In 2010 when we were on holiday in Turkey, I took a photo of a T shirt … because the slogan made me laugh. “I am not Normal”, read the legend, but how do you define normal?
When you are grieving or working through a stressful situation, you often hear the phrase ‘new normality’.
I was reminded of this the other day when I read a column in the local paper by Rev Andy Humm, the vicar of St George and St Paul’s, the church in Tiverton that I attend. Andy pointed out how the concept of normality has changed, using as an example the way we carry out research today. It is less common for us to go to the library to explore reference books such as the tome-like Encyclopaedia Britannica than it is for us to just ‘Google it’! Talking about being with bereaved families planning a funeral or in other circumstances, he went on to say, “ … I try to get families to talk about a new normal. This is because the reality of the situation they find themselves in, means they cannot go back to how it was. The person they loved has died, or the situation has meant that things cannot be the same. Yet tomorrow will come and the day has to be lived in the light of what has happened, a new normal”.
It’s an interesting choice of words … ‘in the light of what has happened’ … for when I talk about new normality since losing James in 2005, I invariably describe it as living in the mourning light. That has become normal for me.
But there are other, more recent losses that have necessarily become included in my new normality.
Almost two years ago I lost one of my longest-standing friends to cancer. I had known Sylvi thirty years. I have learned that to lose a close friend is to lose a person with whom you have shared all your secrets. You have grown together as you have trodden through your life, whatever its experiences.
The new normal of living without her does not take away the memories, or the sadness of missing her.
Then almost a year ago, I lost my older brother Peter, also to cancer. He was 65. To lose a brother is to lose someone with whom you thought you would grow old, regardless of your relationship.
I think I am only just beginning to process these losses and to assimilate them into new normality. Sometimes it is the little things you miss the most. I know I miss seeing Sylvi’s handwriting in her letters to me, like I miss Peter’s handwriting on my birthday card. Even when we did not have much contact, he always acknowledged my birthday with a card.
Whenever I see hydrangeas, I think of Sylvi. Whenever I hear David Bowie’s music, I think of Peter. These are small but important ingredients in new normality. Anyone who has lost someone will recognise their own personal triggers.
What astounds me is the adaptability and fluidity that we all possess that allows us to accommodate change and to slot it into our everyday lives. We learn to absorb hurt; to grow a carapace around ourselves that shields our hearts from the pain of grief and loss. When we are strong enough, we look out towards the light again and create our new normality.
Aspects of new normality can, of course, be positive rather than negative. It is my new normal to enjoy living in the countryside and not to be working any more, both of which are true blessings.
The tangled skeins of lives and relationships offer endless opportunities for us to learn, shift our thinking, recognise what is calling us the loudest and to respond to it. My biggest shift in new normality arrived via the Alpha course in 2016. My old normal of believing there was ‘something out there, not sure what’, and enjoying practices such as energy healing and meditation, now sits comfortably alongside Christian worship. My life in the mourning light now contains an additional shining light and it is a joy to continue to explore and learn more about this new normal.
“I am normal”.
“I am not normal”.
In the end, perhaps the difference really doesn’t matter.