Saying goodbye to loved ones is never easy.
I recently had the privilege of creating a couple of items for a friend to use at her mother’s Celebration of Life service. She said something to me when she picked up the finished pieces that has stuck in my brain.
“I guess I’m just getting used to the new normal.”
Truer words were never spoken. And what an excellent way to think of grief.
Experts talk about the five stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance – but I’ve never thought of that as a linear path. Or even one that you traverse only once! I’m convinced that when you suffer a major loss you still cycle through the various stages every now and then. Skipping over the ones that aren’t applicable at the time and getting side swiped by the ones that are. Many of you know that I lost my parents at 14 in a car crash. I was also quite seriously injured and so had to put my grieving process on hold in order to focus on healing. The psychologists warned us that I would suffer later on in life for not dealing with my grief immediately and boy were they right!
At the time I thought I’d skipped right to acceptance. I had been in the car and even though I had no memory of the events (apart from very fuzzy, very patchy ones) I truly thought that on a subconscious level I’d dealt with everything and was done. No shrinks for me thank you very much! I was able to function quite well (I thought) for another four years and then the wheels started coming off the bus. I was stuck in a whirlpool of denial, anger, bargaining and depression for many years and yes, there was some hefty psychoanalysis involved!
I still aver that accepting was never really my issue, I knew my Mum and Dad were never coming back! But hearing my friend made me realize what I was actually struggling with. Some days I still think I’m getting used to the ‘new normal’ and it’s been 28 years since that fateful day!
What does this New Normal look like?
At first every day is hard. You think of your loved one all the time. They are present in your routines, you smell them in your house, you reach out to call them on the phone ten times a day, and you are constantly battling tears of sorrow. You miss them! Even if your loved one wasn’t a constant presence in your daily life, for those first few days, it’s like they were.
Then you notice several hours have gone by without their faces popping up in your minds eye. And that makes you feel guilty! How could you forget them so quickly? What if they think you don’t love them anymore? A totally irrational thought I grant you, but rationality is not part of the grieving equation yet.
The hours turn into days by and by. I’d say the days turn into weeks but I’m 28 years into this process and I still don’t go weeks without thinking of my parents. They are constantly at the back of my mind. I may go weeks without feelings of sadness or anger at the unfairness of it all, but never weeks without thinking of them! Now that I’m an adult I have many of our family treasures in my home that keep their memories fresh at hand. In my Scrap Cave is a large painting of a rural landscape and a volcano from Indonesia. We brought that back from our time there and it was always hanging in our living room. That painting came with us to Iran, was in our home in England, and finally to Canada. As it’s not my husbands style, it has a place of honour in my room and every time I look at it I feel at home.
As a scrapbooker (and yes, I’m calling that a real word – despite what my Spell check says!) my parents often feature in my work. I may not be creating a scrapbook page with photos of them all the time, but often my journaling touches on the subject of the “grandparents you never knew”, or how something is “just like my Mum’s”, or some other aspect of my past in which they featured.
To me, the “new normal” is just life. I don’t dwell on what could have been. That’s a waste of time and energy. I have a good life, despite or because of losing my parents at such a young age. Who knows! And you know what? It doesn’t matter! Yes, I still struggle with bouts of depression. Yes, I have issues that I don’t think I would have had if I hadn’t had to figure out how I was to get through life without my parents guidance and love. Yes, I suffer physical pains and limitations because of all the injuries I had. But this IS my normal! And I have an amazing guy who puts up with all my crap and every day tells me how sexy I am (yep, he’s completely myopic!) I have three amazing girls that I was able to carry to term, birth naturally (in spite of their monster sizes) and breastfeed with ease – something my mother wasn’t able to do. And yes, I will continue to weep that they are gone, and yearn to be able to talk to them “just one last time”, but I will also dry my tears, pull myself together and get back to the job of living.
Because in living to the fullest, I honour their memory more than I could by wallowing in my grief forever.
If you have suffered a deep loss then I encourage you to reach out. Leave a comment here or on my Facebook Page. Do you agree with my assessment of grief? Are you still working through those stages to find your new normal? I’m not an expert by any conventional definition, but I have been living with this for a long time so may have learning one or two things along the way that I’m happy to share with you!
If you are interested, here are the items I made for my friend. Click on the image to view larger.