The New (Ab)Normal


It’s still dark outside.  I’ve been up for an hour.  The house is quiet.  Even the dogs are reverent.  They’ve already been out and are now crawling back into bed.  This is the new (ab)normal.

I wake early almost every day.  Since Brian died, there was one day where I managed to stay in bed until 8am, but that was because I had been awake from 4:48 until 7 screaming and sobbing after having woken from a night terror. My body was simply too exhausted to get up.  Usually, however, I’m up around 5 or maybe, depending on how bad the night before was and what prescribed medication I took to help me make it through the night as the only person in my bed, 6.

I wake up and for a few seconds before I open my eyes, live in a land where Brian is still next to me.  He must be – how else could I be so warm?  My mind plays tricks on me, you see.  I used to sleep in nothing but skin, now I sleep in full pajamas.  I remember the pajamas and I remember that my human heater is gone.  I remember.  I reach for my phone to see what time it is and see all the messages that have come in while I slept. I remember.  I feel the necklace I wear that contains some of Brian’s ashes. I remember.

I get up, light a candle for Brian (there is always one burning if I’m home,)  and pour myself a cup of yesterday’s coffee, throw it in the microwave, and make a fresh pot.  I go outside in the dark with the dogs.   In the early pre-dawn hours, outside in the dark, there is no time.  It could be midnight, it could be 4am, it could be 10pm.  Everything is somewhat visually distorted.  Depth perception is almost non-existant.  This must sort of be what it is like to be Brian now – an energy where time and space don’t exist.,where everything is calm and peaceful, where you see and hear with something other than your eyes and ears.  The dogs and I come back in and they go back to bed. The new (ab)normal.

Check email, Facebook, Twitter.  Get caught up staring at the desktop picture and try to remember every detail of what it was like to kiss him.  The feel of his lips.  The warmth of his skin. The tickle of his beard.  When he died, it had gotten long enough to be soft and full and wonderful.  I get lost here for several minute and my brain starts to take a nasty, evil turn and starts to think about how the fire that took him must have also caught his beard.  The beard he grew for me.  I try to stop these thoughts, try to move past them quickly.  As my therapist says, “What does it matter?  It doesn’t change anything.  Let it go.”  Yes, let it go.  Let it go.  Hard to let go when your hands are open, but the thing has a hold on you.

I try to figure out what day it is.  Today is Wednesday.  I make lists of what needs to be done.  Kids have to get back to some semblance of a routine: quiet reading, journaling, chores.  I make lists of things I need.  I get caught up on things I need for Costa Rica.  Yes, I’m still going.  My heart doesn’t want to.  My heart doesn’t want to go and leave this sacred space.  What if Brian’s smell leaves our bedroom while I’m gone?  What if something happens to me and I leave my children orphans?  What if … what if … what if I heal?  Bug spray, bio-degradable hair products, moccasins, a high quality headlamp.  Oh fuck, Fuck, FUCK  a headlamp.  A headlamp.  Brian always wore a headlamp and I know with absolute certainty he died with his on.  Skip that.  I couldn’t handle the damn stores, anyway.  Who has appointments today?  What phone calls do I need to make?  What forms do I have to fill out?  Why hasn’t the medical examiner returned my call?

Slowly the kids get up.  Dakota has grown so much in 3 weeks.  He comes out and I swear I see Brian.  Dakota has always looked like Brian.  People get confused because he has my eye color, my skin color, and my hair color, but if you drain all the color away, you’ll realize that he could be Brian’s twin.  They are identical, it’s just that someone used the wrong filter when taking the photograph. I never used to “see” Brian in him because it was something that I just knew, much like if you have a crack in a bathroom tile, after awhile you stop seeing that crack because you just know it’s there.  I actually see Brian in him now.  It’s different than just seeing that they look alike.  I actually SEE him in our son.  It’s wonderful and eery. Dakota comes out and kisses me on the forehead.  A bit later, Sage emerges.  Still young enough to look like a toddler when he’s just awoken, puffy eyed and cuddly, he looks just like me but with Brian’s hair, Brian’s skin, Brian’s eyes. Another filter.  “Good morning, Mama,”  “How was your sleep?”  “Can I watch a little tv?”  I always used to say no, but now I always say yes because, let’s face it, I don’t have any business watching the fucking news.  The new (ab)normal.

And we’re off and running.  Sometimes we just run in place.  Phone calls, forms, food.  The kids have to eat and I make sure they do.  In theory I have to eat and I do eat, but there’s no flavor and everything feels like mush in my mouth. Dogs out.  Dogs in.  Dogs out.  Dogs in.  Shower.  I figure out how many pieces of his clothing will I wear.  There has only been a couple of days where I wore all my own clothes.  Those were strange days.  Usually it’s socks or his underwear, but sometimes it’s jeans, a shirt, his overalls, his jacket.  Somedays it’s all of it.  Yesterday, they only thing I wore that was “mine” was my bra and my shoes, and he gave me the shoes, so does that even count?

There are moments of laughter.  There are moments of lightness.  There are moments of extreme terror and overwhelming grief.  Every day.  Triggers are everywhere.  I have PTSD from this, largely stemming from the way the police told me (they might have special training in this, but do not believe for one second that every officer uses that special training when telling a woman that her husband is dead.  Some of them are pure evil,) and from dealing with the investigators.  Brian’s death is still under investigation.  They have all but closed it, they are waiting on one more lab result (RETURN MY CALL, MEDICAL EXAMINER!!!)  The day after they told me, the day the autopsy was completed, I was hauled into the highway patrol station and grilled for more than an hour.  I was the last person to see him alive.  I was a suspect.  I got asked over and over again if I killed my husband or had anything to do with his death.  They took my phone and pulled every text message from it.  I know they had to do that.  I understand, and if it had been anything other than a horrible freak accident, if someone had hurt my husband, you bet your ass I would want to know who and have them killed on the spot.  That’s not what happened, though, so I deal with the pure panic and kick-in-the-gut shock that comes in waves as a result.  I see police cars and, if I’m riding in a car, I hold my breath and close my eyes and try not to jump out of the moving vehicle.  If a police car is following me, I pull over and wait.  For what, I’m not sure.  Not once have they ever pulled in behind me, but I just cannot handle the idea of the cops following me.  If I’m driving and I see a police car in the other lane, I SCREAM at the top of my lungs – unless that car is headed North East and then I full on panic because I assume they’re headed to my house to hurt me some more.  That’s irrational.  They cannot hurt me any worse than they already have.  They cannot tell me my husband is dead again.

Texts and phone calls.  “Do you need anything?”  “How are you doing?”  “How is right this minute?”  “I hope you can find something to smile about today.”  Yes, I do, too.  And I often do.  How am I doing?  How is today?  I feel so badly for the people who ask me that because I am incapable of lying about it.  “Today is horrible.  Today can fuck off.  Today is terror and pain and fear and panic and rage and hopelessness.”   I cannot, simply cannot force myself to say, “I’m doing okay” if I’m not.  There are some calls and texts, however, when I do honestly get to say, “I’m okay right now.”  That’s not a lie – in those moments, I truly am okay(ish,) it’s just that those moments and phone calls and texts are not the majority.  They are catching up, though.  The last two days have been major setbacks, but each day is a new (ab)normal day.

Snail mail, movies, laundry, dishes, lunch, dinner, snacks.  Is today the day I write Senator Kurt Shaefer and tell him how much I hate him for sending me that obituary?  How cold and heartless I think he is?  How the deepest, darkest, most bitter part of me waits to see if he loses a family member so I can inflict the same trauma upon him?  I’m not proud of that part of me, but to deny is to deny the truth.  Only truth now.

Dogs out, dogs in.  Dogs out, dogs in.

Night time showers, pajamas, cleaning of rooms.  Goodnight talks with the boys.  For 12 years, Brian and I put the boys to bed.  When Sage came along, a routine started.  We would have one on one time with each boy.  Every night.  It took a while, but we always did it, we always did it together.  Now it’s just me.  I open the curtains and point out the moon.  We talk, we laugh, we laugh, we laugh. I kiss them.  I love you I love you I love you.  We say goodnight to each other and they say goodnight to Dad.  Sage is all into hand symbols (kid mudras,) like “Live Long and Prosper” or Mork from Ork’s “Nanu-Nanu” or the sign language symbol for “I Love you.”  He developed a new one to tell Brian he loves him.  Almost like the Boy Scout hand symbol, but it’s used with the left hand and the thumb holds down the ring finger, the finger that leads directly to the heart. We all flash that sign.  “GoodNight, Dad!”  The new (ab)normal.

I go out with the dogs and look at the moon, if it’s there.  It’s dark.  No time, no space.  I feel so empty, so alone, and yet so … unified, so together, so connected.  Odd to experience it all at the same time.  We come back in.  The dogs go to bed.  I lock the doors, turn off the lights, take something to help me sleep without terror, and blow out Brian’s candle.  I climb into bed and turn off the light and talk to Brian.  I talk to him until I fall asleep under the moon.  I swear he climbs into bed at some point in the night to keep me warm.  I can’t be sure, though, because there is no snoring.  Just sleep in a bed that is entirely too large and dreams that are entirely too confusing and the subconscious understanding that this is the way life is now.

The new (ab)normal.



6 responses »

  1. Your words are raw, heartbreaking, full of love and sorrow and peace and chaos and beauty. Thank you for sharing your story, your life, and your love with us. It is absolutely inspiring, you are inspiring. Thinking of you.

  2. I read this and my heart breaks for you. At the same time, I’m astounded but not surprised by the beauty in your agonised writing. For this is how it is when trauma tears your life apart.

    I read your words and I remember, too. I remember my own version of those early days, learning to try and make sense of the PTSD-world, when it doesn’t really make any sense at all.

    If you need any support from someone whose been through the PTSD trenches… even though I’m half a world away, I’m here. Happy to talk any time, any which way. xxx

  3. Sarah, this post is the most heart-breakingly beautiful thing I have read in a very long time. Thank you for your honesty and eloquence.

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