Embracing a New Normal

Most of us are familiar with the expression “the new normal.” It’s a term that has been used to describe the economy after downturns and has since been applied in many other contexts. While it may be an overused term at this point, what it means has many lessons for us.

When we talk about the new normal, what we are talking about is life after any major change or adjustment. Things happen and what was “status quo” no longer exists. Life as we knew it is not life as we know it and that is, like it or not, part of the human condition.

The question is not how to keep those changes from occurring. They do, they are and they will. The question is how we accept these changes, come to grips with them and adjust to them.

Some new normals are based in positive and wonderful things like the birth of a child, marriage, new jobs and the like. As we say “it’s all good,” but “all good” does not mean that it is easy or that we don’t have to make adjustments.

In other circumstances, we have to face a new reality that we would rather not. Loss of a loved one, changes in health, the challenges of aging, all of these are much more difficult realities to accept yet equally important to understand. The temptation, of course, is to long for how things “used to be,” wishing for a “before” that not only no longer exists but is no longer possible.

Longing for a past state is not just futile, it is also unproductive because it interferes with acceptance and often keeps us from moving forward. What do I mean by that? As an example, a family member will often say to us about their aging parent, “I just wish I could have my mother back” and even deny the reality of their parent’s age and condition in their desire to have the world as it once was. In doing so, they miss the chance to know their mother today, to receive the gifts she still has to give regardless of her limitations. Understanding that there is no “rolling back” of time allows us to see what does exist, accept it and find the value in the moment.

In this context, I often think about the last interaction I had with my own mother. She was 62, I was 25 and there is no question that she was losing her battle with cancer. I was so focused on wanting things to be different than they were, so focused on denying reality, that I failed her in a way I still regret. She was in the hospital and was clearly looking for a way to say a final goodbye to me as I was leaving for home, 1000 miles away. I stopped her and said, “Don’t worry Mom. I’ll see you in two weeks,” denying her the chance to say what was on her mind, denying myself the chance to know what she wanted to share. She died five days later.

I wish, I wish, if only, if only, all words that won’t make today yesterday again. If we recognize that each day of our lives is unique and non-repeatable, if we look for the best moments given the circumstances we are in, if we accept rather than deny, I believe that we can find light even in the darkest moments and create a fuller, richer today for ourselves and those we love.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is past chair of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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