There is a reason why people clean when they grieve. I think part of it is a need to be doing something mundane and normal. Part of it also has to do with wanting to be in control of something, anything, when everything else seems so profoundly out of your control.
These thoughts are knocking around in my head as I spend two hours walking through my kitchen rearranging flowers and food and wiping down every surface I can reach despite the size of my ever growing belly.
I wipe, I rearrange, I cry.
That’s been my routine since I woke up today, in this, the first day in my new normal.
We woke up alone this morning. The hustle and bustle of house guests and the stream of constant visitors having dried up for the first time in a week.
The new normal.
I went from never having a moment to myself to drowning in the silence. It’s loud and over powering. I keep the TV on for company. My daughter, still not sure what has happened, has been quietly playing in the other room for an hour. Occasionally she’ll run up to me to ask for help with something. Otherwise she is coping in her own way, surrounded by her toys, and talking quietly to herself.
The new normal.
She mentions my grandmother infrequently. We have spent almost every day of her life together, just the three of us. We had a daily routine that involved my daughter climbing into bed with her Nana every morning when we went in to wake her.
Now when that time rolls around I distract her with our new routine, snacks for just the two of us at the kitchen table. Sometimes she will point at my grandmother’s empty seat and say, “That’s Nana’s seat.”
My eyes fill up with tears, and I always nod and tell her she’s right, that was Nana’s seat.
When it became clear that my grandmother wasn’t going to make another last minute recovery, my husband and I came up with a plan. We pulled down a photograph of both of my grandparents together, smiling happily together, and explained to our two year old that Nana was getting ready to go be with great grandpop.
As the end drew near, we laid her down one last time in bed with my grandmother. She snuggled up and said her final goodbye.
“Nana’s getting ready to leave.” I told her. “She’s going to go be with great grandpop. Let’s tell her how much we love her, and that we will miss her. Give her a kiss, she’ll be leaving soon.”
That was that.
Sometimes my daughter will, seemingly out of nowhere, tell me that Nana’s gone and that she’s with great grandpop now.
One morning she brought me that same framed photograph and said, “I love Nana and great grandpop.”
I took the picture frame from her and gave her a long hug and a big kiss before she happily ran back to what she was doing.
Sometimes the weight of the quiet in our house feels like a physical burden, stooping me over. I still wake up in the middle of the night and go out to the kitchen to where I would usually find my grandmother, hunched over a 2AM bowl of cereal. This is part of my new normal, too.
Out of habit, I still look for her, but she’s not there. The kitchen is dark and empty and I wander the house alone in the quiet hours, just as she used to do. Sitting in the empty living room, I cry. Thinking about what must be going on in my daughter’s mind overwhelms me. I can’t imagine how hard this new normal has been for her.
The constant chaos of the final days, and then the drastic shift in our routines. I am doing my best to reassure her, to make sure that she knows that not everything is going to change. That she won’t wake up one day and find that I have gone, too.
I don’t even know if that’s how her mind works. I’m doing the best that I can to reassure her. I don’t know if that’s good enough, or if it’s even what she needs.
Panic begins to set in as I wonder if I’m going to do some irrevocable damage with the way that I’m handling everything. And what about the life that is still growing inside of me? All of the stress and emotion have to be making an impact there as well. My head spins from it all.
I take deep breaths, and try and take care of myself, cutting myself a little more slack than I normally would.
I say no, and I say it often and without guilt. No, I can’t do that. No, I won’t do that. My plate is already too full just by being empty. I need time, I need space, and I need to reorient myself in this new life.
So instead, I just sit with my daughter in the near silence of our home, the oxygen concentrator no longer humming too loudly in the background of our lives. The silence, the empty chair at the table, the new normal.