I always laugh when I say the word “normal” now. Like many other words since Benjamin died, it feels like it has taken on a completely different meaning. It is getting up every day, going to work, talking to people (usually with a fake smile on my face), feeling sad, often shedding a tear and sometimes feeling hopeful. It feels a lot like just getting on with it, muddling through, just doing what I can.
My boss often checks in with me at work to make sure I’m ok. After my panic attack a few weeks ago I think she is concerned that I’m finding it all too much. Me insisting that I am ok doesn’t seem to do much to put her concerns to rest either. But my “normal” is so very different to everyone else’s, I try to explain to her. Being “OK” to me is being able to get out of bed in the morning. It’s being able to get dressed and get into work. I might be sad, I might be anxious but I’m still managing to function. Me not being ok is being in the foetal position, crying in the corner (which to date I have thankfully managed to avoid at work!). I no longer have the lofty expectations of blissful, uncomplicated happiness. OK for me will have to do for the moment.
As I write this I am sitting on a beach in Mauritius. The sun is beating down on my embarrassingly white Irish body as I gaze out upon the turquoise ocean. It sounds idyllic and I guess it is. It is relaxing, quiet and breathtakingly beautiful. This is the first proper holiday that we have gone on since having Benjamin. Up to this point, neither of us have had any interest in travelling. The somewhat vacuous task of lying on a beach has felt self-indulgent and is in some ways almost disrespectful to our little man.
But if I’m truthful it’s not the act of lying on a beach or even hiking up a mountain that’s the problem. It is the fact that it feels like everything is getting back to normal. Anyone who would see us walking around the resort would think we were just like any normal, childless couple. I no longer feel like the pain of Benjamin’s loss is written across my face. The pain, even though it is still as raw as ever, can now be hidden behind a fake smile and small talk. And it feels weird.
You see I never thought that things would get back to “normal”. I thought that I would be stuck in my grief forever. In a certain way, there has always been a comfort for me in my grief. It is my safe place. My son has died, it is only natural that I would be grief-stricken. It is a comfortable role for me to play.
“Normal”, however, is a lot less comfortable. “Normal” means living my life without my son. It means accepting what has happened and choosing to still live life to the full. It means attempting to love again, to be happy again, to be hopeful again…all without Benjamin. And to me, that is as scary as hell. It is trying to be normal in the most abnormal of situations.
And none of this even covers the guilt. Because the more time that passes and the more normal I feel the more guilty I feel. Mainly I feel guilty that I can live a life and be happy all the while missing a piece of my heart, missing a piece of myself. I know that Benjamin wouldn’t want his Mummy to be miserable. I know that he would want me to live my life for both of us but sometimes it just feels wrong doing it all without him.
As I walk along the beach I imagine what Benjamin would be like if he were here. I imagine him playing in the water and screaming with delight (or terror) as tropical fish swim past. It makes me smile. We would have been such a happy little family.
But alas that is not our reality. And so we pick ourselves up and try our best to enjoy our first holiday with Benjamin in our hearts. He is with us everywhere, that much I know for sure. I also know that these mixed feelings of guilt will subside as we continue to find our new normal, our new life without our little boy in our arms.