this. I wish I had your insight when I was your age.

    I think you have an old soul, and I mean that in a good way.

  9. Today is one year to the day my husband died. He was 44 and left behind our two young children. You wrote this so well, as if you have actually been through what I have been through. While I know it is not disloyal or a betrayal to move on (he even told me to re-marry), I cannot even begin to imagine finding anyone even close to the wonderful man he was.

  10. October 10,2002 was my 52nd birthday and the day my 50 year old husband dropped dead buying me a birthday present. I wish more than anything on this earth that I had told him how much I would miss him, how much my children would miss him > I should have told him.

    thank you for the beautiful and for me timely post.

  11. Ive observed many tragedies in life…brother killed, good friend grieve the loss of a child and husband, drug destroyed family, guilt of a severely disabled child & family dysfunction. Your words so eloquently illustrated the emotions of the brokenhearted. Win or Lose Love is inspirational and real. Thank you!

  12. Wow! Just wow! This is absolutely one of my favorite blog posts. It truly spoke to me & touched my soul. Thank you for sharing your innermost thoughts & feelings. You really are one of a kind❤️

    1. Author

      Thank you, Dana. Know what’s funny? I once dated a guy who said that to me, “You really are one of kind. No one else is like you.” And I thought, “Does he mean it in a bad way?” I know you don’t. Just goes to show how our brains love to create stories!

  13. So beautifully written and so true. Made me think about a lot. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Author

      Thank you Michele. This really came through my hands, as if I didn’t write it. It was written by the universe through me. That’s the best way I know how to describe this.

  14. Thank you for sharing this with us at the meeting..I needed this. I have often told myself the story that if I do not worry or if I do not have guilt it means I do not care or love them as much. I know this is a story I tell myself but feels so real. Thank you for this!

  15. This is absolutely beautiful. I’m drowning in tears right now. I miss my baby brother Stephen so much! He was a wonderful man, and he thought the world of me. And I think the world of you. This is Mel (I’m @ your workshops several times a week)

  16. Well damn- that was eloquent. I especially love the part about your daughter. It’s really all in those little moments. Thanks for sharing . ♥️

  17. Wow!!! This is such an incredible piece & every part of it resonated with me. I love the way it’s written & it truly spoke to me in ways I am unable to express. Thank you for always keeping it real & teaching me something with everything you write. You are amazing!

  18. You are such a beautiful writer. Having had that relationship with my dad I deeply understand what you are saying. I love how you crack open a spot and stay with it. I only know you for such a short time but I think your Dad is so lucky to have you too.

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