Every Wednesday

Every other Wednesday, I will post a reflection on grief as I continue to explore its landscape and listen to your experiences. In the sharing of our stories with each other, we find encouragement and build a community of support and understanding.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Grief's New Normal

Recently I used the term “the New Normal” in a post to describe the time when we’ve put our life back together after the death of a loved one. This irritated some people. Is the New Normal a specific term or a generic description? Does it imply to some that we’ve stopped mourning and moved on with our lives? 

The Urban Dictionary says the New Normal refers to the state of being after some dramatic change has transpired that replaces our previous expected state of being with a new one.

To me, “a normal day” means an average or typical day, and this changes after a death. Radically. Now we think about death and grief every day, when before we rarely did. Maybe we could call it the New Typical, the ABnormal, as David says, or the AfterNormal, a term being used for living as our climate collapses.

Language is a tricky thing with grief because our society has forgotten how to talk about it. As we patch our new language together, we’re bound to trip over each other’s sensibilities. This means that we can learn from each other’s insights. That’s exciting!

I don’t think the term means we are okay with what happened. It will never be okay with us that our loved one died. There is nothing normal about a young person's death, a cancer death, a stillborn death. And we’re certainly not normal after someone dies.

Our definitions of reality, of what is normal, do differ. If we sat in a chair with our feet up and thought about it, we might define reality as being the bedrock beneath what we fill our days with. Reality is what we have to do versus what we chose. 

Our reality may be different than those who are struggling to survive depression, violence, poverty, single parent homes, or drug abuse. Reality for women and minorities is different than it is for white men. Reality in the Third World differs from reality in the First. I can’t even fathom Fourth World realities.

There is nothing normal to our lives after someone dies. Everything changes. Our days settle into a new typical, a decoupage of leftover pieces.

Someone thought the dissent was coming from the younger generation that hadn’t lost anyone close before. The reality is that this first death has upended their understanding of life. Those who are older, and have lost a number of people dear to us, accept that death is part of life. This doesn’t mean that we like it.

When my wife died in her 40s, I hadn’t lost anyone close. With her out-of-sequence death, my entire view of reality shifted, and I confess that I haven’t fully regained my trust in institutions or Life. My life certainly isn’t what it was before because I’ve added in living with grief. My normal day is now different. Every day I’m aware that people can easily die from illness or accidents. Most of my friends don’t carry this fear.

When you’re grieving, you quickly learn how important it is to be honest about what you’re feeling and thinking, because no one is going to magically divine this. No one is going to barge into your room and demand that you open up about your grief. Although that would be cool. And as you find community with other people, what you look for is the immediacy of their hearts. You trust what they say, and you help each other endure this horrible loss.

Hold on to this. Continue to be honest about who you are. Continue to take care of those who are suffering. This is the only new normal that matters. Terms are bird twine floating on the ocean.

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