5 Parts of My 'New Normal' Since Losing My Son

Grief literature is filled with the concept of the “new normal.” The idea is, in a situation which appears so surreal – the destruction of your previous life by the death of a child (or other loved one) – you will, with the passage of sufficient time, self-examination and the care and concern of others, arrive at an equilibrium, The New Normal, in which you will find some kind of peace. It is the Holy Grail of grief therapy. After two years since my son Jake’s death, these are some of the things that have become “normal” for me. There are many more, but this is my top five.

1. The most random and seemingly unconnected things can bring me to tears. 

Oh yes, there are all those triggers out there, many of which I can see coming, but lately, I find myself weeping over seemingly unconnected things. Seemingly, until I take a moment to work backward to find the kernel of sadness. For example, I was watching a football game the other day. The game was just starting, and as some minor celebrity sang the National Anthem, I found my eyes welling up with unstoppable tears. I sat there, with fat, liquid tears dripping down my cheeks and tried to figure it out. And it hit me. They also sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” before baseball games. When Jake was younger, we used to get last-minute tickets to Dodger games online and went to many games together. Years later, “Oh Say Can You See” on TV brought me right back to Dodger Stadium and those boys’ days so long ago, without my even realizing it.

2. Every happiness has an asterisk.*

There is no more unbridled joy. I am never really excellent. There is a persistent undercurrent of melancholy that runs through my life. Perhaps I am not allowing myself to be happy without reservation, but that is part of my new normal. Things I once relished, have but a lukewarm attraction. I can be at a gathering, a movie, a museum, anything that once gave me pleasure, seemingly enjoying the experience, but in the back of my heart, a missing piece won’t let go. I have come to accept this.

3. I have very little empathy for others’ misfortunes.

When others tell me of a tragedy they have experienced, I nod, make the appropriate noises to indicate I sympathize with them, but inside, my reaction is more like, “whatever.” I think having succumbed to such agony for so long, I have tripped an emotional circuit breaker to keep from shorting out completely. The pain drained my reservoir of emotions, and there isn’t much left. Everything is at about a four or five on the scale, and nothing can really move the needle either way past that.

4. I am exhausted all the time.

Most people awake from a night’s sleep refreshed and ready for the new day. I find myself almost as tired when I wake as when I went to bed. I don’t seem to recharge fully, and often get up reluctantly, simply because I think I must. I have read that this is a symptom of depression, and I accept that on some level, I am depressed. This whole thing is so damn depressing. Others who are farther along on this journey tell me I am still at the beginning, that I am in the early stages of grieving. After two years I am still a novice. When do I get to graduate to veteran griever? Will it make any difference?

5. I am angry that all I have of Jake are memories.

I am filled with a quiet rage that I have to “remember” my son. I won’t make any
new memories, won’t share any new experiences, won’t see him marry, raise a
family of his own, find success and fulfillment in meaningful work, won’t see
any more of his wonderful art, will never bless him, hug him, kiss him, see him. This anger simmers beneath the surface and has transformed from the blind
fury I felt during those first few months, into a constant companion. I know it is something I must let go of, but for now, it is just part of my new normal.

I read that many grieving parents have found a place more gracious than the one I inhabit. Perhaps I too will come to that place in time. I do appreciate every day I have; I know what a gift each one is. It is difficult to reconcile this with the priceless gift that has been wrenched from our lives. This paradox – the contradiction between the appreciation for each day and the indifference I now struggle with – is perhaps, the most significant hallmark of my new normal. Perhaps in another year, two, five, 10, this current “new normal” will metamorphose into something else. Until then, I will do what I can to bear the unbearable sorrow, something unthinkable that has become the new normal.

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