On the platform, a man in a high-vis jacket blows a whistle, waves a signal and shortly after the train starts chug-chug-chugging away. Behind me somewhere a child squeals, ‘bye bye beach!’ and I gaze out the window at the overcast sky and the red-brick houses leaving Devon behind. There is nothing spectacular about this scene. Nothing at all. In fact, I have made this journey from the southwest to Manchester many a time, but this time feels different. Despite the sheer and utter normalcy of the scene, something feels different inside me. So much has happened in between.
It is six weeks since the day I lost my brother and father, and in the last couple of weeks I have been returning to a sort of ‘normality’ - taking steps to continue with what my life once was. But my plans have changed, my dreams are lost, and the normalcy that once existed in my life doesn’t feel right anymore. In a way, returning to what was ‘normal’ is what I craved the most after the accident. I wanted to be outside and climb and hike. I went back to work three days after the funeral and shortly after started to feel a pressure to keep plodding along with my personal projects so as not to get left behind. But, no matter how normal every day at work or trip to the climbing gym or morning cup of tea seemed, none of it was.
I have spent the last few days down in Devon with my boyfriend. Camping in a field and cooking over an open fire in the evenings, while building out our little van for little adventures during the day. We have been on many trips like this together, and it was - of course - completely lovely to go camping and to be together. But there is something else with me now. There is little box of grief that I carry around, that makes the moments of normal feel like something else. Inside that box, there is love, hope and memories, but also pain, guilt, anger and questioning.
In everything I do, this box comes along. And so, in every ‘ordinary’ moment’, there are a multitude of emotions at bay. Wandering the supermarket aisles can bring tears at a memory; watching a sunrise can lead to guilt in contentment; and then there is the anger I feel that my whole life has been turned upside down, that I had to lose two people so dear to me, that their lives had to end. There is the constant questioning of why. Why do I get to live while those I loved so dearly should die. What am I supposed to do now?
So, for now, there is no such thing as normal. No perfectly calm and content moment comes without the box of grief; there is happiness and gratefulness to have been loved so deeply, yet there is also a heart-wrenching ache alongside it. There is love, loss and confusion in every moment.
But I suppose I should accept these feelings as a new kind of normal… Since I truly believe every emotion should be nurtured in some way, and my little box of grief will be carried for as long as I need it. And I do need it — the pain, anger, questioning — I need to feel all of it. It is normal to feel that way.
I am still learning how to carry my little box of grief correctly, but I will never leave it behind. And some day, who knows when, it might just get a little lighter. But for now, this is my normal — a melting pot of feelings, fears, emotions and tears. A new kind of normal.