Monday, July 11, 2011

Is There Such a Thing as the “New Normal?”

George Terris © Father’s Day, 1981,
With a photo of my daughter - his first grandchild

July 11, 2011

My family lost a great man last week: my Dad. While somewhat prepared for the end-of-life drill for which many friends and loved ones had prepared us, the challenging ache of not having his physical presence, his sharp-as-a-tack mind until he took his last breath with us, is still both fresh and hollow. I am a great believer and practitioner of positive psychology: I choose to be consciously aware of signs that offer opportunities to glimpse and savor positive aspects of any experience. Even if the experience is non-physical – I latch onto it with gusto - only for one reason: it makes me feel good.

Creating a “new normal,” in which the feelings of loss and alien terrain collide with positivity, order, and routine, provide me with a Herculean opportunity to ramp up my daily “feel good” process.

The “nothing-is-the-same” often evokes fear in us, and yet, we say we embrace change; we claim that we welcome opportunities for personal growth and development. Grief-laden, heavy-hearted experiences are supposed to make us stronger, more resilient, right? Envisioning how this plays out today is nearly impossible; the road ahead looks mercurial and dust-clouded. So, how do we plow ahead, not knowing what - cliché as it sounds - tomorrow brings?

I suppose we start with now. For the past decade, in working with the elderly population, coaching and facilitating caregiver groups, and teaching various psychology courses at Ringling College, I tell myself that I am supposed to be good at this stuff. I understand and try to practice empathy daily; I know Kubler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, and I would add – humor, and even “repeat.” When my children were younger, and I happened upon a conflict of who did what to whom, I used to tell them: “If you are in it, you get it (and you are culpable too)." I now find myself trying to extricate myself from being “in it,” so I can process the emotional waves that blindside me.

CBT, or Cognitive Behavior Therapy, offers us the opportunity to seek solutions in a systematic, goal-oriented way from undesirable emotions, cognition, and behaviors. While there might not be any systematic way to go about rebuilding a heart where, currently, there is a void, having the beautiful support in the name of family and friends has given my spirit a resounding lift. If we find ourselves in the midst of an emotional overhaul, I have discovered that getting into the head from a heavy heart, with positive list making, provides me with a mindfulness and a calm, centeredness.

Bittersweet witnessing that I have experienced include:

  1. From far and wide - outpourings of love to my Mom who, for over 59 years, was married to her “rock.”
  2. Virtual re-connections with childhood friends from decades ago.
  3. A bazillion shared memories from happy, healthy, times: Dad was here for grandchildren’s graduations, granddaughters’ weddings, births, my recent marriage.
  4. Sympathies in letters, emails, Facebook posts, online obit postings.
  5. Co-caregiving with my wonderful brother, so that we might bolster my mother’s spirit as well.
  6. Hospice “angels” who showered my Dad with gentle softness and beautiful grace.
  7. My children, who just told me things that I have never heard before: beautiful insight and loving guidance from their grandfather.
  8. Signs everywhere that reveal that my Dad will always be here—not physically, but here.
  9. When the emotions overtake the CBT that I think that I have so carefully practiced, my loving husband is there, “having and holding me, from this day forward,” just as promised a few months ago, during our wedding vows.
  10. It takes me less than 3 seconds to find a positive memory, thought, or emotion, for there are too many to count, to place on top of sadness.
For me, I have determined that choosing to feel good is the “new normal.” The new normal is like a slideshare – throughout the day and night, there are moving images, memories and signs, that capture one happy moment to the next, underscoring the love and connection I still have with my Dad. Repeat.

Mindfully Yours,



  1. What a wonderful, wonderful to cherish your dad's memmory, Poppy - moving forward with all the love and strength he gave to you through the years. What a foundation! Aren't we so very, very blessed? Thank you for sharing, and continue to do Number 10....keep those positives on TOP. My prayers are with you!

    Edna Sherrell

  2. Poppy-- I am so sorry. I know from too much personal experience that even though "death is a part of life" we are never prepared to lose a close family member and their absence just plain hurts. My wish for you is that the time will be short until the joy of memories takes precedence over the pain of missing him. Love to you and your whole family! - Victoria Wright