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  • The Vail Project

Finding a new normal

I hate the word normal. It implies a level of conformity to social pressures. To fit a defined set of standards. What is normal for one person may be completely abnormal for another.

For the purposes of today’s discussion, normal is defined as what life was like before our loss. Normal was two crazy kiddos tearing up the house, laughing, singing, crying. Normal was falling asleep at night exhausted from the days workload, mommying, wifely duties, household chores, pets, work, etc. Normal was Steve and I feeling so blessed with our beautiful, smart, healthy girls. Talking about how much Aspen was learning and how Vail was changing every day.

All of that is gone now. Normal got put in a blender on smoothie mode. Nothing, and I mean nothing is the same as it was before September 17, 2019.

A big part of the grief battle we wage is with our conception of normalcy. Trying to learn to adapt to a new life, in a world that doesn’t make sense without Vail, is a huge challenge. I think this is probably a universal adjustment, post-loss of any kind. Losing a young child like Vail requotes unique adjustments. The biggest one is how quiet things are without her. How empty our arms are. How much less parenting we do daily. All of our routines have been cut in half.

Then there is the adjustment to seeing a future without her. I cannot express how difficult this is. We tend to live in the moment, because one moment at a time is really all we can handle. But with The Vail Project and Vail Industries we are forced to starting thinking beyond today. It sucks. There are days when I still expect her to peak around the corner and flash her cheesy grin at me. Other days, like today, I catch myself in a moment where it feels like she was a dream. Like she was never really here with us. In those moments memories feel so far away. I hate it when I feel that way. So I grab her things and sit quietly and remember what it was like to nurse her, bathe her, kiss her, comfort her. Something in those memories is very grounding. They are physical and illicit a biological response that snaps me back to reality.

Our normal, now includes alone time. We were never alone before. Not in the car, in the bathroom, or anywhere. That aloneness is heavy. Talking about our loss, our projects, and the losses others in the SUDC community have experienced is our standard conversation. These things define us now. We don’t exist separately from them.

I feel like we have settled in to new routines now, Steve, Aspen and I. Steve and I stay up late, watching tv and Aspen’s breathing. We get up as many times at night as it takes to stay sane. Aspen wakes us all up in the morning, happy and ready to play. But she always goes to bed with baby Vail’s mini urn, tucked tightly under the covers next to her. At least 2-3 times a day we all talk about how much we miss Vail. That’s become more normal too, even though we still cry almost every time. A giant Elsa doll now rides in Vail’s seat in the car. I still look back for her smile every time I get in, knowing I won’t see it.

Crying in public is my new norm. Guess what? I‘m not even slightly embarrassed. The weird looks or eye rolling this draws from strangers doesn't phase me. It’s who I am now. This is who we all are now. It isn’t any easier; probably never will be. The complexity of our pain, the depth of our sadness, the absence of joy is the status quo. Accepting that as normal is a challenge, one we have no choice in enduring.

There are moments of light. Aspen and I played in the snow yesterday. I thought about how Vail never got to build a snowman. It made me cry. But it also made me appreciate the moment, in the cold air, chasing Aspen around, throwing snow. Living in that moment was only possible because I acknowledged Vail's absence and my pain. I can focus on the future of Vail Industries, because when it becomes a huge success, we can fund research and save lives. And maybe, just maybe find answers. None of those things will bring Vail back. She is gone; we failed to protect her from this unknown crisis taking our children. In those fleeting moments of lightness, I hope she is looking down on me and saying to herself: “I’m proud of you mommy.“ Hopefully that is a new normal I can learn to live with.

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