Thursday, January 30, 2014

Life, Death, Violence, and the Loss of Normalcy

With the sentencing for one of the parties involved in the murder of a dear friend of my mom's happening this Friday, I thought this would be an appropriate blog post for today.

I've touched on this before in previous entries, but this has been a really rough few years for me and for my family.  In fact, it has been 5 years since I've gotten through a year without losing someone that I love.

2009 - My dog of 16 years, Sable died rather suddenly.
2010 - My aunt Sherry died of breast cancer.
2011 - Theron Brison was murdered.
2012 - My dog Maxwell had to be put to sleep due to a brain tumor.
2013 - My Grandy passed away pancreatic cancer.

Yes, dogs are people, too.  For anyone else who has experienced the loss of a beloved pet, the loss hurts, and it definitely counts.

Anyway, recently, my mom was told that [after certain events] she can now get back to normal.

But, this left me thinking-- after we experience severe loss, after we experience traumatic loss, are we ever truly 'normal' again?  When I think of who I was 6 years ago, I know that I am a drastically different person now than I was then.  Of course, some of this is definitely due to the fact that as human beings our sense of self is constantly in flux.  (at least, for most of us it is).  But, I think that the difference also has something to do with the fact that I have experienced trauma by losing animals and people that are very important to me.

Is my laugh a little duller?  Is it a little shorter?  Does it come less frequently?  I can't be sure, but I do know that these people (for this purpose dogs are people, too) took a piece of my heart with them to their final resting places, wherever they may be.

And so, I will not ever be that self again-- I don't think I will never be 'normal.'  I can never be that carefree girl again who hasn't experienced severe and traumatic loss.

Particularly, I think, violence changes you when you are touched in some aspect by it.  You go from thinking the world is a relatively safe place where violence happens on the periphery to people you don't know or the friend of a friend's brother or something like that.  As long as it doesn't directly touch our lives, whether we recognize it or not, we have some sort of a sense of safety.

It isn't until violence comes to you, until it visits your home and intrudes upon where you live that you realize that this safety is false.  It isn't until this happens that you even realize you have by and large had the belief that you and your loved ones are safe.  You become a little more scared, a little more worried, you look over your shoulder a little more, you triple check your locks, and you realize in a panic that the locks you do have probably wouldn't stop someone from getting in, and make a mental note to google alarm systems for apartments or different types of locks.

Do you ever come back from that?  Do people ever become 'normal' again after that?  I tend to think that for most people answer is no.

And this is hard for people to understand.  Grief that is not your own is often hard for people to understand.

When my aunt was sick, I had a teammate on my women's soccer team who emailed me and basically said something along the lines of 'I'm tired of reading your emo and suicidal Facebook posts, your life is not that bad.'  First of all, I've never made a suicidal Facebook post in my life, but that's actually beside the point.

The point is this: who was this woman to say that to me?  To look into my life from the periphery (we had only seen each other occasionally outside of the soccer field) and tell me how it is?  The answer?  No one.  

No one has the right to look into my life, to look into my grief and tell me I don't have the right to be feeling it--that I should get over it, that I should return to normal.

Would this woman have welcomed the same sentiment from me if it were her niece dying at 46 of metastasized breast cancer that had fought its way into her brain?  Probably not.  And more than that, I wouldn't have ever said it.  

After concluding that this woman in her 40s had either dealt with a lot of death or very little death, I wrote back some of the same sentiments, as cordially as I could manage, and then I (of course) deleted her from Facebook.  Nowadays, we have the power to do that--to delete those that hurt us or offend us from our worlds with the click of the button.  Or, a lot of times we have that power, at least.

But, there are people in our real lives that we cannot delete with a mute button or by 'unfriending,' and we have to deal with their perverted sense of our own reality of which they usually know very little.  They don't recognize that no one wants to hear platitudes of 'she's in a better place,' or 'you can get back to normal now,' and that is no one's fault--no one's burden--but their own.

We grieve, we cry, we lash out, we scream, we do anything we can to make it through the day with the burden of loss upon us--and some of us are lucky.  Some of us DO get back to normal after a few weeks, months, years.  But, some of us don't.  And a lack of normalcy doesn't mean inferiority-- it means that life's events have created a brokenness inside of us that will likely never be repaired.

Life, death, violence, or some amalgamation of all three have created within us a severe loss of normalcy that we will never recover.  

And it is not anyone's job to fix us-- it is not even our own jobs to fix ourselves.  We have to sit in silence with our loss, with who these losses have made us day in and day out, and the bottom line is this: You can love us for the way we are now, with the understanding that we will never latch on to 'normal' as a life preserver the way you do--that we will never call 'normal' our home again, or you can let us be.

But you can't talk, hug, or even help us back into normal.  And you shouldn't want to.


  1. In May of 2008, I loss my best friend to a very brutal, hit and run accident. The 19 year old killed her and one of her co-workers and impaled another (lived), while they were walking to their car after work. It was a Friday night. I was waiting for her. We were going to get dinner to celebrate her work trip to India that she was leaving for the next day.

    This kid hit her and while she was stuck under his tires, she was alive. His car had turned off and people were screaming for him to get out. My best friend was begging for help. But instead he turned on his car and backed over her, dragging her down the side walk and then abandoning his car at a McDonald's a mile away.

    A piece of me died with her. I will never be who I was prior to May 16th, 2008. My 24 year old self left with her, leaving my now 30 year old self more cautious, anxious, fearful of another loss as traumatic and longing of her. My husband Ian was my boyfriend then, only for just shy of a year, but he was my rock during my emotional recovery. He would call me his robot girlfriend, jokingly... because I was different. I was worried he wouldn't love this new me. I was worried that I wouldn't love this new me. But he did. ..does and I learned to love this more calloused version of me.

    I think after the sentencing, I was able to find more peace. It took 3 years to get there but knowing that for the next 25 years, he would be spending important days in a cell, gave my vengeful heart some peace.

    Life is an experience for us. Really shitty things happen. Really wonderful things happen too, but I think that if these things didn't change us, then there would be something wrong with our wiring.

    I still cry myself to sleep, missing her. Missing her laugh, her way that she let me be weird with her. I miss having our life talks. But I'm happy. I have to be for her. She had 25 years of living, and I feel like if I dwell on the dark, then it will somehow dishonor her. It's my peace to stay happy for her.

    I'm really sorry about your mother's friend. My heart aches for her loved ones. And I hope that through all of this, you will find your peace in this. It's not easy but it is possible.

    1. Wow, Nikol. I am so sorry to hear that. What a terrible thing. Sometimes it's hard for me to fathom how people can be so cruel, and so callous.

      I really like the things that you say in your comment; what a wonderful legacy to leave behind.

      The sentencing was actually postponed, because the DA got sick-- as far as the main perpetrator (this 'man' was his accomplice), his trial is going to begin this summer. I wasn't able to go to much of this first trial, but I went to closing arguments, and it was really, really hard to be there-- I saw pictures of the crime scene for the first time, and heard the public defender defend this man who showed a complete disregard for the value of human life. It was tough-- I know he was just doing his job. Thankfully, the jury didn't buy his defense, and they came back in only HOURS with a guilty verdict, and also a special circumstances verdict. He will automatically get life in prison.

      It's so tough. I feel like before this happened in 2011, I never had hate in my heart-- not truly. But, after that day, I did-- I hated them for what they did, and for what they took away from me, from my mom, and from Theron's partner of 19 years, Ted. I felt like I could kill them myself-- and that was scary to feel that way.

      I still feel like I haven't gotten any closure. If I ever got married, I wanted Theron to officiate-- and I never get to hear stories anymore about how Theron made my mom laugh so hard at work, or send him text messages, or see his smiling face.

      Maybe after the sentencing there'll be a little-- maybe after the next trial and next guilty verdict and next sentencing. Mostly, I just feel sad. That these two people ruined so many things-- and sad that there are people that can murder someone and then go to Baker's, Big 5, and rent a movie at Redbox with their credit card. Sometimes, it's too much.

      Thank you for sharing, Nikol. Sometimes it helps to just know we're not alone-- and to get another perspective on things, like how you still manage to find the positive in the situation, however difficult that is.

    2. I, like you never imagined hating anyone. I mean, I hated people on TV and movies who evoked that emotion and evil people in history, but real life tangible people - never! I hated this young man. Even his name, Bryan Calles... I can't even meet a Bryan without feeling a fire lump in my throat , almost choking me. These sorts of things change you so deeply.
      I have had my share of loss, but this was different. It’s them being ripped from your life. It really does feel like something is being torn from your body. It is a physical pain. Just now typing, my chest is tight and I feel that pain that you get before a good cry. It never really goes away either.
      I did a little research and found the story about Theron. Horrific and so disgusting. I can not believe that people exist in life like this. I feel so bad for his partner and for your mom and his family/friends. The loss never goes away. One of the worst parts of this ordeal is the court process. I get that no one wants to send an innocent person to prison, but there has got to be a change. The loved ones suffer just way too much waiting and waiting for trial to begin and all of the other things that pop up, postponing it further. In my friend's case, the killer/defendant/coward/Bryan, there was some sort of booking error that enabled him to make bail and just remain on house arrest while he awaited trial, which he did until January 2010. Nearly two years after he stole 2 lives and nearly stole a third. Oh, and did I mention that during that house arrest, he was able to knock up his 18 year old girlfriend. Either way, my best friend is gone. Her parents will never walk her down the aisle or hold her baby. They lost their only daughter, her brother lost his best friend
      I am so sorry for going on about this. I rarely talk about it. That is another thing. No one talks about it anymore. Friends who are newer friends, who only know the "me" after the incident, but know something happened, rarely ask, and when it comes up, rarely want to hear the story. Like it is too painful for them to listen to. Yeah, try fucking living it. Then imagine never being able to talk about it, because it is too sad.
      Don't take my word for it, but sentencing helps a bit. There is a sense of closure peace that washes over you. The trick is, you have to accept the peace and not reject it by feeling guilty that this peace may dishonor your friend in any way. They would want you to feel that peace. I understand about the wedding thing. My friend Lisa was a fashion designer and she would tell me that she had all of her friend's dresses already designed in her head. While she could not be there, I invited her mother who has her daughter's eyes, I had our other best friend hold a purple bouquet in honor of her and we had the wedding at a place where we celebrated many of her birthdays. My point being, when you do get married, find another way to include him. Because his place was meaningful to you for that moment, just find a place for him or his spirit.
      Also, talk to others about this incident. It is painful to go through and sometimes you just need to think about it out loud with someone who is compassionate and can be your sounding board.
      I look forward to hearing the outcome after the sentencing. Hopefully the judge will let his loved ones speak, which ours did. It was one of the most emotional moments of that ordeal, but for the first time, the person who killed my friend, got to hear our pain.
      PS:I saw that you found my blog. I probably will not be updating anytime soon. Work gets the best of me and I always feel slightly biased when I would wear clothes that were not by my company that I work for and then blog about them... especially being in Brand Marketing! LOL. I love writing, but would much rather write about things that make me happy and fill me up, like my pups, Ian, cooking and being domestic. Maybe someday!
      Also, if you ever want to thrift shop, just let me know. I love it! I can spend hours in a Goodwill and find so many eclectic pieces!

  2. You are so good at putting things like this into words. There were so many times after my cousin passed away, just before we started at CalPoly, that people said things very similar to this and I was so angry because it seemed like they were trying to rush me out of my grieving. Its as though they aren't sure how to cope, so they try to rush you back to that 'normal' as you said. I've lost too many people in my life to ever truly forget about the pain and loss that comes along with it. But as you said, I don't want to forget because that's part of what makes me, me. Those experiences made me stronger over time and, eventually, helped me find a new 'normal' - not the silly thing people want you to get back to, but something I think you will also find one day, a life that continues with the echoes of our loved ones with us. Some days more than others, but still always there.

    For a long time after my cousin died, whenever something exciting or frustrating happened I'd automatically pick up the phone to call and talk to her about it. For the first year or so after it happened I'd cry every time I remembered that I couldn't call her anymore. Now though, I still get that urge to talk to her, sometimes I even do still reach for the phone, but instead of being sad and crying, I think about her and how she'd react. And I usually end up smiling at the memory of some ridiculous comment I'm sure she'd have made to cheer me up. Probably not the most 'normal' thing in the world, but it feels right. Bittersweet, but not so painful anymore. So, instead of telling you that I hope things 'settle down' or get back to 'normal', I'll be honest - things will never be normal again, as you know, but eventually you find a new way of looking at yourself and defining your own new outlook on normal. However that happens for you though, I love the beautiful person that you were and continue to be as you find that new place. I'm here if you ever need to talk, or just to know that someone is thinking about you.