The new normal

I had every intention of being funny today but it just isn’t in me.

Naturally the stronger reverberations of the suicide in the wider family are going to take some time to die down. Many people will have lost a family member since the pandemic struck.  If you are new to the loss of someone who was part of your life, it may be difficult even to know what to feel.

As I am quite old I have encountered many losses in my life.  The first resource, if you are new to this and all at sea is Cruse  who you can find at  This is a UK charity with phone lines, and contacts in various ways to help you through the slough of despond.  If you put bereavement care into a search engine elsewhere in the world you will also find a person to talk to who knows what normal looks like in the circumstance of losing someone.

There are many types of loss.  They begin with miscarriage, also something I’ve experienced.  You would imagine the loss of a potential life would create less sadness than the loss of a born and aged person but, of course at the time, the potential mother is filled with the surging hormones to support the pregnancy, which can make the loss seem utterly devastating.

I am fortunate not to have experienced the loss of a child.  I think this must be dreadful, as in the sense of something you dread.  Until vaccinations against the childhood ailments became common place, the survival of children to adulthood was a happy surprise in most developed countries. William Shakespeare lost his son, Hamnet, when Hamnet was only eleven.  Hamnet had a twin sister, Judith, who lived to 77, in the process outliving all of her children.  By the time his twins were four or five, Shakespeare was beginning to be famous.  He was often away in London, writing and staging the comedies for which he was earning well, which were performed for Queen Elizabeth the First, and enjoyed by all sections of society.  Hamnet’s death, of the plague, had a huge impact.  Subsequently Shakespeare wrote the great tragedies.  Here is a quote: Grief fills the room up of my absent child, Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me.  Puts on his pretty look, repeats his words………’ I don’t think that’s about any of the characters in King John, do you?  In Tudor England half the children died before they were ten, Shakespeare’s words must have struck a chord in the hearts of theatregoers.

Most of us expect our parents to die before we do.  It is difficult to say whether the loss is greater if the parent is a good or bad parent, the only loss that will not touch us is the absent parent.  Whoever brought you up has had a great impact on your life, good or bad. Children know their parents better than anyone, it’s in our DNA.  Study of the parent and what will please them is necessary for survival of the child and humans are so complex we have a longer dependant life than other species.  I don’t think I ever grieved properly for my father, his death instantly plunged me into full time caring for my mother and the discovery, upon his death that he had left his body to medical science and made my cousins, who had financial expectations, as his executors and all that lead to, meant that I was consumed by the practicalities.  You don’t expect to have to protect your abusive and bereaved mother from having her home ransacked by her nieces and nephews.

One of the trickier aspects of bereavement may be the unpredictability of family members.  Saying and doing the right thing in the right order may not be a skill we get to practise often.  I have found it most helpful to regard the months surrounding a death that has affected me, as time out of normal time. This is a time to be like a sundial and record only the sunny hours.  If someone says something callous or rude, assuming they don’t know what to say and are having an unsuccessful attempt at saying anything at all, is an attitude I have found helped me.

Funerals are for the living because the dead person is dead.  They are part of the grieving process.  I have been to funerals where an extreme show of grief, with an oak coffin and a full buffet to follow were masking a more difficult truth, of neglect, accident or design and those where a cup of tea and a sandwich by way of mourning contained a world of loss and emptiness.  You cannot tell by the wrapping what is in the parcel.  If you are the principle bereaved person arrange matters to suit yourself, especially if the lost soul has given no indication of their preferences, and even if they have.  The university that took my father’s body held a respectful service in their great hall in which we laid a flower for the deceased, and where I found my father had aligned himself in death with a person whose family disowned him and a down-and-out.  The address preached to the choir, in telling the congregation that it was a good idea to discuss leaving your body to science with your family before doing it.  Amen to that.

Whatever marks the passing, the time afterwards can feel like an eternity.  That moment when you wake, and, opening your eyes, have a feeling that something is wrong, before the truth collides with you like a runaway truck, can persist for many months.

One of the more helpful pieces of advice is to look at the rest of your life from the point of view of the deceased.  No one would want a person they cared for to wreck the rest of their life with grief.

The OH worked for years in emergency and disaster planning.  The overall ethos, post disaster, was always damage limitation.  Personally this means, once the practicalities have been taken care of, to start to live the altered life.  Death is not a head cold from which the bereaved person will get better, recover or go back to normal.  What each day ushers you into is the new normal, which may take some months to become evident.  Part of the new normal is feeling guilty when you realise you have had a happy moment or a grief-free day.

Every reaction is personal and largely unpredictable.  You will feel sad but may also experience intense anger, exhaustion, or any one of a number of emotions unconnected apparently with the present moment.  Grief can hurl itself at you at unexpected and inappropriate or inconvenient times.  The bereavement websites will give you some idea of what is within the parameters of normal at a time when nothing is normal.

We are our scars.  All that we have endured is written on our souls which bloom with the bruises inflicted by life, love and loss.

Ultimately the lesson is to live every day.  To enjoy what is good in each day.  To appreciate each life that touches yours, whether you are surrounded by good souls. inexperienced souls, or flawed souls.  We are all part of history and just now in the middle of a pandemic we are made aware of it.

If you are trying to help someone who has suffered a bereavement, whilst you cannot undo what has been done, you can help by communicating, keep the bereaved person in the world with you even if only for the space of a conversation. I telephone my step-mum-in-law daily and feel like a dusty sparrow trying to fly upward with the world in my little beak.  All I do is ring and try to be cheerful and listen when listening is the thing that helps.  My step-mum-in-law has realised she needs to be around for her daughter and her granddaughter.  I consider it to be an achievement to look outside the grief and see your way back to life is through helping others.  If a death can be the loss of only the person who died by finding the positive in the most negative reality we experience, then that is what life and living is about, and ultimately the triumph of the soul that proves we can transcend circumstance with love.


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