I remember the moment. The phone call. Raw. Icy cold. The moment my heart stopped. The moment my world spun off its axis and never quite righted itself again.
“It’s not good news, honey. The cancer is back and it’s spread.”
I saw a therapist once. While my mom battled breast cancer for the third, and final time. Her body ravaged by the disease, gripped in its deadly talons, a shadow of who she used to be.
“It’s the new normal,” the therapist told me, as if this was enough to guide me to acceptance. It wasn’t.
The new normal. I’ve grown to hate that term. What is normal about your body turning against itself, eating you from the inside out? What is normal about watching someone you love slowly fading away before your eyes? What is normal about wanting to drive into a concrete barrier to stop the pain that is ripping your heart to shreds? I just wanted to go back to the old normal. But desperately wishing for something doesn’t always make it so. I couldn’t go back. Neither could my mom. Cancer had stolen that normal. That normal was gone. In the flash of a moment.
The new normal lasted five years. A normal that was anything but. A normal that consisted of radiation treatments, chemotherapy, and blood transfusions. Months spent in the hospital trying to get the pain under control. A normal that revolved around endless doctor’s appointments and tests. Poking, prodding. The countdown to the end. I was trapped on a roller coaster I desperately wanted off of but, at the same time, I was clinging tightly to the handlebar, willing it to keep going. Knowing that when it stopped, there was no starting it again.
I grew to accept that new normal but never embrace it. It was full of so many moments. Dark moments. Moments of intense rage at a disease that was stealing my mom, my person. Moments of unbearable grief that made me forget how to breathe. Moments of guilt so strong I feared it would suffocate me. Moments I felt like not only was I losing my mom, I was losing myself.
But then there were the other moments. Moments I cling to, even now. Moments of gratitude for the time we did share. Moments of love, quiet and still, in the midst of such deafening sorrow. Moments of peace and joy amongst the chaos and pain. Moments of laughter, a rainbow through the tears. And then one day, in a moment, the new normal slipped into the old normal. The roller coaster stopped and I was forced to get off. Forced to face another new normal. This one without my mom. I desperately wanted to go back. Back to the normal that I hated. Back to a normal where my mom still existed.
I am still adjusting to this new, new normal. One where she is no longer here. I wonder, what does normal even look like anymore? What defines normal? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, normal is “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern.” But is it? What is a regular pattern for life? You are born, you live, you die. But what happens within that is different for all of us. No two journeys are the same. No two normals are the same. Who says what is normal? Its only constant is that it is forever evolving and changing.
So I change with it.
With each new normal I have gained a new perspective. A new way of looking at life. A life where I have learned to let the small things go. To ask myself, “Will this matter in a year? A month? A day?”
I carry with me so much gratitude. For my family, my friends, the ones I love. I cherish the days that are boring and mundane, because there is comfort in the ordinary. I work to choose happiness because I know the agony of grief that strips you raw, leaving scars that never fully heal.
I write letters to my young children for them to read when they are older. About their milestones, their adventures, their stories, their lives. But these letters? They are also for me. So I won’t forget the moments that make up my normal now. I remind myself daily to stay in this moment. This moment of the everyday. Because in a moment, this new normal could fade into the old.
I hug my kids a little tighter. I gaze upon their faces a little longer. I say I love you a little more often. Because this new normal? It will change, too. And so will I.