Filush-Glaze: What does normal even mean?

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Jenny Filush-Glaze
Grief Relief

The definition of normal is “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected”, and yet, when examining grief and its parameters, there is a lot of debate about what the word “normal” actual means.

But what I do know is that after a death occurs, it leaves us forever changed and we begin to develop into what many call “our new normal.”  What does that even mean?  And how are we supposed to ever feel normal again when everything feels so broken?

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In all honesty, getting back to “the way we were” is almost an impossible thing to consider.  Our day to day lives, the routines and comfort developed with our loved ones have literally been disrupted, leaving us lost and confused and constantly wondering if we are “ever going to be ok” again. The answer, as hard as it may be to fathom at the time, is that “yes” we will be able to adapt to this tragic time in our lives and we will be able to pick up the pieces and find a way to move forward, however, the time and energy it takes to reach that point differs amongst each individual. 

And, what may seem normal for one person means something else entirely for another, so it is very important that we try to avoid the dreaded “compare and contrast” our grief journey with those also walking the grief path.

“Is this normal?” is perhaps one of the most often asked questions during grief support. People find themselves desperate to understand what they are going through and find themselves overwhelmed with anxiety thinking that something is wrong with them.  They question why they are finding grief to be so hard and they talk about feeling shame because they are “not further along than what they expected.” Individuals often struggle with the inability to focus or retain information, losing items and unable to remember simple details.  They wonder if they are “losing their minds” or “going crazy” and find tremendous relief when it is confirmed that what they are going through and experiencing is definitely grief and is a normal part of bereavement.   As a counselor, I absolutely love being able to tell people this, as well as validate their feelings because until they found the strength to ask that question, they were suffering internally with thinking that something was terribly wrong and that they were not grieving appropriately.

Again, I ask, what is normal?  For some, stuffing feelings and appearing “strong and stoic” in front of others is how they choose to present their grief, while others are openly demonstrative of their feelings. Some choose to attend support groups or seek counseling for ongoing support, and yet others refrain from this thinking it is a sign of weakness.  The thing is that grief is most definitely a normal part of life. It happens to us all, some more than others and some way before we anticipated, but the bottom line is that the way in which we grieve is personal and heartfelt. 

It is expected for grief to take a considerable amount of time, and in some respects it lasts forever, so what is normal is giving yourself permission to let grief run its course. 

By this I mean, “Accept all of the hurt and pain” because you wouldn’t be going through this if you hadn’t loved so much.  The healing is already beginning, believe that, and know deep inside that yes, “you are normal.”