I’m sitting in a coffee shop as I write this. An everyday thing for most people, and not something you would normally contribute great importance to. But for me, today is a good day. I actually managed to find my way around in the city that I still don’t know very well, despite the fact that I had a break-in in my car recently and lost my GPS on that same occasion, and also despite the fact that road work has shut down or redirected traffic in most parts of downtown. I managed to find the parking house, AND the coffee shop, where I’m supposed to meet my friend in an hour – without breaking into tears, panic sweats or hives! Yeay!
Last Tuesday it was five months since my dad died, and today I thought, as I sat down with my coffee here, “life really goes on.” It wasn’t a fanfare-fireworks-lightbulb moment or anything. Just a quiet realization that today, I am able to do a little more than what I could do five months ago.
Many people have asked me if “I’m back to normal yet” in the past months. I don’t think anyone who has lost a loved one, especially under dramatic circumstances, will ever find their way “back” to normal. I feel like I’m working my way towards a new normal. I’ve felt a shift in my values, the way I interact with friends as well as strangers, how I respond to conflicts and obstacles, and I’ve often felt I don’t know myself anymore. In good ways and bad.
Some things have become clearer. Like the values my friendships are based on, for better or worse. I’ve been surprised by love and friendship from people I never expected would react. My decision to quit my stressful job and spend more time with my daughter has definitely been affirmed and rewarded in so many ways. A week before my dad died, he told me he felt good about my decision to quit my job, and he told me he knew I would land on my feet. “You always do.” So I have, so far, and I will, long term.
Some things have just become more blurred. The first few months were all about getting over the shock and being able to make everyday life work without accidentally setting anything on fire. Once that was accomplished (okay, there are still days when I hand my boyfriend a steak knife when he asks for the car keys), the “now what?” feeling set in. I have had the feeling from time to time that I’ve been pulled lightyears away from some of my closest friends, who continued down their own paths, while I was suddenly forced in another direction, without even getting a chance to say goodbye. It feels like we’re in different worlds now, separated by a dense fog that muffles everything we say. It’s like belonging to a club you didn’t choose to join, and you can’t take your friends there because they haven’t gone through the initiation process. Some offer well-meaning but completely ignorant advice on how I should cope, how I should help my daughter through this, what I need to do when I start working again, what I should be working with and why. Some people avoid bringing up the subject at all, because they just don’t know how to deal with it. Both approaches can be a real challenge to deal with, because how can I explain why it’s hurtful? How can I explain what’s going on inside my head and heart, when it’s hard even for me to identify all these new thoughts, feelings, and this mess of conflicting emotions?
The “I guess I’ll just have to see this one through on my own”-feeling has been tempting to give in to. It’s sometimes easier to withdraw from other people than trying to explain what is going on. Some relationships have been redefined beyond recognition, some are still waiting for the jury to deliberate, others have been cemented and strengthened, and new ones are waiting in the wings.
So who knows where I’ll be another five months from now? It’s like a freefall through the clouds. Where am I going to land? Who will I become, and who will still be standing next to me when I land? I know how far I’ve come because I’ve held on to and devoted my – at times very limited – energy and resources to my strongest Patronuses – my daughter, my boyfriend, my mom, a handful of close friends and neighbors, and all the other Patronuses I’ve met so far. They have helped me smile, laugh and love every day. No matter what. And that will be my strongest mission for the rest of my life.