I’ve been saying to myself over and over again that life goes on. Yes, it’s true, life does go on after you have lost a loved one but how it goes on is never truly the same.
Death brings people together that maybe haven’t seen each other in years. We all come together to honor, celebrate, mourn, and remember our loved one. We share our stories, we laugh, we cry, we hug, we comfort. But what happens when the funeral is over? We all go back to life. We all go back to work. We all go back to school or being a mom or a dad. People go back to their usual “life before the loss” and so must you. But if you have experienced anything like I have seen in the last month of my life, is your life really the usual?
Yes, life does go on for you too, but hand in hand, so does your grief. Your sense of loss doesn’t go away because you have to get the kids ready for school or you have to finish the perfect report for the 8am meeting.
The ceremony may be over. The public honoring of one’s life might be through. But are you over your grief and act like you always did? Has life really gone on? When you lose a loved one, you feel the need to move on but you also don’t want to let go. It’s as if letting go and moving on with life is forgetting what just happened. Are you callous? Do you not care? How can you go back to work? In fact for that matter, how can you even get out of bed?
Then there are those people around you, sometimes even close friends, who act like you should be back to normal. Like the event never even happened. You sometimes just want to shake them and say, I am not normal yet! My grief hasn’t stopped. In fact, I’m not sure if I can ever make it stop. Just because I am forcing a smile on my face doesn’t mean I’m okay. I’m not sure I will ever be okay again.
While I agree that on many levels getting back to a routine can be good for you, at the same time, I have come to the conclusion that you may never again act like you did before. And certainly not right away. You can put on a happy face and deal with life but how could anyone ever know that hidden under that mask of “back to reality” are the tears and sorrow that are so hard to shake. And the overwhelming feeling of loss hits you when you least expect it. Your “normal” life is anything but normal. It’s different. It’s unknown. And it can change at any given moment…on any single day. I have found a fragility that I have never known before. It’s the old “look at me cross-eyed and I might break into tears” type of fragility. It is anything but normal.
So you are now faced with a seemingly monumental task of figuring out…what is the new normal in your life.
After my brother passed away the end of June this year, I struggled with my new normal. My life went on. My work was my safe haven and my son was my new hero. They both saved me from what I’m sure could have turned into a serious depression. For the most part, it was normal at work, back to business. My mind could focus on what I needed to do. It occupied my thoughts so I could actually feel a bit normal. I had coworkers who needed me and this is what helped me get out of bed the mornings following. And then there was my son. Well, let’s face it; I still had to be a mom. I still had to do laundry, grocery shop, and get ready for a new school year. He needed me to still be his mom and this kept me sane during the times I was with him. We shared stories, we looked at pictures, but we also looked to the future, together. We talked about vacations, getting a new driver’s license, our birthdays coming up. We made plans. One day, I gotta remember to tell him, you saved my spirit. One day, I’ll tell him.
But then… there were those moments when I was alone. And that normal was definitely new.
No, I didn’t see my brother every day but we were the type of siblings in which we didn’t need to see each other to keep our bond tight. We did however have the every two weeks phone calls. Both of us had always been a wake up at the crack of dawn kind of person so it was a perfect time in the quiet of the early morning hours to catch up. Pouring a cup of coffee, sitting on my patio, and just talking to him. Hearing about his work and travels. Catching him up on my work. Sharing the latest stories about our children and families. Asking me about my love life. Sharing my adventures of a single girl. He wasn’t just my big brother during those calls; he was one of my best friends.
They were the best phone calls. Saying anything yet sometimes saying nothing at all. Crying, laughing or venting if we needed to. But plain and simple, it was about just listening. Listening to each other. Asking about each other and truly hearing and caring. The best memory of those calls I will always cherish is the way he said goodbye. At the end of every phone call he would say “hahaha…bye…hahaha”. He was always chuckling or laughing in some silly way when he said it. His laugh was contagious and it would make me smile and shake my head every time we hung up. It wasn’t a goodbye… it was a happy “bye” and I’ll catch you later.
So I am learning to find a new way of normal during the time that those phone calls would happen. I am figuring out how I can still have those talks. And rightfully so, like every other moment in my life when I needed to let out my emotions, I turn to a pen and paper or now a keyboard. I fill the pages with all the things I would want to tell him. How my son is doing in school, the latest single girl escapades, and how much I miss hearing his voice. I laugh. I cry. I smile. I believe he is listening.
If you are struggling with the loss of a loved one, you too may be struggling with your new normal. Talk to someone, express how you feel, find your creative outlet, get out a pen and paper, splash some color on a canvas, do whatever it is to get you though this hump. And you too will get through it. It takes some time and it takes some work. While lying in bed and hiding from the world may feel good sometimes, and believe me I have been there in these past few weeks, tell yourself to get out of bed and make every effort you can to find your new normal.
So while I have learned that part of my new normal is missing those calls and those byes, I now pour my coffee, sit on my patio, talk out loud to the redbird on my fence, and write. And I know he is listening. I know he is smiling. And I know he is still with me. And when I’m done, I can close my eyes and just for a moment, in that quiet little moment of the early morning hours, I can almost hear that good- bye.