As common as the term “new normal” is among people coping with loss and grief, I’m always surprised by how many people ask “how long until I feel normal again?” Unfortunately, there is no formula. No definitive timeline. There’s no such thing as “you should be over it by now”, despite what your family and friends may tell you. If you have experienced a loss and are left feeling as though you don’t know yourself anymore, please trust that you’re not alone. Identity loss or loss of self-clarity in grief is very real and very difficult.
When someone dies, or, a relationship ends, the “normal” a person once knew ceases to exist. For example, Al’s wife used to call on her way home from work every day at 5 pm. Now that they are divorced, Al no longer gets that call. Al has to get used to different routines like drinking his morning coffee alone or making dinner for one less person. In addition to the loss of his marriage, Al is now required to cope with the loss of familiar and comforting patterns of behaviour.
The Grief Recovery Institute defines grief as “the conflicting feelings caused by the change of, or the end in, a familiar pattern of behavior.” The longing for these familiar patterns of behaviour and our specific roles within them can cause as much heartache as the original loss itself. Who am I if not somebody’s wife or so-and-so’s daughter?
“When we experience a loss we are often focused on the tangible “things” we lose – the person, the house, the job, the relationship, etc. That’s, of course, a huge part of grief. But there is this other part of grief that we are often less aware of. It is the secondary losses that happen like dominoes falling, creating far more to cope with than just the primary loss.” (Haley, E., 2018, para. 2)
It has been said that change is the only real constant. Generally speaking, most people don’t respond positively to change – especially when it is thrust upon them without their input. Most of us hold deeply rooted beliefs about how life is supposed to look and who we are supposed to be. When life doesn’t pan out the way we had envisioned, it can be easy to assume that no alternative will ever allow us to regain our sense of well-being.
A significant change in the person we used to be and the routines we used to hold doesn’t mean that future happiness is impossible. It doesn’t mean we won’t make hopeful space for new people, new experiences and new understanding. What it does mean, however, is that the very act of living our life, carrying on without that person or people, will always be a reminder that our loved one is gone, that we are different now and that the world is no longer normal.
The grief that remains in our hearts around the people and things in life that we lose does not mean there will not be other things that bring a sense of purpose, joy, and contentment – each of which will slowly become part of your identity. Your “new normal”.