I am often out somewhere, going to the grocery or drug store, doing normal people things but feeling I’m not normal any more.
Today, we were driving back from visiting my parents in North Carolina and I watched parents in Chick-fil-A with their kids. I remember when we did those things with our own kids. Stopped to eat on the way to vacation somewhere. We asked if they needed to use the bathroom, if they’d washed their hands, what did they want to eat.
I look at some of the t-shirts the parents are wearing emblazoned with home-made logos in support for a local swim team or baseball club. Normal family stuff. We did that, too. Our kids went to school, played sports, had friends over. We had bonfires, picnics, birthday parties, sleepovers, trips to theme parks, and trips to movies.
We were normal.
Then we weren’t.
We got the news Charles had killed himself while sitting in the back of a police car outside a restaurant where we had been having dinner–doing a normal Friday night couple activity. (Normal for those with older children.)
In a skinny second, my life was no longer normal and it never would be again. From then on, I would not see the world through the same lens as I had before.
And often I have felt a surreal sense of watching other families, not from a nostalgic point of view, but the point of view from a mom who now knows too much. Sometimes I feel strangely guilty about that. So much innocence. I remember when I was blissfully innocent. Before the mental illness, addiction and the ultimate tragedy that turned my life upside down. Before it tore a hole in my heart.
Sometimes some of those parents with kids under 11 will start up a conversation. Sometimes they’ll ask me about my kids and I tell them about Richard and then I tell them what happened to Charles. They tell me they are sorry. And they mean it.
I used to worry I was putting a damper on their happy family life by mentioning what happened to my son. I no longer worry about that. Because I see that they don’t think it’s the remotest possibility this awful thing could happen to them. They think they are insulated and what happened to my family is completely separate to something that could happen to theirs. I’m thankful for that. How cozy it must feel to still live in that naive world. I miss it.
So as I’m looking at people interact with their kids, I realize we were normal. We dreamed of what they’d be one day. Admired how smart they were, how adorable they were as we laughed at ourselves for thinking we had the smartest and the cutest kids.
I was not looking at all this activity feeling jaded. Or surprisingly, even cheated. I just felt different.