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Finding ‘Normal’ After Loss

“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” – Dave Hollis, Author

Since stumbling across this quote, I’ve been haunted by it. It drops into my thoughts by surprise and brings me to a halt in my own life’s rushing. You see, it seems to me that we are always in a rush to return to that which we consider “normal.”

But what does normal mean? In an article by Jonathan Mooney, “How, Exactly, Did We Come Up with What Counts As ‘Normal’?”, I discovered that when normal was first used it had no attachment to anything human. Normal was a mathematical term meaning “perpendicular” or “at right angles.” Somewhere along the way, the connection was made to the human condition. By definition, normal has to do with the usual, the typical, the expected, conforming to the standard. In the dictionary according to Lee Ann, I add a few other points to ponder. Normal is where we are comfortable or where we think we are. Normal is routine, habit, not taking the risk to rethink or relearn or desire to get out of our rut. Normal seems so selfish at times. Normal has a lot of power in our lives.

Working with Hospice & Community Care, I have had the tremendous opportunity to talk with some amazing people as they experience their own, or a loved one’s, last span of their earthly journey. More often than not, one of the first comments made has to do with the desire for things to return to normal. The person whose life is coming to an end goes through a period of wishing things could be normal, and they didn’t have to face a disease that will end their life. Those who are dealing with the grief following the death of a loved one just want things back to normal, the way things were before the reality of death invaded their normalcy. The “rush to return to normal” is an expected response to loss and grief.

I recently heard a portion of a PBS interview with author Mary Alice Monroe. Monroe was being interviewed because she had recently published the final book in her Beach House series and because she had Covid-19 last year. While I am interested in reading her books, I found myself, that day, more interested in hearing her reflections concerning the changes that the pandemic has brought about. I found it refreshing to hear her speak of the past year as a year of slowing down, a year of relearning. While much of the commentary about the past year focuses on what we lost and the desire to return to the normal we miss, Monroe spoke of the past year in terms of “lessons learned” and “not bemoaning the past year, but seeing it as part of our shared history in the beautiful, precious gift of life that we’re moving into.”

The reality is that all of us, the whole world, experienced much loss in the last year. We can’t change what happened, nor can we get that year back. The loss of that year will have far-reaching effects on all our lives and on our whole global community for a very long time. Mary Alice Monroe, however, has given us a different way to frame that year of loss. What Monroe has done is forward rather than backward. She acknowledges the tragedy that occurred in our lives, but she has chosen not to let normal have power over her life. Monroe isn’t settling for what was, as comfortable and familiar as that may be. Instead, she is looking to the opportunities in the future which are only possible when we are willing to stop our rush to return to normal.

In living with loss and grief, Monroe has given us a helpful direction in moving through our grief. The deep sorrow of grief that we experience is difficult; it needs to be acknowledged. The normalcy of what was, however, does not have to be a hindrance to what is possible. The key is to determine what elements in our loss will help us move forward. That’s what we, as individuals and as a community, hold onto and use as the bridge into our new journey, giving us the strength we need to get started. Then, as we move through our grief with a desire for what may be rather than what was, we move forward in a healthy, confident manner, enabling us to embrace our own “beautiful, precious gift of life.”

At Hospice & Community Care, we take seriously our commitment to be with you in your journey. We also realize that, given the last year’s events, we are all on a community journey of loss that was not anticipated but certainly impacted your personal loss in unfathomable ways. We care about you and are here to support you. Together, let us share our strength with each other. Give us a call if you would like to talk with someone individually or want information for our support group

Lee Ann Livingston
Spiritual Care Provider

The Hospice & Hospice Team has a number of resources available for helping families walk through grief and loss.
Learn more about the support and services available to you.

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