The Illusion of Back to Normal

“I only sobbed for a couple of hours.  And then I laughed because it was just so absurd.”

“Holy crap”  I said.  My friend who was unexpectedly and tragically widowed four years ago was in LA filming a movie this year in mid-February.  She got through the whole of Valentine’s Day without a trigger, and it seemed her chosen tactic of ignoring the day had triumphed as she was driven back to her hotel.  Looking forward to chilling out after an intense week of work, she arrived at the hotel only to find a Valentine’s extravaganza of sorts in the banquet room in proximity to hers.  She was greeted at the hotel by dressed up ladies in the arms of their dates and “relaxed” in her hotel room to love ballads galore and amorous prompts filtering through the walls from the over eager MC across the hall.

Kind of like unintentionally stumbling upon a church service or a restaurant on Mother’s Day in our world.  Triggering times a million?  Oh, I think so.

“How were you the next day?”

Now, I have no knowledge of what it’s like to grieve the untimely loss of a spouse.  But I do know what it’s like to be hoisted up with not a moment’s notice by grief’s tornado and hurled about, and how that feels in one’s body for days after.  So although I don’t “understand” per se, due to the perpetual trauma of repeated failed fertility treatments and the loss of our children that followed, I sure know what questions to ask.

“Before that would have sent me to bed for two days” she reported.

“Of course” I said in an easeful matter of fact tone.  “Now only two hours of sobbing and getting up to function the next day?  Well that’s doin’ pretty well.”

And so we went on about our “improvements”, our banter steeped in Massachusetts born and bred sarcasm, easily finding the humor in the absurdity not only of our realities, but in the fact that our realities are, to us, entirely normal.

‘Doin pretty well’ became our catch phrase as I continued on with my story of progress, telling her about dealing with the fact our across the street neighbors just had another baby.

“My panic issues resurfaced, but I haven’t had a full panic attack over it, so, I’m doin’ pretty well”.

“I happened to look over when they were bringing the baby home, which was painful, and it wasn’t great seeing people stop by to visit, but you know, all in all, I only had to close the blinds for one day.  Now that’s doin’ pretty well!”

I also noted to myself the good feelings I’m able to have towards them for not putting up a stork, balloons, or any kind of shiny flashy “LOOK WORLD, WE’VE PROCREATED!!” hoopla in their front yard.  This act (or lack thereof) alone is really making me love them.  They seem to be those rare people who might actually understand that getting to bring home a healthy, easily conceived child is gift enough.

“Oh, and yeah, having a trigger across the street disrupted my sleep for about a week but not to the degree it would have a year ago.”  Which is, in my corner, as I’m sure you can guess by now folks, ‘doin’ pretty well’.

There is a rampant misperception in our culture that we grievers are somehow not seeing things clearly, and that getting “back to normal”, whatever that means in non – griever terms, is an existing goal.

“Hey, do you realize..” I said between chuckles, “that quote unquote normal people would be horrified at what we consider progress?  That hypervigilant nervous systems, sobbing attacks that last for more than 10.5 minutes (heaven forbid!!) and intermittent avoidances of daily life would be considered tragic, or even taboo for some, but for us it’s kinda like what we do?”

What much of the world does not seem acclimated to is that, in the name of healing, feeling and expressing pain is healthy.  And brave.  And necessary.  The aforementioned grief and trauma symptoms are not signs of weakness or faulty perception, rather they are normal responses to abnormal circumstances.

“You can’t un-know what you know” one of my friend’s fellow widows once wisely stated.  So true.

I can’t un-know what it’s like to work so hard for something and get nothing, having my cause and effect relationship with life essentially severed.

I can’t un-know what it’s like to be grieving the loss of my children at an age where the majority of my peers are raising theirs.

I can’t un-know the experience of having no control, of having my life ripped apart when all we did was take off the birth control to expand our family, just like everybody else.

I can’t un-know love not being enough to get my children here.

I can’t un-know what it’s like to have to let go of my need for reasons, answers and life making sense.

I can’t un-know my most visceral self, or what it feels like to have life randomly plunge me there.

These things are not misperceptions, they are very real experiences.  Experiences that change everything.  They change the way you see the world, the way you are and the way you are in the world and most things about life as you thought you knew it.  I can only go forward from here, there is no going back to the person I once was.  My old normal is, after all, a fuzzy memory that can barely be recalled even after much soul squinting.  There is a new normal to be found but when and only when I’ve honored every inch of my grief there is to honor and heal to the point of being able to really walk towards it.  This new normal now cannot be seen or defined, nor should it be, and if I’m lucky enough to arrive I’m sure it too will be fleeting.

There was a different feeling in the air that day as I caught up with my friend.  I had just crossed the two year anniversary of our final failed treatment following four years of treatments, procedures and heartache, she was about 4.5 years into grieving the loss of her husband.  It seemed to be the first time in literally years we had gotten together when one of us was not in some kind of grief coma or deep level of despair.  We exited the restaurant into the dusk of a promising early March twilight, destination unknown, but with the inner peace that comes from knowing we are somehow headed in the right direction, never to return to where we once were.  THIS is our normal.

10 thoughts on “The Illusion of Back to Normal

  • I love this! You’re totally right — there is no “return to normal,” but it is wonderful to acknowledge the incremental progress toward integrating the new normal.

    • Thanks, Julie. I like your take on acknowledging the incremental progress……it’s especially important when so many perceive this sea of gray process as more black and white than it really is – “better” vs. “not better”.

  • “You can’t un-know what you know” so true. I’ve often wished that I could go back and find the person I was many years ago..before all this…but she’s gone. She’s been through too much that changes everything. Slowly I am becoming ok with that. I try my best to look forward. Some days that is easier than others. I’m finding it is small moments that are often unexpected and I think..ok this is my life now and this is ok. Wishing the same for you.

    • Awesome – thanks for this honest account. I feel and experience much of the same. There’s so much challenge in integrating transformation that we did nothing to invite, I think. Dealing when something was forced upon you is on a whole different level.

  • You can’t un-know what you know….what a profound person.

    So glad that you were able to celebrate these small milestones! You have both come such a long way!

  • It took me a few visits to read to the end of this incredible post. Maybe it was the planets aligning or more realistically, Easter, which by itself is not that high up on the trigger list, until I came across the swarm of parents and kids leaving the child care centre after the Easter hat parade. Throw in some PMS and premenopausal crap and it all starts to build up nicely!

    Hehe, I laugh at what I’ve considered progress over the years too. Those tiny little breakthroughs, in my eyes, that would have probably had the ‘normals’ rolling their eyes at me, if they ever knew.
    We all run our own race and plot our own paths with the experiences we are dealt, and things don’t always go our way, no matter how much we try to sweeten the odds. Our normal is constantly changing for we all are by our circumstances, influences, and experiences that all directly affect us.

    You can’t unknow…. these realisations forever change our outlook, our future, our surviving, and our picking up the pieces. I have often looked back at my old self, wishing I could’ve salvaged a sliver of the self-confident, light hearted, go-getting dreamer she was. She is long gone. Occasionally a hint of her pops through, taking me by surprise, giving me a fleeting glimpse of earlier, more idealistic times. This is my normal, and most of the time, it is all right.
    It’s lovely to hear that you both are moving ahead in the right direction.

    • Turns out Easter was triggering for me too! I did NOT see that one coming.

      Thank you for sharing your new normal. I think these stories affirm that there are things from the past we may not be able to recapture, and that is ok.

      The “normals” – I love it!

  • I’m sorry I’m late to this. But I do love it. I’ve also found similarities in my grief and losses, and those of others. Our losses might be quite different, but many of our feelings and recovery and reactions (ie up and down and triggered and calm) are the same. I’m glad you and your friend have each other.

    I also celebrate your new normal. In many ways, I wouldn’t want to go back to my old normal.

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