Normal or not

The local media has been great in education about and promotion of Hospice of Warren County and related activities. Allow me to thank all of the editors and reporters who see the value in this.

Whenever the issue of death comes up, or any major emotional trauma, for that matter, people ask: “Is what I’m feeling normal?” The short answer is: “Yes.” But the long answer is: “No.” That’s because the idea of “normal” is a moving target even in the best of times and a wildly moving target when serious stress and heavy emotions are involved. Who hasn’t heard, wondered, and even feared the idea of “the new normal?” At this point in my life, the old normal is just fine with me. That’s MY idea of normal, of course….

But back to the issue of death. I remember one set of great-grandparents. I don’t remember when Great Grandpop died, but I remember when Grandma Julia did. She was in her late 80’s and outlived her husband by a few years. I would have been in elementary school. I remember going to a dinner at a rural Grange Hall in the northeast corner of the state. I remember distant cousins who were there. We played around outside the hall. I don’t recall visiting hours or the funeral services. I don’t think we kids went to those. Back then, I was insulated from death, so that was normal.

Fast forward a generation when my grandparents died. I was close to all of them and the “new normal” meant being involved in the funeral and related things. It involved extreme grief with all the trappings of anger, guilt, sadness, etc. All of these people were well into their 80s or beyond, so their deaths really weren’t surprises. And at this point, I was in on the stories relatives and friends shared, so there was a little laugher with the tears. A new normal had arrived.

Fast forward another generation as we experienced the deaths of our parents and older people who were personal friends. Whether in their 90s or 80s or people closer to our own age, “normal” was redefined again. Some of the old, pure, sadness remained, of course. But because of the closeness of the friendships and all the memories and stories, there was also laughter and, thankfully, more of that. And now, all of that is viewed through the lens of my own personal mortality.

We can take an analytical approached to this and I don’t think it’s disrespectful to those who have died. That approach says something like: “Death is a normal part of life.” There it is again, that “normal” idea. Maybe a more accurate approach would be: “Death is a part of life and there is a wide range of normal responses.”

I think when “a range” is involved, that’s a good thing. But I also I think it’s a good thing to be aware of the extremes of the range. Some people are hardened to death and their attitude is: “Yup, he died. On with our lives.” I heard of a situation where a person lost a child and a visitor to the funeral said: “Now you know how God felt when Jesus died.” Wow, that’s extreme. At the other end of the scale is the wonderful old widow whose story I’ve told before. She lost her husband of many decades a few months before. I visited her weekly and one time I asked what was the best and worst thing that had happened since our last visit. She said: “Oh, I felt so guilty the other day!” I couldn’t imagine why. Then she said: “I laughed the other day.” Another WOW! She was wrapped so deeply in her grief there wasn’t enough slack for even an occasional laugh.

Normal… wouldn’t it be nice if we could define it better and reach it easier?

Hospice of Warren County is constantly helping people with end-of-life issues. On Wednesday, August 17, “Forget Me Not,” the second annual Children’s Grief Camp will be held. If you know a child who is grieving the death of a loved one, call the Hospice of Warren County office at 723-2455. Kids need to see that their own “normal” is OK.

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