The New Normal

Whether you like it or not, life keeps moving. It’s tortuous or comforting depending on the experience.  It’s life’s way of normalizing itself; a homeostasis that happens, whether it is torn apart by tragedy, or deepened by a blessing. Whatever comes in and out of your life there is a normalcy that must resume.  However, it is usually a normalcy that is left different or changed, a new normal of sorts.

I’m in a state of a new normal.

I recently lost my person – a loss that has quite literally ripped my soul apart. A loss that has left me so shattered it feels as though my world has been bombed with only shambles of memories left scattered and tarnished.

When you lose the person who is not only your best friend but the one person who you idolized, there is a sense of utter destruction in your heart and soul. They are the person who seamlessly ignites a friendship with you and becomes the benchmark for all other friendships.  They are the one who above all else, knows you better than you know yourself. They bail you out of your messes, accept you for your screwups, tolerate your eccentricities and allow for it all to be reciprocated.

My new normal is a state of grief. But the word “grief” almost sounds like a shrug of the shoulders or a heavy sigh. Something that is tiny and passes with the wind.  Grief doesn’t truly capture the destruction of loss – the emotions, insomnia, heartbreak, numbness. The word grief does none of those things the damaging justice they deserve.

Since the night of August 17 when my peaceful sleep was ripped open by the phone call we never want to get, I haven’t slept a solid night’s sleep. My car rides, which were my own place of peace, have turned to war zones of thought, thinking endlessly of how this happened, what I should have done differently. My nightly shower is where I let tears out so that the rushing water drowns out the sobs, and erases the traces of salty tears.

I desperately pick up the phone to send a text, but I shake it in frustration knowing the words I want to be read never will be. I record a funny Snapchat knowing who would get my sense of humor, only to see the name and force myself to scroll, knowing it will never receive that memorable chuckle. I’m in need of my best friend, and instead, there is an incredible abyss of emptiness.

My mind wanders to what captured his mind, if he knew what our friendship meant, and how much I valued and depended on him. Grief opens the door to doubt and guilt, and like a flood you don’t anticipate, washes you away in thought.

What should I have done?
What didn’t I do?
Why didn’t I call?
Why didn’t I make plans?
Why wasn’t I there?

It’s like scrambling to finish a jigsaw puzzle.  Tiny little pieces that you arrange only to find there are pieces missing. There are pieces that don’t belong. There are pieces from a completely different puzzle. You are desperate to solve it, so you jam pieces together with the hope that some picture will form; that some answer can be given to you. But it will never happen. You will now live with more questions than answers. You will now live this way forever.

I now have to figure out what life is. I was a lover of life. I found something beautiful even in the sad and unfortunate moments. But now, I see darkness.  I don’t see the spark of light somewhere to give me hope. I try to push down the hurt like a hard swallow, but in turn, it swallows me.

I could pick up the phone or hop in my car and in minutes we were picking up where we left off.  It could’ve been from the night before or three months ago. That is now gone.  I felt an ease with our friendship but now the guilt of not being there, and of missing things has eaten away at me. Guilt, like a drive-by shooter, makes its presence known for an instant, but its damage and leaves a path of destructive questions that can’t be unasked. The questions pour from the wound as if you are trying to stop a bleeding artery. But these guilt-ridden questions bring the big problem: doubt. Shortly after the guilt drowns my thoughts and emotions, doubt creeps in to make me second-guess every word spoken and action taken.

Was I a good enough friend to you?
What didn’t I see that I should have?
How did I let this happen?

If grief and guilt seem bad, the true villain in this narrative is doubt.  It creeps in ever so quietly and destroys any grain of goodness that remains. And so the web of grief, guilt, and doubt dance their way into my mind, my heart and my soul and I become unrecognizable to myself.

I used to think that crying oneself to sleep was just a romanticized action – something that happens in literature or a sappy movie.  But I’ve felt the cold tears run down my face until suddenly the peace of the night fades my consciousness. Only to be wide awake hours later staring into the blackness and emptiness of the night. This is when I send my brain into overdrive in thought with the hope of exhausting myself back to sleep. But it only pumps the adrenaline, and emotion to the sudden light of a new day; a new beginning to reinvent the same emotions and questions that plagued you the day before.

I’ve resolved myself to numbness and to finding ways to keep myself busy. But even that numbness can’t fool the undercurrent of emotion below.  I turn the corner at the supermarket, or drive down the street and in some fashion a memory comes into view, or I suddenly remember the simple stupidity of our friendship. I smile, but it is short-lived because that memory will never be recreated. There will never be new adventures to live out or incredible laughs to share.

There’s going to be a day where I run out of pictures. I won’t be able to capture new memories that will hold time in place. That will allow us to reminisce. The reminiscing is now and the moments are like grains of sand slipping through my fingers.  They are slipping away before I have the chance to grasp them and hold on forever. We won’t have pictures as we age. We won’t be “uncles” to each other’s kids. We won’t see each other lose the hair we both so deeply value. But aside from all the possibilities that won’t happen, the tried and true moments have ceased.  There won’t be spur of the moment car rides to nowhere.  There won’t be games of beer pong and whatever drinking games we create on the fly. There won’t be stupid inside jokes that people scratch their heads at. There won’t be new adventures of “The Matt’s.” It is now a memory as if to be enshrined behind the glass at a museum – to glance back at when nostalgia gets the best of me.

I feel weak and that’s because I am.  I am not strong right now and I don’t think one can feel strong in grief – at least not right away.  I hope I will be strong.  I hope the new normal will bring me to a place where I am stronger than I am today.

Right now, I’m not okay, and not being okay, is okay. It’s weird to say, but it is true.  I think not being okay is the first part in acknowledging grief and where you go from there.  It is how you acknowledge grief that will determine how your new normal is formed.

I remind myself that hurt and pain are beautiful. They suck, but they show us just how much we have loved. To hurt is to truly know love.  I know this is true because it is what I am living. I try to remind myself that the memories that now are the only thing that keep me connected to my best friend, are powerful instruments of healing.  Maybe as I journey through my grief, I’ll one day realize there is more connecting us; that there is more to be hopeful and grateful for; that even in death friendship does not end. Maybe then my new normal will be tolerable. Maybe then I’ll be a lover of life again. Maybe then my emotions will be juggling laughter and happiness.

Right now, I’m not okay, and it’s normal to not be. What I can say is I’m taking this one day at a time. Some days are better than others. Some beat me down to a puddle, others remind me of my incredible blessings. As I navigate my grief, I will try my best to recognize all the pain it encompasses, but what I will do even more so is to remind myself of how blessed I am to have known an incredible human being, to have called him my friend, and looked to him as my brother. So I’ll try my hardest to hold onto the good, the happy and the funny. I will be realistic that this journey will be anything but easy and bearable, but I will hope to take a deep breath each day and know I am one day closer to being okay.


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