When your biology is shocked, all your cells fight to reject the outside intervention and wants to go back to it’s previous “normalcy”; similarly, when your system is shocked, your mind searches for straws of normality, some semblance of sanity. Typically, you don’t get a chance to think about and plan for a new normal. You may want to continue doing the same as you did before and dealing with the crucial pain of loss.
Invariably, the new place you have arrived, is different than where you were before. Often, that requires us to re-write the rules or, at minimum, change some existing norms.
In today’s pandemic stricken world, we keep wondering what our future holds. Especially after such a “group shock” to our system; when will we hug our loved ones without fear of hurting them? When will be able to touch a guardrail without wondering who touched it before? When can we go to watch a movie at a theatre again?
I’ve been through 3 significant traumatic events in my life; I have learned that my loss is entirely personal, and very few people can understand or empathize the pain I may have endured. Similarly, every time, I have arrived at a new state of mind, it took adjustments, and there is a lingering feeling of loss; however, I have learned to make this new “normality” my only reality and moved forward to accept the new rules, norms and roles.
Losing my dad, at the age of eighteen, migrating to a new country/continent/culture, and much later in life, going through a divorce – each one these new circumstances have created a personal “new normal” for me. At least two of these three “incidences” were beyond my control and migration, can be argued on either side of the coin.
One afternoon I left home to go to a theatre lecture and came back to find my young Dad being hauled away in an ambulance and the next morning, he died, suddenly. My world was jarred and I had to grow up quickly, make decisions on my own and carve my own future. I realize that my Dad’s death has made me more resilient – while making me anxious about relationships. I have also become acutely aware of the shortness of life and have understood that the only connections that matter are your close family and a few friends.
Within three months of my father’s death, I took a long journey and arrived to go to college in the US; leaving a doting family, friends behind, I set out on a journey to define and find a new home. It took me almost twenty years, after living in 8 states, to finally land in Florida where I feel grounded again. Earning my own right to exist in this hyper-competitive world of my new homeland and constantly proving that I can do it, without known connections, is the true test of being an American.
A decade after arriving in the US, I met my princess and proposed to her on our second date. We married, had two lovely children, traveled the world and lived our idylic life on a beach town. Some 15 years later, another tragedy struck our lives, as my “picture perfect” life was shattered by mental illness and our marriage fell apart. I learned to become a single dad; and to connect with the two most important people of my life. This very personal trauma, also taught me who my friends are, and who suddenly went on an offensive, religious rant to discard me or my children.
I have often said to friends, “Most people don’t get one dream in their life – and I’ve had the privilege of 3 dream jobs in my life” – the only dream job left is to be an “awesome dad” to my girls – and leave them with some amazing memories – something I don’t have a lot with my own father.
Each one of these incidences, death, divorce and migration, are traumatic. Each of them changed me in different ways. I can’t clearly remember who I was before or compare with, who I am today. All I can say is that I know trauma leaves us as a different person Expecting things to be like they were, is unrealistic.
What I discuss with Daiyaan and Shania today, is that we know that things are going to be different in a month, two months or six months from now. We know school for Shania and work for Daiyaan is going to take on different dimensions. We know sports or leisure will be different for all of us. So will our dream to travel; while our tourist souls crave another touch of Barcelona or Mykonos, at least for a few months, we don’t know how we will sit next to strangers on an airplane, or sleep in a hotel bed where someone else slept a few hours ago.
Preparing for the new normal is the key. Not in an intense way, where we hoard food, or toilet paper. But knowing that many of the things we are accustomed to doing – even simple things like hugging each other, will take on a different dimension. Doesn’t mean that we love each other any differently. Just our expression of love may have to morph a bit.
After a week or so, I stop by at Daiyaan’s home and she asks me to wash my hands and sit a table width away. In the past, during such short visits, we may have been sitting next to each other, on her comfy sofa, watching an old episode of Friends; today, a socially distant interaction is all we feel appropriate.
There will be normalcy again; I am confident. I will hug my daughter freely one day.
For now, the little girl I brought back from the hospital, some twenty five years ago, sits across from me and tells me about the sushi burrito she ordered via Delivery Dudes or how delighted she is with her Shipt groceries and that she needs to return to a Zoom conference call in the next thirty minutes!