A new normal, A phrase to describe life after a serious trauma. I’ve heard it so much in the grief community I can’t believe I am using it as my title. Its a phrase for someone to use when they really don’t know what to say to someone that has had a life event shatter their world. Such as, “I am so sorry you lost your husband, life without him will go on as the new normal.” Something like this seems to completely marginalize what a changed life looks like, or what life without a loved one feels like. I try and refrain from using it.
In my mind, I like to steal the depression community symbol of a semi-colon. Wiki says a semicolon is, “a punctuation mark (;) indicating a pause, typically between two main clauses, that is more pronounced than that indicated by a comma.” If you have read any of my blogs you would pick up that grammar is not my calling. (I love to write, so forgive all the errors). A semicolon though says to me that my life before is over or paused. It will never be the same. A part of me left the earth when my daughter’s spirit left her body and that is all there is. I am on the other side of the phrase now, and it will never be the same. That is a difficult truth.
Every holiday, birthday, day off, weekend, is different. I find myself re-evaluating traditions, beliefs, and common practices in our home. For instance, this weekend is Mother’s day. We normally all go out to brunch. I really want to all get-together, but I really would rather stay at home and have a nice meal made for me. I have no desire to be out with crowds of people all celebrating their mother’s and children. If that is what my family decides though, that is what I’ll do, because ironically as a mother, you do what’s best for your family, even on Mother’s Day.
Recently I had to evaluate all of our daily routines. I had to fill out an intense form and have a house inspection so that we could host a foreign exchange student next year. It seems strange that we would contemplate this after only 15 months ago experiencing a tragedy, but my husband and I believe for many reasons, it is what we should do. First, I believe we should help each other out in this world, If it was my daughter, I would hope she would find a caring family to take her in for her experience. Second, this would be the third generation of this family traveling to the U.S. to stay with part of our family. Third, I prayed about it and asked for a sign over six months ago. I was feeling down that day and put the blankets over my head after I asked for a sign about this decision. I then brought my laptop under the covers with me and decided to distract myself with Netflix, the show I started watching, Manifest, immediately flashed Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” I couldn’t ignore it, my answer seemed pretty clear. It may seem silly to some, coincidental or even foolish, but It is all I have to lead me forward and I believe my higher power works this way in my life.
We notified everyone we thought we needed to notify, that we would house our student, and had no idea the process would be difficult to understand and take many months. We were asked to describe our daily routine, our evening routine, and our weekend routine. In a way I am thankful. “Please describe a typical day in your home.” Let’s see, what do we do again? Here was my semicolon. What I did before, what I have been doing, and what we will be doing on a daily basis. I’ve noticed our family moving forward, in it’s new normal, similar in routine to before but of course always a bit different. we had many months of barely maintaining our daily life. My days off were filled with walking, writing, visiting my daughter’s memorial bench and trying to function in reality. Sometimes just doing nothing. Before our tragedy, I ran around 100 miles an hour, shopping, making or taking kids to appointments, cleaning, and trying to juggle all the balls in my life. When they all came crashing down around me, my life came to a screeching halt. Now I slowly pick those balls up again, examine each one and decide what needs to be part of my life.
For example, we just started again, trying to have our Friday movie or game and pizza night. We started trying to go back to having dinner at 630 every night or as best we can around our schedules. During the last 15 months, during our life interrupted, we became the take-out family. That was never how we were before, but the effort to plan meals, shop and cook on a regular basis, during the first year of devastating grief, was impossible. I filled out the form with our new/ somewhat old routines, knowing that we are a family in recovery and healing. A family on the other side of our story.
A loss of a family member causes a loss of identity. To each individual and the family. At some point, you sit back and have to re-evaluate your place in this world, your traditions, your beliefs, and your routines. What you were before, what you have become, and what you want things to be. I truly believe the task of re-evaluating all of these areas of your life is too daunting during the first year or so of a trauma. I imagine this is why they tell you not to make major changes in your life during the first year of loss. This, of course, is extremely hard when you want to quit every aspect of your life. Both my husband and I struggled for over a year with the desire to work where we worked. I am thankful I was allowed to quit some of my responsibilities at work and no one believed my rantings of ” that’s it, I quit.”
The same went for my marriage. I am so grateful that we both did the hard thing and gave each other grace and space. I always thought when tragedy hit, you would grieve the loss together. That is absolutely untrue. You grieve in parallel, but you grieve alone. To make matters worse, men and women tend to grieve differently. I took a grief class that wasn’t super helpful except that I learned that usually men grieve quietly, where women tend to grieve and express their grief more. That explains why I find more women in my online groups. At one point during the most intense moments of my grief, I had to decide if I had the energy, love, and the unselfish ability to keep a relationship going. I am thankful that I stopped and evaluated those feelings, that I learned how everyone grieves alone and different, and that we both stayed “all in” so to speak. That doesn’t work for everyone. Again, it’s life interrupted. Everything gets evaluated.
I have moments daily that are still difficult. I only had 4 hours of sleep before work the next morning the other night because of the intense emotions brought on by both my youngest girls experiencing sadness in their lives. Loss, unfortunately, affects all relationships including my daughter’s relationships with others. When they lose a friend it can bring back feelings of losing their family member all over again. I spent the evening wishing I could take all of the grief on myself, that it didn’t have to continually affect my other children and that I could fix it. Of course, teenagers are not empathetic to each other. Friends don’t understand how you can still be sad over a year later or how you seemed better, but something else has made you sad again. (Empathy is a learned and somewhat mature emotion). Even my own children don’t understand how the loss affects their feelings of no control of events in their lives and how every time they lose a relationship, it triggers the grief of losing their loved one again. Life interrupted.
The day I was dealing with all of these emotions from my girls I was also running a good friend to an oral surgery appointment. It also happened to be the 15-month anniversary of losing my daughter. The color of everything in her life was purple. In most of her pictures as a young girl I have her dressed in purple, her phone was purple, even her car was a muted purple color. In all of my grief posts, I use a purple heart. I had a pair of purple sandals I had decided to wear this day and as I pulled up to the dental appointment, after being extremely sad over the day and my daughter’s feelings of sadness, I parked next to a purple van called Purple Shoes, with a purple heart. Coincidence or not, it was a sign for me that was a much needed, a “you’ve got this mom; it’s going to be ok.”
Yesterday I had a moment of contentment. I won’t say happiness because I honestly don’t know if that is an achievable goal, at least right now. I found myself taking my daughters to the gym and then afterward I did something significant, I made them a protein smoothie. It’s significant because it’s something I haven’t done in over 15 months. My youngest daughter told me when she was little I needed to open a smoothie shop, thinking about that always makes me smile. (she thought I should give up my nursing job to open a smoothie shop, it also tickled me to think she thought they were that good). As I blended it, I wondered if our student likes smoothies, what kinds she might like? I had a twinge in my heart as I remembered always making enough for four glasses. It was just a little thing, but it had made it back into our routine, across the semicolon and into our new normal.