Governor General's Literary Awards·Moving Forward

Michelle Good reveals what moving forward meant to her after the sudden death of her son

On Moving Forward is an original essay by Michelle Good, part of CBC Books' Moving Forward series.

On Moving Forward is an original essay by Michelle Good, part of CBC Books' Moving Forward series.

On Moving Forward is a personal essay by Michelle Good, the winner of the 2020 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

On Moving Forward is an original essay by Michelle Good. It is part of Moving Forward, a special series of new, original writing featuring work by the English-language winners of the 2020 Governor General's Literary Awards, presented in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts. Read more works from Moving Forward here

The most powerful thing in life, next to love, is hope. While my son was navigating the perilous time of adolescence and struggling, as we all do from time to time, I would remind him that hope is what sustains us and further that in every day there is at least one thing to feel hopeful about. Our job is to find that thread of hope, focus on it and keep moving forward.  

My own adolescence was a time of great turmoil as I struggled for survival in foster care. My mother's advice to me was similar to what I offered my son. She would encourage me to 'make the best of things' which led me to my own determination that we must focus on what is good in our lives; what nourishes us and contributes to our well-being. It is where we spend our attention that becomes the foundation and flavour of our lives. If we focus on struggle, struggle becomes the essence of our lives. If we focus on that which is joyful, beautiful and hopeful, that becomes the essence of our lives regardless of the underlying struggle. 

This idea about life and how to not be defeated by adversity was put to the test over and over through the course of my life. But, no test was greater than when my son died suddenly in 2013. A cause of death was never established and I was left without him in a split second. I faced the grief of losing him completely alone. But, immediately, I knew that the fact of his death was his journey. My teachings reminded me that the time and fact of one's death is set at the moment our spirit arrives through conception. The number of heart beats, the number of breaths, the number of steps we take in our lives are charted out for us as part of our journey in this dimension. Almost immediately it was clear to me that the fact of his death was about him, not me. The focus of my journey then was to seek understanding of how my life could continue to have meaning without him in it in a temporal sense. 

The focus of my journey then was to seek understanding of how my life could continue to have meaning without him in it in a temporal sense.

This existential journey was the most painful, eye-opening, trial of my life. What gave me strength to continue was an understanding that was reinforced through moments of inexplicable 'coincidences' that left me with no doubt whatever that he was with me as I struggled on. My entire concept of the world evolved into a certainty that all the ones who have gone before are only a perception away. They are as close to us as the living. It is only the limits of perception that commands a sense that they are lost to us. They are not. My Boy made his presence known to me in so many completely inexplicable ways leaving me with no doubt our connection now was as strong, or even stronger, than when he was walking this earth. 

I traveled the world, alone, in the first years after Jay's death, new geographies the backdrop to a deep and years long contemplation of the nature of life, love and loss. He walked with me, of this I am sure. He broke trail for me and brought me gentle and needed gifts from the other side. Today, I feel that we are connected by this inter-dimensional umbilical cord and he is not at all gone from me. I am strengthened by him and though I will always miss the sound of his beautiful laugh, his death brought me to a universal truth about the never-ending spiral of life that I never would have learned otherwise. 

Inherent in that long existential journey, was the absolute necessity of moving in a forwardly direction. It was perhaps the most critical thing that rather than allowing myself to get mired in suffering, I had to keep moving forward. When the sorrow would threaten to overtake me, I would repeat what became a kind of mantra. I would say to myself 'eyes forward, woman!'

I feel that we are connected by this inter-dimensional umbilical cord and he is not at all gone from me.

I believe this applies not only to people on an individual basis but also to us as a group. For example, as Indigenous people are grieving the children lost to residential schools, let them take comfort that this too is a part of moving forward — forward to a time when those babies can finally be returned home and their spirits gently released properly as they should have been at the time.  

And for others, I say that there are times of transitions in everyone's life that call for us to adapt and rise to unexpected change. These are growth opportunities; moments when whole new worlds are opening up to us. How we perceive things defines how we experience them.

So I pray for those among us who are suffering one form of sorrow or another and encourage them to find peace in always moving forward. 


Michelle Good's inspiration for On Moving Forward

"When I was given the topic for this short piece, I immediately was taken back to the terrible shock of losing my Son, dealing with the fact of being so completely alone in finding a way to navigate complex grief and how in the early hours of that awful day, the ancestors gave me insight that this was about his journey, not mine, and that I must keep moving forward. It saved me."

About Michelle Good

Michelle Good is a Cree writer and lawyer, as well as a member of Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. (Candice Camille)

Michelle Good is a Cree writer and lawyer, as well as a member of Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Her first book, Five Little Indians, was on the shortlist for the 2020 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, the longlist for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the 2020 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the 2021 Amazon Canada First Novel Award.

Writer Michelle Good has won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language fiction. Her debut novel, Five Little Indians, follows five teenagers as they leave residential school and strive to find a place of safety in a world that doesn’t want them. Good previously worked as a lawyer advocating for residential school survivors. She joined Tom Power from Kamloops, B.C., to discuss her work and her amazing literary achievement. If you have been affected by the residential school system and you need support right now, help is out there. The Residential School Crisis Line is open 24-hours a day. The number is 1-866-925-4419. 23:50

About the series Moving Forward

CBC Books asked the 2020 Governor General's Literary Award winners to contribute an original piece of writing on the theme Moving Forward. On Moving Forward was Michelle Good's contribution to the series. 

Read the rest of the series:

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