“The new normal” is one of those phrases that can accurately apply to a wide variety of life situations, including a medical diagnosis, death, divorce, retirement or change in job or home. The phrase implies both the newness of each of those circumstances, as well as the necessity that they will need to be normalized, integrated into the reality of our daily lives.
But there is a sizable middle ground between the event that precipitates the need for a “new normal” and its final acceptance. I find myself there as I mourn the loss of my father, who died in September. The phrase keeps coming up in conversation, and as helpful and true as it is, it has made me realize that “normal” is the last word I would use to describe the fragile place I currently occupy.
For example, the “new normal” is to have Thanksgiving without Dad, then to remember him on what would have been his 75th birthday just a few days later.
The “new normal” is also for my son to wonder if he can “still call it Gigi and Pops’ house, even though Pops isn’t there anymore.” (Yes, he can, we told him.)
In other words, during this year of firsts, the new normal is a time of transition, not of arrival. Not for nothing, but once we’ve settled into new routines and emotional patterns, our “normal” won’t be quite so new anymore, will it?
It strikes me that this is something to be celebrated, not fretted over. Part of living positively is meeting ourselves where we are, wherever we are. And as I continue to navigate this in-between time, this period of slowly—and sometimes unsteadily—accepting my father’s absence from the earth, I recognize that each step along the way is a worthwhile part of a healthy grieving process.
The same idea would apply to more positive life changes, like a new home or job, as well as the challenges of the end of a relationship or a difficult medical reality. A “new normal” isn’t something any of us step into all at once. It’s something we become, move toward, and, eventually, accept.
Let’s not be in a rush to reach that destination. The journey has much to teach us.