It’s difficult believing how many years have passed since my husband’s sudden death. My son was 11. He is now 30. I’m remarried. I live in a different city with a different husband, a different career, and a changed life.
Sometimes I speak about that time with friends and family, especially as an anniversary date approaches or an event that he would particularly enjoy or take pride in. As I do, I feel a distant, tugging connection to the sorrow while also insulated by the years. Sometimes I remind myself it’s my story. Not one I read or heard about from someone else.
The first wholesale transformation of our lives occurred when my son’s father ended his. It was swift. Excruciating. Irrevocable.
After that life changed ever so slightly with each passing moment, almost imperceptibly in the beginning. Others would say they could see us slowly getting stronger. But we couldn’t see it. We could only feel grief and guilt without abatement.
As the coroner pulled away with my husband’s body still lying on the patio cushion he’d chosen for his deathbed, my son looked up at me and asked, “We can’t be normal anymore, can we?”
I stood in the driveway with stocking feet on a drizzling, black, January night, numbed, horrified, panicked. We watched as the ambulance and fire trucks drove down the street, no more red lights or wailing sirens.
“We’re not a real family now. Without Dad.”
I slowed. Cautiously chose my words. “We’re still real. And we don’t have Dad.”
He cycled back to this word many times after this first. “But we’re not normal.”
No. This wasn’t normal. If you can’t trust your parents to hang around and raise you, to fulfill that fundamental promise, then what do you trust?
I remember thinking I owed him directness. 11-year-old style, but direct all the same. It was the place to begin. I spoke carefully. “We’re not normal if normal is only the way we were. But we can build new normal.”
I had no idea where or when new normal would appear. But on that night where seemed less problematic than how. My desperate fear was we were ruined. That what had happened was so vast, life was unrecoverable. What if my son knew my thoughts and was pleading for a different answer?
Only later did I have sufficient clarity to realize his next words shifted everything, became our point of origin. Maybe saved my life.
“Life will never be as good again, will it?”
An 11-year-old with a life expectancy of about 80 years believed that normal, family, and good had all disappeared with the discovery of a body in our garage. The best was done. All downhill from that moment. He was pondering and piecing together his beliefs about life and his world.
“We will always think of tonight with unspeakable sadness. And you will have an incredible life. I promise. I promise.”
I said it. I was responsible for making it real. With no plan but for words I spoke and sealed as we held each other.
So beginning now I open my journals of long ago and add some of the lessons I learned on the way to building new normal. I offer the coming weeks and months of journal entries and reflections to anyone who might currently be doing the same grueling work we did.
I hope my experience will act as a flashlight down a path. Not because I can make the journey better or easier but with the idea that on occasion I might echo another’s anguished thoughts and render at least one step less solitary. Less lonely. Less desolate.
“How will we do it, Mommy?”
“The same way you eat an elephant, baby. One bite at a time.”
Are you in crisis?
If you, or someone you know, are at risk for hurting yourself
or someone else, please call.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
Pamela – We too are slowly rebuilding our lives . . . finding the ‘new normal’ as so many put it. I can only imagine the pain you experienced years ago upon finding your husband. My husband died suddenly last March not from suicide but from sudden cardiac arrest. My four children have struggled with much the same questions your son has asked. Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart- I look forward to reading more . . . to learning of your journey. And as you said . . .to not feel so alone!
Thank you for this beautiful welcome at the first entry, first day of “One Bite At a Time”. So many years after our loss I feel emotions well as I sift through my paper trail. I will hold you and your children in my heart as I write into the future.
How incredibly tragic. I’m so sorry for all the pain that you went through.
Thank you Pamela for starting this blog. I imagine that this too is part of the healing, another layer of grief unraveling as you write each post.
How is your son, now? As the time passes and he has grown older and perhaps has a bit more understanding of life, has he been able to find some goodness in life? If this is too personal, forgive me. I perceived in your writing that it was important to you that he not end up feeling the best was gone and that life had very little future happiness, even if you could not imagine that possibility at that time.
I like the way you are using your journals to show the present time moment rather than the reflection of a past nightmare. It communicates very well and brings the reality of the situation in to view.
Thank you for dropping by my blog and obviously reflecting on my writing. I hold it as a privilege.
My son, now 31, is extraordinary. And that’s what you get for asking a mom about her son. Seriously, he is well and remains a joy in my life. I have to remind myself that his father has been gone for over half his life; he was under 12 when Tom died. My son’s perceptions of that time are very different than my own as I grieved for my husband, grieved for my son’s loss and sudden jettison out of childhood, while also becoming the sole wage-earner in our household. It was a very difficult time for both of us but the focus I had on his development into a happy adult, I believe, served us both well.
When I began Bite, my son immediately visited as he does my other blog because he’s such a great cheer leader for my work. He called me soon after and said he hoped I wouldn’t feel hurt but he wouldn’t be visiting again. It was too painful to be reminded and to live again through my observations and worries for him. Certainly that was understandable.
I am known to say I would not ever choose the path we were given, but here, now, I would not un-choose it. Though we have our scars we also know what we are made of, have a deep capacity to love, and even greater ability to cherish our lives.
Thank you again for reading Bite, for starting at the beginning which I believe lends context, and for your inquiry. To me they represent an investment of your time which I deeply appreciate.
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