I recently heard this reflection that could easily sum up being a bereaved parent ..
“New normal is just a costume I wear because it suits my life now”
After the loss of your child, it is impossible to present yourself as the same person who you were before, simply because you no longer are that person.
That you are irrevocably changed is a given, and the acceptance of this takes time.
You may wonder, what does new normal consist of?
When does it arrive? How do you find it?
The basics of the costume arrive fairly quickly. You would be surprised to know how soon other people expect you to return ‘to normal’ after loss. This may be in part due to wishful thinking of friends and family, but it’s also due to the accelerated way we live our lives these days. The instantly gratuitous nature of the internet and social media give us new expectations of ‘getting over’ or ‘coming to terms’ with things. It is as though there should be a linear, set timescale to grief. But… just ask anyone who has lost a loved one … such a thing does not, and should not, exist.
Perhaps we need to feel the pain of grief to be able to work through it and learn how to look back down the line at it, safe in the knowledge that we are feeling less pain as time goes on and gradually learning to live life in new normality.
There is a lot to be said for the Victorian practice of wearing sober clothing and a black arm band during mourning with its own timescale, not least because it was visible to others and it gave a message to handle people gently.
Today, we do not have anything noticeable that signals to others that we are dealing with severe emotional trauma.
The costume of new normality includes a mask which is rarely removed.
There exists a sense of having to present to the world a face which accords with what is expected, rather than the real, naked expression of loss.
Part of living new normality lies in giving sensible responses to well-meaning people who ask you if you are ‘feeling better’. Early on, you may find yourself, as I did, giving non-committal, non specific responses because the truth was just simply too awful to share at the time. I felt like I was in the blackest, darkest pit of despair and I could not imagine a future in which it would ever be ‘better’. How could I inflict that on people when they were simply asking after my wellfare? I learned to be very selective with my audience.
There are some people to whom I have always been able to speak completely freely, and thank goodness for them, as saviours of my sanity!
Fairly early on I found it was important to me to reclaim my daily rituals and put on my makeup when I dressed. Whenever I was applying it I would think about how I was presenting myself for the day. I wore waterproof mascara for years ‘just in case’.
“Are you looking forward to Christmas?”
Even now, the tenth festive season since James died, this question requires a qualified answer….
“Yes, I am looking forward to Christmas.
I am looking forward to spending time with family and friends.
I am looking forward to observing our new rituals, which include lighting a candle for James at Christmas lunch, wherever it takes place.
We will raise a glass to him and to others who are absent.
So yes, I am looking forward to Christmas, but our ‘new normal’ Christmas is includes all the memories of our old rituals, and all 19 of the ‘old normal’ Christmases that were shared with James”.
My life did not end when my son died, though it felt like it at the time.
Laying down new memories, living my life with joy and anticipation when I can, is what I owe to James’ memory. In particular at Christmas and the turn of the year, it is important to look forward as well as backward to add to the memory store of new normality. I am lucky to have my loving family and friends who understand these nuances and treat me gently, never forgetting what has gone before.
Let’s not forget, the empty space at the table is hard for them, too.
The costume of new normality eventually assumes a good fit. How long that takes depends on many individual tucks, stitches and pleats. New normality can never be quite as comfortable as the old, but today I find it acceptably wearable despite my lack of choice in its design.