Following major loss, your mind seeks to come to grips with your new normal. The absence of the one loved creates a massive emotional hole—a vital missing piece—and phantom impulses cause you to fluctuate or vacillate between old and new. Back and forth. Your hard drive is overwriting new painful realities over old happy memories. It’s wise to make no major decisions in these early days. I received that advice repeatedly. I’m grateful. The road you walk is uneven and there are illusions. It’s confusing when you finalize a decision based on what you consider good information, and it turns out it is skewed, unreliable information. You’re navigating a new normal. Take your time.
And navigating this new normal takes longer than you expect.
“We get in a hurry to tear open the cocoon and release the butterfly. Our clumsy hands wreck God’s delicate timing.” Vance Havner, Though I Walk Through the Valley
Eventually, your mental hard drive is overwritten, and your new normal is firmly ensconced in your mind. No more denial. Eventually, your thoughts increasingly turn toward moving forward.
Note, I said moving forward.
This is a good place to differentiate between two vastly divergent ways to talk about recovery. Many people struggle with moving on. In fact, well-meaning supporters encourage mourners by pointing out they have been sad long enough. They encourage the mourner to move on. However, it is simply not appropriate to try to move on. Moving on carries with it the idea of putting the past behind you. Moving forward carries with it the idea of taking the influences of the past with you.
I have Nora McInerny to thank for this subtle but important description she communicated in a TED Talk. She helped me put a framework in my mind to guide my own healing. I am who I am today, in large part, because of the influence of my wife. It is absurd to move on from your loved one when you can move forward with the lessons, memories, and values they poured into your life.
“There is no retreat; we have nothing left to us but to grasp the very hand that brought us there and push forward.” Theodore Cuyler, God’s Light on Dark Clouds
I have found the same transition is in play if you consider entering a new relationship after your grief journey. No matter if the relationship is serious or not. You’re, once again, navigating a new normal. Nora McInerny calls it an “alternate universe.” In the early days of consideration or exploration, you need to monitor your thoughts, emotions, and expectations. It’s not bad, it’s just the reality. You must talk yourself through this new normal.
Just don’t do it publicly. You don’t want people to see you talking to yourself. Especially if you get animated. That would be awkward.
You need to carefully consider aspects to your new normal. First, have you taken appropriate time to heal? You cannot love well again if you have not healed. I’m not talking about an elusive return to the previous state of health before loss. I’m talking about a new normal healthy state in the context of your loss—a place where you can love again. You’re not replacing your previous spouse, but you’re seeking to love again, nonetheless. Different. New. Moving forward. Not a stoic moving on.
Second, are you ready to give your mind time to entertain a new normal? This importance to navigate your new normal is a new insight for me. You may not need the same amount of time it took to embrace the new normal of your loss, but you need time to navigate the changing landscape. You navigated yourself into singleness, and now you’re considering changing that status. Take time. Monitor your heart, your emotional health. Contemplate the changes your steps could lead you to face. Monitor the rewriting of your hard drive, once again.
As you move forward, be careful to navigate your new normal with patience, wisdom, and peace.
“[Yielding to the will of God] does not make the pain of the sorrow less; it does not give back the loved one who has been called away, but it brings the heart into full accord with God, and thus gives sweet peace.” J. R. Miller, The Ministry of Comfort
Thanks. This really spoke to me today.
I so glad to hear from you, RoseAnn.
D. Ray, I appreciate this so much. Rachael just marked one year without Stephen. Her new normal is very complex. Thankful you are moving forward!
Thank you, Paula. I hope she can walk this journey and move forward with the influence, impact, and memories of Stephen.
D. Ray, I so enjoy your writings and encouragement. I have lost members of my Georgia family this year; while, I’m living in Virginia, I could not attend all the funerals. Reading your posts brings joy to a hurting heart. Thank you!
Beth, I am so glad my writing has been encouraging. It is gratifying to know I have helped your hurting heart as I have opened mine.