It is common when grief strikes to press pause on the remote control of life. The barest minimum is the goal for each day, and basic activities of daily living such as bathing and doing the dishes are a significant struggle. It is not so much a period of living as it is a time of existing, a time of reorientation to your new world.

But when grief pays us a visit, we wonder what it might look like at the end of the long tunnel, when we are ready to move forward, not just move on.

Moments or periods of putting life on hold—the pauses that happen during grief—persist throughout early grief and begin to wane somewhere in middle grief, which comes months sometimes even longer after a loss. But when the pauses begin to wane, grievers alternately press play and pause as they practice engaging in life. Then at varying points in lasting grief, grievers are ready to press play for a final time, prepared to engage with life to a degree that does not remove, ignore, or forget the grief, but rather moves the grief to an unobtrusive location in heart and mind.

Below are three signposts that indicate you are moving forward in grief.

Signpost One: Living Space

Moving forward is about taking back control, and that extends to the house itself. This is the first signpost because it is the most recognizable and because many find it enjoyable. If the person who died lived in the same house, this might include redecoration, remodeling, or moving.

For example, I worked with a widower who had a strong connection to his spouse in two certain rooms of the home. When he recognized that those connections were no longer benefiting him and in fact were harming him due to the increased pain he experienced when in those rooms, he created a plan to change the rooms. One room was a simple redecoration. He didn’t want anything removed per se, just moved around, shifted enough that when he walked into the room, he wasn’t flooded with images of life before. He intentionally created space to receive images and mementos of new memories. In the other room he took things a step further to remodel it for an entirely new purpose. For him moving forward meant changing the function of a room to something that better suited his new life.

Sometimes people do decide to move, either out of financial necessity or because the house no longer feels right. A financially motivated move might be a sign of moving forward, though it is more likely one of those transition experiments when a person presses play just long enough to get through the move. When a person chooses to change location based on a feeling in his or her being, though, it is a sure sign of moving forward. A move like this can be motivated by a variety of situations. Maybe the home feels too large. Maybe the location was chosen by the person who died and was never preferred by the griever. Regardless, when a person is ready to make this type of change, it reveals a deeper acceptance of his ability to make different choices apart from the person who died.

When the deceased was not living with the griever, moving forward as it relates to living space is different. Because there was already a disconnect, grievers in these situations tend to create in their own home an area of connection after the death. Some might call it a shrine or memorial space. Items found in those places include ashes, pictures, favorite items, and other sources of memory. The purpose is for the griever to have a place in his or her own home to go and connect with their person. Moving forward in these situations necessarily is different and often includes a sort of reversal. The griever feels ready to deconstruct the area, removing and dispersing the items to other locations.

Home is meant to be a safe place, a place we can go to decompress and recharge. After a significant loss, what it takes for home to feel that way is different. Moving forward is merely another change, another moment of recognizing that what was done to focus on grieving one’s loved one no longer needs to be the focus of the space.

Signpost Two: Engagement

Another sign of moving forward is an increased level of engagement in activities that are not tied to the person who died. Until this point grievers focus their energy on necessary tasks, work, and activities that can be done to honor the one who died. In moving forward, the griever begins mixing in things of personal interest. The options here are vast and include things like signing up for a cooking class, planning a dream trip, going to new restaurants or movies in a genre the person didn’t like, or participating in an exercise class. These choices are based upon the griever’s personal interests and could be long-held desires that didn’t work in a shared relationship but do now.

For example, a woman was her mom’s caregiver for many years. She has a love of gardening but could never participate in the local gardening club because of her mom’s care needs. For her, moving forward may include joining and participating. Perhaps a husband always wanted to spend the summers traveling by RV, but since his wife was not an educator, they were unable to do so. For him moving forward might include planning one such trip.

Signpost Three: Community

Finally, moving forward includes reconnecting with community. Most grievers have a small inner circle of trusted individuals who help them progress through the segments of grief. By the time someone is ready to begin moving forward, they will notice that circle has expanded to include people who never knew the deceased or people who only met the griever after the death and so know nothing of his or her life before.

In conclusion, when in grief, no one should tell you when to begin moving forward. You will know once you have begun to move forward, but until then it will feel far off. Some grievers also experience short-term glimmers of moving forward before fully engaging in it. If you are one such griever, know that stops and starts don’t mean you’re going backward. You’ve simply paused until you are more prepared to continue.

Moving forward is defined by the present and the future, not the past. A griever who has entered this zone is again able to remain present in conversations with others, read a book without losing focus, and fill days with more than one task or activity. A griever who is moving forward is also able to look ahead and plan a trip with a friend, envision what the next chapter of life might look like, and create goals. Simply put, moving forward is a general readiness to leave the past where it is and only bring it up when there is need to do so.

Adapted with permission from Faith Doesn’t Erase Grief: Embracing the Experience and Finding Hope by Kate J. Meyer. You can learn more here, including a video interview with the author.

Photo by J H.

Kate Meyer

Kate J. Meyer, MDiv, LPC, is an ordained minister and licensed professional counselor who has worked in both private practice and hospice care. She is passionate about bringing grief into the light so that all grievers know how to move forward in a healthy, life-giving manner. Kate is the author of Faith Doesn’t Erase Grief and the novels The Red Couch and The Yellow Dress. She is a dog mom living with her husband in Western Michigan. Visit to join her newsletter or follow her on social media.