Head down, I took my place in line, nervously turning the small white candle around in my shaky, sweaty hand. I slowly shuffled forward toward the microphone, avoiding eye contact with those around me. I quietly spoke her name, lit the candle in my hand and placed it on the table next to her photo. When I turned around, I saw them, their eyes gazing downward. The funeral home room was filled with people, including many in my family, who had come to honor their loved one who had died. As I held in my tears and returned to my seat, my aunt and uncle were preparing to take their place in line. My uncle began to gather his oxygen tank that helps him breathe. My aunt then leaned over and whispered in his ear, “Maybe you should stay seated. It’s probably not safe to get your oxygen tank near all of these lit candles. You don’t want to blow us all up!” And suddenly, in that room filled with quiet sadness, deliberate reverence and poignant memories, I found myself highly amused and desperately trying to suppress a chuckle.
While my aunt’s comment initially struck me as quite funny, I have since come to believe it was more ironic, telling and significant than she could have ever known. It has been 4 months since my mother died and I have yet to find a better way to describe what the experience has been like for me. In one sense, my life and the person I used to be have been “blown up”. Surrounded by the resulting confusion and chaos, I am left with the scattered and damaged pieces of an old life that I am somehow expected to use to create a new, unfamiliar, motherless life.
I once read in a grief pamphlet that an important part of grieving, of getting back to “normal”, is accepting the fact that you will never get back to “normal”. The life I had with my mother is gone. I am forced to move on to a new normal, a new life. The trouble is, I don’t have a clue what that is and I don’t have any idea how to get there. And so, in these last 4 months, I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotion and I’ve been through a lifetime of experiences on my consuming, frustrating and unguided journey to the land of my new normal.
On this journey, I have felt lonely one day and embraced the next. I’ve often felt cheated only to then be unexpectedly blessed. I’ve been quite angry on numerous occasions only to then be shown new reasons to believe in goodness and hope. I’ve been precariously unstable at times only to wake up the next morning renewed and strong. One day I will desperately want to forget and the next day I will be desperate to remember. I will be extremely worried about those grieving with me only to draw strength from them later on. One day I will blindly flounder. The next day I will have clarity and direction to lead me on.
I’ve had so many caring, wonderful and thoughtful people ask me with an uncomfortable face and a nervous voice how the holidays were… “without your mom”. I haven’t had anyone ask me what it was like on that random Thursday when my class reunion booklet, the one my mother had planned on reading, arrived in my mailbox. No one has asked what it is like to go to the grocery store, walk by the Russian dressing, and feel like a memory just hit you in the heart with a hammer. No one has asked me what it feels like to stand crying at the entrance to the grocery store realizing that she won’t be able to read the real estate magazine you just picked up for her. No, it’s not the holidays that were hard. It’s every single other day of the year that’s hard.
I’ve learned that grief exists on an extremely wide spectrum. I’ve spoken with people who’ve been through the death of a loved one and, for a wide variety of reasons, it has barely registered as an event in their life. And conversely, I’ve also visited online grief chat rooms. I know people out there who will never recover from the extreme, downward spiral their life has taken since the death of their loved one. I know that I am lucky. I’m somewhere in the middle. While I may depressingly lament my sadness and fully absorb my grief, I also know, without a doubt, that I will someday arrive at the end of this journey fully intact. And when I see people dealing with other severe and often constant hardships in their lives, I can’t help but feel grateful that my own situation isn’t similar. I know that most people will inevitably deal with the death of a parent or two. This is my time.
My uncle stayed seated that day at the funeral home room and as a result, we all avoided what could have been a very dramatic candle lighting ceremony. Despite my best efforts, however, I have yet to be able to avoid my dramatic journey to my new normal. I haven’t been able to jump off this roller coaster and I haven’t been able to speed it up. But, just as I managed to sit, surrounded by grief, and find a bit of humor, a flash of happiness and a little chuckle in that funeral room, I will also do the same on this journey. Sometimes, I will still slowly shuffle forward, with my eyes gazing downward trying to find my seat and trying to control my tears. But, there will be times when I will manage to bend down and pick up my blown up pieces. And as I start figuring out where those pieces belong in the new normal, you can bet I will also find a few bits of humor, some flashes of happiness and many unsuppressed chuckles.
Check This Out!
The theme of the week at Slightly Exaggerated has been armchair mountain climbing. Try and catch your breath when you read No Shortcuts to the Top by Ed Viesturs. Try and put down the award winning Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. There are also numerous DVD’s and coffee table books with amazing video and photos to visually aid your armchair travels. Check them out at your video store or library.