Shift Happens, a New Normal?

Shift Happens, a New Normal?


I find it fascinating how many new terms, words, phrases that label or identify social constructs/ behaviors that are created every day, phrases that go viral and become mainstream. Viral a word gone viral in and of itself. Right?  You don’t say! See ya, Eh, LOL, OMG, drain the swamp, bless your heart, get out of Dodge, brown nose, red neck, avatar, tree hugger, freel, woke etc., memes/emojis/emoticons,  images as well as created portmanteaus like brunch (breakfast/lunch) Brexit (Britain/Exit);  words blending the sounds and combining the meanings. This happens worldwide but some phrases may be endemic to a geographic area and/or specific to an activity, emotion or defined issue. But all are created shorthand; communication gone viral; good or bad its contemporary vernacular that delivers a message.

Many phrases eventually fall out of use, or change meaning as many words do. Gay was once just happy, queer was odd, just as many other slang, derogatory, and racist terms were created changing the etymology of the word forever. We find that with the internet many of these catch phrases, created labels, and words cross over to another group’s lexicon of terms and becomes part of their vernacular expression.

When one is thrust into the grief journey, most are unprepared for powerful life altering event it can be. When we lose someone we love, especially an out of sequence death it changes our perspective, our world view changes. We are born again into a whole new world, scary and uncharted and many have applied the phrase “the new normal” to describe the grief journey.  I have never liked the word normal as an adjective to describe human behaviors; normal is a setting on a dryer. There is nothing normal about losing a child at any age. It is an out of sequence death where true comprehension of the loss becomes surreal. When negotiating day to day realities we may feel like we are in a fog, a time warp, or bubble of confusing duplicitous perceptions. This cocoon of protection that insulates us from the overwhelming horror of the reality is autonomic and biologic; it lasts as long as it lasts which is different for everyone.

The “New Normal” is a pithy aphorism originated as a term in business and economics that refers to financial conditions following the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the aftermath of the 2008–2012 global recession. The term has since been used in a variety of other contexts to imply that something which was previously abnormal has become commonplace.  Soon thereafter I saw it applied to grievers and it socially went viral in the grief community and the horse was out of the barn.

In my 30 years of working with the bereaved I have seen the language of grief and loss change in many ways as grievers try to articulate the depth and breadth of their soul wounds. During that period of time I have seen new words created, old words negated, and many words deleted from conversational use.

People are becoming more cognizant of the power of words that can help to heal or ones that can haplessly hurt or are disrespectful.  We innately can respond in a different manner and more compassionate manner, but it takes practice. For example, in response to someone who has taken their own life I previously have said that they had committed suicide. I soon although realized how hurtful that can be to family survivors, as it layers their loved one’s act of desperation with a penumbra a shame, which only perpetuates the stigma surrounding death by suicide.  I started to say “completed suicide” instead because my lips still wanted to say committed but I could easily turn committed into completed. However, I changed my vernacular again to relay just the facts. Died by suicide. Died from heart failure. Died from cancer, auto accident, overdose, murder i.e. just the facts, no judgement, no labels, no shame or stigma attached.  Fortunately, I have seen this changing but not fast enough.

Finding closure. God help us why this deplorable aphorism is still used mainstream. We close a casket; we don’t find closure with their life or their death. We don’t say “we had a child who died, their name was”. We say “our child died their name is “not was. Keeping them in the present tense is part of proactive grieving; they can still co-exist in our lives and in our conversations with others. Our children die a second time when no one speaks their name.

We don’t move on, we move forward; we don’t deny, we postpone; we don’t get over, we transmogrify; we don’t put it behind us, we walk with it; we don’t get on with our life, we explore our new landscape. We recognize that shift happens; a shift of seismic proportions has happened in our life. Recognizing that a permanent shift has occurred, and that life will never be the same empowers forward movement and healing. Grief is a lifelong journey to take as it comes, day by day; if we look too much in the rear view window, we may miss the signs on the road. The road forward has choices with many directions and being present is critical; being retrospective creates wisdom; be hopeful creates intention; being aware creates trust; trust the journey.

Peace love n light
Mitch Carmody


“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. “                    -Viktor Frankl