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A New Idea

By Brooke Benton

“I’m thinking I need to get back to normal.”

And so closed the latest email from a dear friend dangling at the seeming end… of something.

After each phase of life, after each season of change or trial or experience, getting back to “normal” is an interesting endeavor once we realize that normal will never be what is was, because we aren’t the people we were before.

After I became a wife, I had to reconcile that self with who and what I defined myself by as a single person destined for greatness. Same as when I became a mother. (Now destined for a different kind of greatness.) After I got a stress fracture in my hip, I had to come to terms with the fact that running long distances would be fraught with pain. Not easy for a runner girl. After I had a miscarriage, I had to make myself okay with a summer far different than I was planning on, one without a baby in tow, or sunbonnets and umbrellas. After my family suffered what I will refer to as “a series of unfortunate events” which included both a death and an apostasy, I had to look at the fragments of what was left and try to find beauty in them yet.

I think I did. In a way. It’s different from what I thought it would be like, but beautiful nonetheless.

Each of us is grieving a loss in some sense. It is a fact of growing up and growing older that proves life isn’t what we thought it would be. Even the smallest of changes can leave us feeling a wee bit bewildered, and the big ones like illness or death and tragedy can make us feel splintered into a thousand pieces and wondering which way is up. And for each of us in these grief processes large and small, eventually we must comes to terms with a new normal, or a new beautiful; simply, a new life splayed in front of us, stretching on before us.

However, don’t get too comfortable with that new normal. Because chances are it will change again, and the path (though newly forged) will divert itself, or end up being a loop, or will become too much to traverse and send you on yet another detour.

Once I had collected my thoughts, I dashed an email back off to my friend. I wanted her to know that I’d been there—that though my heartache might not have the face of her heartache, I understood that floating island, that little perch of not-knowing, that moment before you step off the edge into an entirely new “normal.”

And while I did my son emptied the contents of our spice cupboard into a bowl filled with honey and toothpicks.

“What?” he said: “I was just trying to make a dough.”

A paprika, oregano, nutmeg clustered dough that spilled across the countertops and onto the floor? Suddenly I was caught up in a slice of our normal, and for the minute it took me to grab a wet wipe I considered this:

What’s so great about normal? It can be impossibly trying and messy in its own way. Maybe what we need is something “new”—where the new is like an adventure, somewhat exotic, and embraced wholeheartedly.

How do you ease yourself (or do you jump feet first?) into the process of something “new” when your life suddenly takes on an unexpected trajectory?

And, as you’ve struggled through your own losses, what do you think you’ve gained?

Who are you on the other side of your grieving?

Because I bet the new you is even better than the old you. And I bet I’d like her a whole lot.

About Brooke Benton

(Blog Team) is attempting inner om with this writing stuff. Proud to claim four loud children, a patient husband and a fat black cat as family, she feels blessed to be their mommy-- their giver of kisses and baker of cookies. She is ever seeking a good novel and wishing for the sand between her toes, palm trees, the ocean.

23 thoughts on “A New Idea”

  1. i think on the other side of grieving we either have more or less faith, are happier or sadder, wiser or not.

    it's amazing how many things we can grieve, isn't it? so many things we hope for, pray for, that never come, and so many things we pray against (illness, death) that do come and momentarily break our hearts apart.

    when i look at the trials that have made me grieve i think of the disney version of sleeping beauty. maleficent's curse couldn't be taken away, but the effect could be diminished. sleeping beauty wouldn't die, but sleep for 100 years and eventually wake up completely healed, and to a better life. though time was lost, she gained everything and much more in the end.

    i've used this story to help understand the atonement on a personal level. the things that have caused me to grieve may bruise my soul and break my heart, but through the atonement, because of the atonement, they can't kill me. chapters or life, with all their lost possibilities, may close, but in the end something far greater and more sweet will be gained.

    i'm reminded of a quote from a GA about every tear we shed being recorded and met with great blessings in heaven. the church website seems to be down, so i can't get a souce…

  2. Wow does this hit home. One of my favorite sayings is – Normal is a setting on your dryer!

    I have been married for 7 months. I am delighted being a wife – I am an at home wife, handicapped, home with 8 cats 2 dogs, one of which we are training to be my assist dog. My teaching of art and music days are gone. Some weeks I only leave the house 2 times a week without my husband. One of those days I volunteer for an hour and do errands, the other day I quilt for 2 hours.

    I have been finding myself more willing to give things of my single life up – I was 49 when married – but still it takes a little time to get my head around it. Giving up bells, ladies aid, meeting with friends, things we had planned if he is tired or comes home late. We made an agreement to do things together.

    So I am looking forward to doing things at home – learning German, shorthand, botanical illustration, writing, boning up on the piano
    but also finding ways to make it work.

    Why is there so much more laundry with 2? There is always something to rid out and clean. I cook the dog food, that is a daily affair, I am new at cooking dinner – he eats meat, I am a vegetarian.

    I am amazed at how I view these things, because of love. Go figure! But normal – let me get the dryer!


  3. Two months ago I gave birth to baby #3 – and a couple of weeks ago someone asked me if things were back to normal again. I had to pause and chuckle, and then said that we were finding a whole new normal these days because it would never be what it was before she arrived… I've been thinking about it ever since, and want to write my own post about life changes and finding new paths on this journey. You wrote this much more beautifully than I could have… Our family is in for a whole bunch of changes this year, welcoming a baby is just the tip of the iceberg. I hope that I can remember that sometimes normal is boring, and that new challenges, and growth opportunities can be seen as adventures not burdens – thank you for this!

  4. It's been two months since my miscarriage, and it's true, we're in a new normal. My mother-in-law has been struggling with cancer since I have known my husband, and even before, and they continue to find new tumors. We took family pictures last night, and she said that the picture that was taken of her and her husband was the one she wanted on her obituary. Another new normal to face while facing an impending different, emptier, but new normal.

    When I lost the baby, it was devastating. But I did learn something from those tears shed. Heavenly Father loves me. He knows me. He answers prayers. The pristhood power is REAL, and it has power to heal physically and emotionally and spiritually. My testimony grew. And while I still long and cry for the baby that is not ours for now, we were given something else. Hope. New motivation to be better. Comfort. Understanding.

    Knowing that my mother-in-law doesn't have much time left we are faced with sorrow as well(whether it be days, weeks, months, years, we do not know, but the cancer is spreading, fast, and there is very little that is halting its progress, despite the best efforts of the doctors.) My husband and I are trying to love his mother better, longer, to find ways to make memories with her, to have out little boys cherish the little time with her that she has. The time will come when we will be faced with the pain of losing an amazing woman. And now I know that the normal will come. The grief, though softened by time, will still be there. But the love of our Father is there, the comfort of the Holy Ghost is there, and the ability to comfort others in their sad times grows stronger.

    While I still think I would trade the blessings and lessons learned because of my losses for the people I have lost (or will in the future), there is something to be said about being able to learn the lessons and to find that new normal, and to find joy in the new normals that come our way.

  5. I just try not to have any expectations. That seems like a really depressing ideal, but what I mean is that it's good to embrace each day as it happens, and not worry about what everything is going to be like next year, when you have the baby, when the kids go back to school, etc.
    Things never happen how you think they will anyway. Just let life roll over you.

    I'm so zen. 🙂

  6. My new normal post-broken leg happened this morning, when I started walking without crutches–yay–and made breakfast and did dishes. It felt good. Still can't drive. But yes, we are settling into a new normal.

  7. I'm not expecting to ever feel normal again.

    What would I use as the bench mark for normal? In the past 6 months I've gone from very happily married to abandoned single parent.

    I can't afford to think or believe that my "normal" is married. Or separated, or divorced. Normal has lost all semblance of reality or familiarity.

    I've decided to expect my life to be "Ever-changing, always amazing" – it's easier to plan for (i.e. the unexpected), leaves me open to appreciate the changes and moments of amazement, and doesn't tie me down to how I am failing in being "normal".

    I couldn't ease myself into the changes, as they were a tsunami crashing onto me. What I have done, and at times at least tried to do is just relax and wait for the whirling and churning to subside, and work it out from there.

    As to what I've gained from this experience? So much. I have gained the ability to see what I've gained, not what I've lost. I've gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of agency, the atonement, and true friendship. My prayers are more heartfelt, and I have received answers to light my path. I have gained a stronger testimony that does not wash away with the aftershock waves in my life, instead the waves push my testimony deeper so it's indelibly imprinted in me.

    On the other side of my grieving, I am stronger, meeker, more compassionate and more thankful. I am much different to who I was. And as Brooke said "the new [me] is even better than the old [me]."

    And I like her a whole lot.

  8. This was a beautiful post Brooke and the comments have been wonderful. Selwyn– you amaze me!

    I am finally, finally coming to grips with the truth that God's plans are better than mine and God isn't into "normal".

  9. "Back to normal" is indeed an interesting phrase.
    When I think of things getting back to normal, most often, I'm thinking of things quieting down a bit from a crazy, busy, hectic {and temporary} portion of time.

    When I've gone through a tragedy, a heartache, a mammoth life change, I never think of things getting back to normal. Because you're right, "normal" is in constant motion.

    (What is normal, anyway?)

    I love the idea of taking on the "new" as an adventure, a grand experiment to make something beautiful and "still good" out of heartache or at the very least, a fractured dream.

    Because what else is there to do?
    "Normal" only moves in one direction.


    And I can't afford to waste my {precious & unknown} time pining away for the old "normal."

    I have to make the best of the "new."
    (Sometimes it's easier than others…and sometimes it's *baby steps* all the way…)

    great post.

  10. Something that helps me adjust to not being normal is posts like this and the great comments.

    One of my 'not normals' is our branch. I'm always coming to terms with our abnormal church life. It is hard to continually butt up against what the norm is and missing it horribly. It is hard to have people tell me how it should be, knowing what the handbook says, knowing this little area may never be that way. Even meeting in the same building as normal wards can be difficult, I sneak peeks at their meetings sometimes. I have to stop the comparisons and just know this is what it is. Trusting my leaders to shape the Lord's vineyard and do my best to pull weeds or spread manure or whatever is asked.

    The other 'not normal' I'm adjusting to is ill health. I think, I have to give up running. See, I can't even fully commit to saying it straight out. There isn't a definate diagnosis but it's changing my life, it's humbling, frustrating, dizzying.

    When I encounter something life changing I dive in completely, immersing myself in all the knowledge I can find. Knowledge is power and all that. My husband will tell you that I've investigated every disease, rare and common, related to the aches and pains I've experienced; and I could tell you the pathology and treatments for each over dinner. He gently agreed with me when I mentioned that the time for research is over. It's time to adjust my life for this new normal. Who cares if I have to nap every day, take 4 medications, and my most invigorating workout is a walk, at least I can walk. At least that's what I'm trying to convince myself of in this new normal.

  11. This post is very timely for me. I just went through a pretty intense grieving process for something that may seem relatively simple — a sleep drug that I thought would work, worked great for a week, then failed. It's not simple, though, because it comes into a complex mix of stuff I'm dealing with.

    It was more than the physical impact of messed-up sleep, but the spiritual and emotional impact. I thought it had been a blessing, that this would be my new magic drug (my new 'normal' that could help me not feel so not-normal in this way) and poured my heart out in gratitude for the blessing, only to have it not work anymore. Wait? If it wasn't a blessing, what was it? It was like I didn't know where to put that in my constructs.

    It took me a while to realize that I was grieving, and that I had placed my hope and desires in this drug, instead of being willing, again, to accept my life as a process. All of it. My health, my personal progress, my 'success' in my different roles…all of it.

    An author I have really grown to love is Wendy Ulrich. She says simply, "Mortality is messy." The more I really, really embrace that, the more I really accept that the supposed control I have over my life really is so limited, the more I really open my heart to that reality, the more room I have for God and faith and hope in the only Constant there is.

    (jendoop, I think you and I are in similar modes right now…wanting to move past the mourning and truly accepting our reality with illness.)

    I am really coming to believe that as I embrace whatever is mine, pain and all, I will be able to learn more from it. If our trials really are tailored, then why insist that my life needs to be different, 'normal.' Am I here for an easy ride? (Sometimes I wish I was.)

  12. Lovely post Brooke–as always. I liken this (in perhaps a less extreme way) to how I always say things will slow down after the holidays. That never happens and now I have no idea what constitutes "normal" either.

    I don't have any answers except to say it never feels like "easing." It's more like hanging on, making myself take one more step–one more breath, and, on the hardest days, making myself get out of bed one more day. Finding the little things to love and relish helps–no matter how small, simple or silly. Leaning on the Lord and having good friends and family helps me do that. And on the other side I know I have more compassion and more empathy for other people who've had to make a new normal.

  13. Michelle L – I love the "God isn't into normal" comment. Love it!

    A quote I've heard relates to this post, in particular to the need to mourn the loss of your old "normal":

    "The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly one you can never have." Soren Kierkegaard

    Thank you to everyone who has shared with this post!

  14. sometimes i'm amazed at how slow to notice or pick up on things i am. i marvel at how i could have gotten this far along in life without realizing that things ALWAYS change. and that part of what has been so hard with the changes is that i had some vague notion about doing XYZ and then living happily ever after. guess i read a few too many fairy tales (or didn't catch the messages, like rebekah did, about how things change).

    at any rate, in the past few months i was finally shaken awake from my deep slumber and am learning to accept change, live with change, learn and grow from change and even be grateful for change. i have a lot of spare change right now if any one would like some 🙂

    seriously though, this was such a beautifully expressed post brooke. thank you. ♥

  15. I've just barely started to realize that normal never existed for me in the first place. So I guess I better stop sitting around waiting for things to get back to it eh?

  16. sometimes i’m amazed at how slow to notice or pick up on things i am. i marvel at how i could have gotten this far along in life without realizing that things ALWAYS change.

    FWIW, I think it's human nature to crave predictability. Embracing change really takes a measure of faith, and that has to be chosen. IMO, we are wired to protect ourselves from surprises, the unpredictable, the unplanned, the uncontrolled.

  17. –"Mortality is messy."

    –“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly one you can never have.”

    How very, very true.

    And this one:
    (It has oft been quoted here, and will no doubt, be quoted many times again)

    "Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." (Marjorie Hinckley)

    As I read the comments from the sister grieving about a medication to the one grieving for a more "normal" ward, Sister Hinckley's words kept coming back to me. Someone who's never had health issues doesn't get the medication sadness. Someone who lives in a strong area of the church where branches don't even exist isn't going to quite grasp the longing for the familiar pattern of Sunday {and really, the entire rest of the week…right?} Going back to the thoughts on the post "Behind the Smile" I think the reason I am often so hesitant to share my trials and heartaches, is that I'm so afraid people will dismiss them as frivolous and silly. But they are real to me. And forums such as this are an inspirational reminder that I am not alone in my messy mortality.

  18. jenny, you aren't alone!

    and i try to remember that everyone is "fighting a hard battle"– and that while i might not understand their particular battle, i do VERY much understand what heartache is & hope that my being aware of it all around me lends me a little compassion for everyone.

  19. A part of the heartache is not necessarily if it is huge or small, it is the loss of a dream. That is why the Kierkegaard quote (thanks for that Selwyn!) strikes you to the core. We all have lost our perfect vision of the future to some degree, if a newlywed just starting out with their first fight or a widow going to church alone after 50 years of marriage. That new altered vision of the future is shattering. What is amazing is that we continue to find the hope to keep going although our dreams continue to be broken. We must find something sweet in the altered dreams that we call reality.

    m&m- We definately have parallels in our sufferings I'm sorry to say. I understand your sleep difficulties, this morning at 4:30 I studied, making the most of a quiet house 🙂

  20. Loved this post. Loved it.

    I don't know that I ease into new normals well or that I figure out what I've learned from stuff very well. I know that I come out of trials stronger, but I also know that when something big and bad happens in my life I'm really good at just accepting what I can't change. Maybe I've learned that because of my trials. I recognize that I can't stop a miscarriage from happening once its started, I can't make someone buy our house, I can't change what is happening or needs to happen in my life, so I just buckle down and get through it. I know this isn't easy. I'm grateful that for some reason its a bit easier for me than for other people. I see that as a tender mercy from my Heavenly Father.

    I've loved every comment. It's posts like this one that make me wish this conversation was in a Relief Society room or at a friend's house so I could hug everyone and try to buoy everyone up. One of my favorite quotes: "Life is hard, but you can do hard things." and from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "That which you persist in doing becomes easier to do not because the nature of the thing has changed, but your power to do has increased."


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