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A New Normal
Thoughts from Jesse's Dad

With our Marine son in Iraq, we knew precisely what it meant when two Marines in dress blues came to our door. Somehow, we survived hearing them tell us that our son had been killed in action. God graciously held us in His arms as we dealt with the initial shock, called our other two children to tell them the news, and endured our first night of grief.

Thus began the process that would forever change the way we dealt with life. We rode the emotional rollercoaster that was the media onslaught, the comfort of friends, the memorial service, the paper work, and our bodies' physical responses, while trying to keep up with the everyday things of bills, jobs and housework. It was an emotional jumble of blessings and sorrows that made each new day a new challenge. We are still learning to cope.

Following a traumatic occurrence such as this, it is intuitively obvious to those involved that nothing will ever be the same again, that there will forever be a "new normal". We have to realize that things won't ever be as though nothing has happened. People around us also have to decipher how to relate to our situation, wanting to help without hurting. The result is confusion and stress, both internally and in our relationships.

Things that seemed very important before are now insignificant. Things that seemed trivial before, take on new, often overwhelming significance, which may or may not be understood by those around us. For example, when someone around me speaks of thinking they should spend more time with their children, I have a passionate response that I have to fight to control. I want to shout, Do it now!

Everywhere I go, everywhere I look I see things that move me, reminding me of my son. They are all good memories, as that is the way he was, but they also remind me of my loss, and that's tough on my heart. I'll never escape them, don't want to, but I have to figure out how to process them properly.

The problem is that you are moving into unknown territory for which you have no training or experience. And most of the people who offer advice have no training or experience either. They always have good intentions, but can only tell you what they think they would do in that situation. So you are on your own, and the resulting actions and reactions aren't weird, but new normal, to be evaluated and revised as time goes on, but not to be feared or to be worried about.

Last week they brought us our son's things from Iraq. Now what do we do with different reactions to each item? It felt nice to have these things of his, but hard to have them remind us of our loss. His watch seemed particularly comforting, as he was wearing it that night. Then the alarm went off at 11 pm Iraqi time, the time he awoke for his appointment with destiny. Welcome to new normal.

So if I wear my son's lapel chevrons and people mistakenly assume that I'm doing that to keep him near or to give me chances to talk about him, that's okay. I actually wear them because it steadies me somehow, and that's not wrong. It's the new normal and I have no idea why it does that or how long it will do that. It just helps for now, whether others understand or not.

New normal includes a variety of new experiences. There are the unexpected tears at inopportune times. There is forgetfulness that leaves you wandering in a daze. At times you can't decide what to have, as the waiter stands at your table. And that's just the start. Not to worry. People will wait while you dry your tears. Post-it notes can keep you on track. Waiters are paid to be polite in any situation. You find yourself in a period of grace while you're finding new normal.

Then there's the traumatic occurrence itself. People tend to tip-toe around it, unsure of what to say or what to do. It's a learning time for everybody involved. We found it helped to talk about things, especially with people who understood. Those who were patient and willing to talk about our son and his death helped us learn to cope.

Your relationship with the world has also changed. New patterns of fitting in have to be learned, and people have to figure out how to relate to you in your new setting as well. Others have to keep on with their lives while you are still trying to deal with your trauma. It's like dropping out of a hiking party to explore, and look up to find the group has moved on and you now have to catch up to rejoin them. Except, in this situation, it is kind of hard to yell, Wait up!

Another factor in new normal is the establishment of a new identity. For years to come I will be viewed by others as the father of the Marine who died tragically in Iraq. I don't feel like a different person than I was before, but it's as though I've been set aside as a monument to my son for others to salute as they go by. As the world goes on around me, I'm trying to discover how I can rejoin the human race, sort of like getting on a moving merry-go-round.

Thankfully, Jesus is the constant, the solid rock, of my new normal. Jesus, who died for me. Jesus, who said, "I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you." Jesus, who promised, "I will never leave you or forsake you." What an anchor He has been.

When, as a teenager, I gave my life to Jesus, He also gave His life to me, to be all that I will ever need. No day is too hard for Him, no matter how difficult it is for me. No puzzle is too confusing for Him, no matter how confused I am. He will always be there, walking each step of the way with me, ready to listen to the cry of my heart. His Word instructs me and settles my thoughts. His Spirit guides me, comforts and teaches me. His power gives me calm assurance that I will find the new normal and will be able to function successfully again.

Below are some Scripture passages that have helped me along the road toward new normal. I share them with the hope that they will encourage you, too.

This verse is the awesome foundation of the living hope I have:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." 1 Peter 1:3

These verses not only comfort me but help me with understanding some of the purpose of my heartache:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

This old, familiar verse comforts and helps me, because it reminds me that He is the perfect Guide, having been through the valley Himself:

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4

So, that's what I've been thinking about, trying to cope with a different world, working toward new normal. If you'd like to talk about Jesse, Jesus or about a traumatic occurrence of your own, please feel free to contact us. We'd be glad to talk with you.

God bless you.



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