24 Mar The New Normal
By: Stefanie Castro, RN, BSN
I vividly remember walking out with my husband and brother-in-law from the hospital room into the waiting area after my father-in-law passed away. These were our first steps into a new direction of our lives that I wasn’t quite ready for. I guess many of us aren’t prepared for moments like these, as much as we mentally attempt to do so. The moment we met with the rest of our family in the waiting room, my husband’s aunt turned to her sister and nephews saying, “Now we need to find the new normal in our lives.” Many other things were said after his passing, but that one sentence has actually stayed with me over the last 7 years as I’ve grieved my father-in-law, Eddie.
Recently, a close friend of mine lost her father-in-law and suddenly I was flooded with the same feelings all over again. I’ve been supporting her through this time, sharing my experience in order to shed some light on what she’s now feeling. Through those conversations I realized that after a loss we not only need support in our grief, but some direction in how to be there for our spouse and children at the same time. That was something I had to learn how to do on my own, but I hope my story can act as a supportive guide to what feels like one of the darkest times in a family’s life.
In all honesty, nothing has ever been the same since we said our goodbyes to Eddie. Not only was he a huge part of my life, but he was my husband’s best friend. And trying to figure out my marriage from that point forward was difficult. I wanted my husband to let his feelings out so he could feel some relief, but he wanted to do the exact opposite. Anger and resentment consumed him for some time. In fear of losing my marriage, I chose to wait in silence until he was ready to talk. I had to accept this was his grieving process and he didn’t need someone telling him how to grieve, he needed someone to patiently wait by his side. Eventually, little by little, he started to express himself and it felt like we were taking positive steps forward. It took many tearful nights, but we came to a place where we could stand in unity, even if we couldn’t fully wrap our heads around the loss. It was hard as a wife to have no guidance or true understanding of what he was going through at that time. But I made it clear I was there for him and that he could count on me.
My first experience losing a loved one was with the passing of my grandmother when I was 13 years old. My mother and I were in the U.S., while the rest of the family said their goodbyes in Brazil. When we received the call from my father that my mother’s mom passed away, I remember seeing my mom break down. With that call, I knew my mother’s life would never be the same. But as much as that was the case, my mom had to continue caring for me the best she knew how. She grieved, I do remember that, but she did it with such grace and strength. Fast-forward to Eddie’s passing, which was the first loss of a family member I was present for, and I felt so torn between my own personal suffering and the care I wanted to give to my son, my husband and his family. Much like that call from my father, I knew that moment in the hospital would be forever cemented in my mind. Despite all the emotions I was feeling, I pushed them aside in an effort to “be strong.” Little did I realize at the time that this did more harm than good.
My son was nearly 17 months when his Grandpa Eddie passed away. Afterwards, I unintentionally pushed my son away emotionally. The thought that my son would never get to know this wonderful man broke me. I put one foot in front of the other, staying busy with the funeral arrangements and not paying attention to how the entire situation may be affecting the little boy who was waiting for me at home. I made sure he was physically cared for, but children are able to sense when something isn’t quite right. Looking back I realize it may have been wrong, and luckily he doesn’t explicitly remember, but I do. I should have let him see me cry. Instead I hid in the kitchen to cry while he was napping and my husband was at work. I only allowed myself these small moments in the day to grieve. But now I know it wouldn’t have been the end of the world for my son to see me experience the sadness and it could’ve potentially been beneficial to him. For instance, I once heard a therapist on the radio say it isn’t damaging for a child to see his parents argue. The key aspect in an argument for the child to witness is the resolution at the end. This is how our children learn healthy conflict resolution. So I can now understand the same concept is true with grief. It’s okay to let our guard down, because sadness comes hand-in-hand with life, a lesson that children should learn with us so they know how to deal with it as they get older.
I went into a profession that deals with death, but unfortunately I can’t say it means I know how to handle it on a personal level. I now know I could’ve participated in support groups, which are available all over Orange County, that specialize in this type of loss. Grief from the death of a parent continues to resurface throughout life. Your children will ask about this person; they will wonder who this person was and what kind of role they had in the family. It is in those moments of wonderment that the pain returns. In those conversations, I can physically feel my heart ache. In the past, I probably would have pushed the question aside, not acknowledging that my children have the right to ask.
Today, when my son asks about his grandfather, I smile, sometimes a tear falls, and I simply say he was an incredible man who had nothing but love to give. I constantly tell my children when something reminds me of Eddie. If I hear a song or a movie he loved, I quickly tell them it was one of his favorites. It’s my job, along with my husband, to honor him and not shy away from how he touched our lives, simply because it still hurts. We grieve and feel his absence, but we also need his legacy living on in our children. This is our new normal.
If you or someone you know is in need of support through grief, please click here for resources in your area.
“The Goodbye Book” by Todd Parr can be found online at Amazon.com
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