Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The New Normal

Today was my first day back at work since Mom died; my first "normal" day not punctuated by survivor's tasks.

It went okay. I came back to a stack of busy-work, end-of-the-month data entry, which was a blessing because I didn't have to think too hard about it and could just keep my head down and do my job. But it was interesting to observe the behavior of my coworkers. I got a hug and kind words from one of my officemates, a really nice guy who's done some caregiving of his own in his life, and who is in the midst of a Huge Work-Related Crisis that's kept him mostly out of the office for the past two days and that made his taking time out to extend his condolences mean a lot. Some of the staff kept their eyes lowered and seemed reluctant to speak to me.

My only near-losing-it point came when the watercooler talk turned to the Huge Work-Related Crisis, and I caught myself thinking, Wow..wait until I tell Mom about this...oh. And I refrained from looking at the sympathy cards in my mailbox until I was safely at home. Really, this has been the first day when I could actually read the cards and comprehend what had been written and not start crying.

This is also the day where I test-drove how I'm going to care for my dog in the context of an eight-hour work day. I live outside our city, but it's within a reasonable distance for coming home for lunch; so that's what I did, to let Cody out for a break. He'd been asleep in his bed when I entered the living room; he yawned, opened his eyes and then squealed with surprise to see me, and ran to the door as he usually does when I come home from somewhere. When I let him back in, though, he just stood in the hallway; then he looked in my mother's room; then he began to howl -- a sad, reedy little wail. I think he was expecting to find my mother outside, because oftentimes I'd be the first one in the house, and the dog would barrel past me to get outside and "find Mom." All during my lunch break he kept looking at me in confusion, and when I told him, "I have to go back to work," he hunkered back down into his bed with a morose expression. I felt so sad for him. This past weekend on This American Life they reprised a piece about the author's severely mentally disabled sister, who didn't seem to notice when their mother died, but was much more upset by changes in the household routine; who needed things to be the same from day to day. I think my dog is actually anxious on both accounts; he really misses Mom, and the changes in how we do things around here are also confusing him. So I'm trying to keep to a general routine -- not quite what he's used to, but enough touchstones to keep him from feeling as if the world has gone mad.

(On a lighter note: For the last two days I've been trying to get The Codeman to go for a walk with me. Unlike every other dog in the universe, my dog hates walking; I can get him maybe to the end of the driveway, and then he puts on the brakes. It's surprising how much resistance a stubborn nine-pound dog can manage. Anyway, it's been no different now, but since I needed the walk, I just scooped him up and took him along -- sort of a nine-pound free weight to enhance my aerobic fitness. Needless to say, mileage suffers while carrying a dog, even a little dog. I think I'm going to have to have two walks, a short 'round-the-yard bonding experience with Cody and then a real walk after putting him back inside, where he'd rather be anyway.)

I'm finding I have to reacquaint myself with shopping and cooking for one; it's funny how you forget to do this after you've been living with someone for awhile.

I keep noticing things around the house that I've never thought a lot about before. The three cartons of Cool-Whip in the freezer; the innumerable matchboxes I keep finding everywhere in our non-smoking home; my mother's taking her wedding silverware out of its case piecemeal and using it for every day: What was that all about? The darkness of our living room, which features one table lamp, and that's it. More light! I need more light! The overflowing collection of plastic shopping bags: Don't throw away that bag! she'd always say. I use those! We now have enough plastic bags around here to open a supermarket. (I'm going to be a good, ecologically minded camper and take them to the food coop next time I make the trip.)

I'm still pretty sure I'm going to move my bedroom to hers -- again, more space and more light. I'm gradually getting less squeamish about the idea of sorting through her things.

The medical bills haven't started coming yet, but the monthly utility bill was a sobering reminder that this place is mine now. I don't know how long I can afford to live here; the property taxes kill anyway because we're near a lake, and the county is talking about charging a breathtakingly large fee, for the next decade, to each adjacent household for repair of the local dam. The thought of putting the property up for sale and all the headaches associated with that are making my stomach churn. I found myself singing "Be Not Afraid" to myself during work today; I think it was a reaction to the reality slowly seeping into my grief-numbed mind that life is going to be getting harder, not easier.

Welcome to the new normal around here.


RuthRE said...

Peace and Love to you Sister.

I keep wanting to come up with some singular and wonderful thing to say to lift you up. I just don't know what that might be.

So again I offer you peace and love, sister.

jo(e) said...

All the details of getting back to everyday life can be both simultaneously conforting and upsetting .... be nice to yourself during this time.

Evelyn said...

Hi Lutherchik-
Thank you so much for your wonderful blog.....even during this difficult time. It sounds like you're doing a good job of "being gentle with yourself".

By the way, you do NOT have the only dog who doesn't like to take walks. At least your dog only weighs 9 lbs. I have a 65 pound dog who often doesn't make it past the driveway before REFUSING to take another step! I've grown accustomed to just bringing her back inside, then continuing my walk. She does, however, walk very willingly when we're at a park. She especially loves it when my friend and my friend's dog walk with us!

Chaplain Lydia said...

Sending you lots of prayers! Keep singing "Be Not Afraid"--God's comfort comes through songs, too. Know there are people who are praying for you!

samtzmom said...

Continuing to hold you in prayer....

SingingOwl said...

Aw, poor little doggy. :-(

One day at a time...
Praying for you now.

Sophia said...


Thoughts and prayers from here.

You can get through this.

juniper68 said...


Mary Beth said...

Oh, I'm so sorry for you and for the puppy too. It's terrible to not be able to explain.


Becky Piatt said...

Bless you, this night. I lost my dad on January 7th and it is still so painful. There aren't any magic words that I can say, just know that you are thought of, prayed for, and lifted to God by your sisters in Christ. We care. I pray that your sleep this night will be sweet and peaceful...and that your dog will rest easy, as well!

Verdugo said...

Be not afraid-- the perfect song to sing at this time. I love the notion that "be not afraid" doesn't mean "don't feel fear" but rather "walk thru fear, to faith." That's what you are doing. Be strong, and courageous. God is with you, and you are so loved.

P.S. This is soooooo California, but the other day I saw they now make doggy strollers for the walk-averse dog! Can't wait for them to become a high-ticket status item like baby strollers have become.

Teri said...

Be Not Afraid is the song I sang while my mom was sick. I haven't found a new song yet, and it's been five months, possibly making this the only event of my life not to have a soundtrack. Luckily, it's nearly Easter when the ubiquitous (in my head, anyway) Thine Is The Glory will at least be liturgically appropriate.

I am impressed that only a week later you have a day "not punctuated by survivor's tasks"....I am not sure I have those days even now, five and a half months later, and even though I have gone back to Egypt. I feel like surviving is nealry all I can do, and work is...well, secondary.

I am praying for you...and your dog...and for you to find comfort in your house even though it is stressful.

LutheranChik said...

Teri -- it was only unpuncutated by survivor's tasks because I was able to successfully procrastinate doing some of them [rueful smile], and because I haven't yet gotten the death certificates and doing that whole thing.

I find myself comparing notes between what this is like for me now and what it was like when my dad died. The big differences are that, when Dad died, I was in my Christianity dropout period, so I didn't have -- or, actually, was actively rejecting -- a spiritual context for his death; and I wasn't living at home -- I came home for a week to be with my mom, and then I went away again. And his death had been completely sudden, with no hint that he'd been sick, so there was the shock of that to contend with...I had a kind of delayed reaction that would hit me in waves in the following weeks. With my mom, it was like full-tilt, "full immersion" in the grief experience for the first few days; maybe that's why I've felt a real need to come up out of that and start easing myself back into a routine again.

Thank you for your prayers. This is not a terrific sorority to be a part of, but I'm sincerely glad for the company. And right back at ya, Teri.