How would you react if your husband presented you with an individual volume of New Jersey Superior Court Reports as a present? I bet you'd be as stunned as I was.
To be fair, my husband and I are attorneys (I'm retired), but I still had absolutely no idea why he thought I'd be excited to receive a book of reported New Jersey legal decisions as a gift. Had he lost his mind?
"Don't you remember your reported case?" he asked as I held volume 230 in my hand.
With no memory that I had a reported case, let alone the case's name, I fumbling through the Table of Cases looking for something familiar. Finally, my husband couldn't stand it anymore, "Hurley v. Hurley."
I flipped to the page and stared in amazement. There it was -- Deborah A. Woodbury -- my official lawyer's name. Seeing it reminded me what a big deal a reported case is to an attorney. It truly is impressive, especially when you're on the winning side of the decision (which I am proud to say I was). Yet, somehow, I had forgotten all about it.
As I pondered how I could have forgotten something that was once so momentous, it struck me that somewhere along the line, my "new normal" as a retired attorney had become simply normal. I was no longer living in that intersection between what had been and what was now. Forgetting was a side effect of moving on into the next phase of life.
Of course, retiring from the practice of law wasn't the only time I created a "new normal." I went from single to married, and childless to mother of two. When I look back at the young, single woman I was all those years ago, I don't recognize her. I also don't miss her because I quickly embraced the "new normal" of married and parental life.
It's a lot harder to settle in when the "new normal" is thrust upon you. Years ago, I had no choice but to end a completely dysfunctional relationship with my father. That "new normal" was a lot healthier for me, but a struggle to manage while he was alive. Even so, I was able to forego his funeral without a hint of guilt because the complete disconnect between us had become the norm.
I also struggled with infertility and miscarriages before the birth of our first child. That was the first time I faced the "new normal" of betrayal by a formerly healthy body. Later, when I was diagnosed with cancer, that same betrayal, anger, loneliness, stress, and fear became the "new normal."
Here's what I'm working on: making the "new normal" of life beyond cancer just plain normal. Whatever your struggle, I know it's possible to move beyond constant comparisons between what was and what now is with the right tools. Here's what it's going to take:
- Time: It takes time to get used to the shock of a "new normal." This is true even when we've chosen it (as anyone with a new baby can testify). When we have no control, it's even harder. The trick is to be in the moment and avoid projecting out beyond right now. You've got enough to deal with without convincing yourself that it's always going to be this hard. Time moves us along and teaches us to accept.
- Support: No one should face sudden, catastrophic change without a strong support system in place. Knowing that you're not alone and other people understand what you are going through heals and strengthens you.
- Expression: Facing a "new normal" creates stories that need to be told. Join a support group or an online community, or share with a friend who "gets it." The more you tell your stories, the more you take your power back and find your footing.
For me, it takes one more thing to move beyond the "new normal" to normal. It takes a partner who stood beside me through all of the above and never wavered. I'm still stunned he remembered my lawyer's moment of fame and searched out that book for me. It's the single most romantic present he's ever given me and a reminder that I can make the "new normal" just plain normal.
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