Right after my mother passed away, I wondered what it would feel like when we all sort of adjusted to her no longer being with us. In some ways, the grief was stronger in the days leading up to her death. The dark, fearful anticipation of what it would be like when she was gone. Never being able to see her again. Talk with her. Hear her laugh. Have her hold my children. Listen to her advice (or try not to and then always come back to it!)
And then the day that she left us—waves of sadness because she was gone and relief because she no longer had to live with disease eating her body. Her shell was still here but she was set free. Then of course, the insane bustle of preparing for her funeral and all of the details that entails. No one ever tells you that the path of grief is oftentimes just simply practical survival.
If you’ve ever read any books about grief, then you’ve probably heard the term “the new normal.” It’s that fantasy world that you are eventually supposed to achieve when life without your loved one is no longer strange and awkward but, well, normal. You are used to it.
So now, here we are, nearly three years after the day of her death, and what I wondered I would feel, I feel now.
The void that she left in her wake has become the new normal.
I have now accustomed myself to never talking to her. To not having her to ask about how to stuff a turkey or how to teach my daughter to go on the potty. I know she will not be there to take pictures at my son’s school recital or celebrate this week’s choice for favorite superhero. There will be no guidance from her after hard days at school or the first round of broken hearts. Only her words that I carry within me.
I no longer wish she could come and visit or stay with the kids. I have accustomed myself to her absence. I no longer expect her seat to be filled. She is gone. And I am learning that this is life now. This is my life. It is not a movie. It is not a tragic article in the newspaper or a story that a friend told me about someone else’s reality. It is mine. This is my normal.
My children don’t know her. They never will on this side of Heaven. My son possibly remembers traces of her, but my daughter never met her, having been born just two months after she died.
But the thing about this new normal is that the void never goes away. The new normal never really becomes normal normal to you because you know what the real normal is supposed to look like. You experienced the authentic version.
The new normal still feels like a generic version of a brand name.
The new normal is hard and awkward and uncomfortable and it’s loss upon loss. Letting go of the one you love and then letting go of their things and then letting go of their lifestyle and then letting go and adjusting to no longer having their presence in your family line.
And the others, the ones who come after your loved one is gone, they don’t know what they are missing. My children don’t know how good it could have been. How much she would have loved them. How much she would have added to her their lives with her care, her wisdom, her endless, unconditional grace. But I do. I know. I remember. I lived through the real normal.
Last night I didn’t sleep in my regular pajamas. Instead, I put on the blue long-johns that my brother bought for me the day of my wedding. Odd, I know, but it was April in the mountains in Colorado and I had insisted on an outdoor wedding and a strapless dress. That might have worked in San Diego, but April in our area? A risky gamble. You could have an 80 degree day or a blizzard. We got somewhere in the middle. So since our little mountain town has more camping and hiking stores than it does stores with wedding apparel, the long-johns seemed like the most appropriate choice. And I needed something blue.
But I slept in them last night because I wanted to remember the old normal. When life was new. When my mother was there to share in all of the memories. When we were still a family. When all felt as it should. Before every joyous occasion was tinted with a shade of grief. Sometimes I wish I could walk those paths just one more time.
I must also say, though, that there are real treasures added because your loved one is no longer there. Unexpected blessings that spring up as seeds in the aftermath of winter’s death. That add to and fill out your life. Treasures that would have never come if they would not have left. These are to be received with gratitude.
But the only true comfort comes in knowing that one day, when all of this truly passes, our most profound new normal will be the most genuine normal we will have ever known. The normal that we were created for. No more tears. No more suffering. No more saying goodbye. No more living with loss. Together forever. No more death. All things old will be made new. When Heaven becomes our new normal and the latter glory outweighs the former.
And that, my friends, is a normal that I am looking forward to.