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Sucker Punched

In the first days and weeks after Craig passed, well-meaning friends struggled to find words of solace. Many understood that experiencing the fullness of sorrow can be healing, while others longed to offer comfort and hope by looking ahead toward a future beyond the searing pain. A phrase I heard more than once (and loathed from the start) was that, in time, I would adapt to “the new normal.”

For someone in the throes of grief, those words are a kick in the gut. The very idea of life without the person you have lost is an insult to the senses. Suggesting that their absence could in any way eventually feel “normal” struck me as both disrespectful and dishonest.

The word “normal” also carries with it some measure of certainty. Normal is predictable; it is commonplace. But grief, by its very nature, is disruptive. Grief creates chaos and turns life upside down, and though it may lessen over time, it never really leaves. It lurks in landscapes and photos and familiar smells. Months or years after the initial loss, grief shows up and throws a sucker punch.

I had plenty on my mind yesterday, while I was driving to a local production studio for a video shoot. I had made sure to copy the client’s script onto a USB drive and brought a portable hard drive with me to transfer the footage. Speeding along the President George Bush Turnpike, I calculated how much time I would need to edit the video later that afternoon, and contemplated grabbing takeout on my way home. All was right with the world, as I exited onto Trinity Mills. And then it wasn’t.

I suddenly realized that I was driving toward Addison Airport—the same route Craig and I used to take at least once a week when he got his pilot’s license back in 2015. Every building and tree was seared into my memory. I could picture the chairs and the coffee machine and the small fridge with bottled water in the hanger, where I would wait for Craig—feeling equal parts anxious and proud—while he would go up with his flight instructor. On the drive home, I would ask him to tell me everything that he had learned and listen attentively as he rolled through the details. Getting his pilot’s license had been a lifelong dream, but Craig only pursued it after we started our aerial video business to meet FAA requirements at the time for commercial drone operators. He was harder on himself than necessary as he completed his flight training and, ultimately, passed the exam with ease. I flew with him only twice. What I wouldn’t give for just one more hour I the air together.

As I turned onto Midway Road, I could see a small plane overhead coming in for a landing on the airstrip a few hundred yards away. Memories came flooding back, and tears trickled down my cheeks. “Ow, Daddy. Ow, ow, ow,” I said out loud, telling God plainly how much the grief hurt my heart. I took several deep breaths, knowing that I needed to pull myself together by the time I made it to the studio. “It still hurts so bad,” I muttered. Where was this font of pain coming from? I felt ambushed.

But, by the time I walked into the studio, I was all smiles. The camera operator had never met Craig, and I saw no reason to burden him with my grief. We had work to do. Part of my job also is to put the client and crew at ease to ensure everything goes smoothly. Feelings would have to wait.

At times, I lean into the heartache, wringing tears from my eyes in honor of my husband. For the most part, however, I choose not to wallow in sadness. I have people to see and places to go. Grief took a cheap shot yesterday. It cold-cocked me in the car. But I’m still standing. Those many memories, albeit painful, keep Craig front-of-mind. For that, I am grateful. Our adventures made me who I am today. Although I will never accept his absence as “normal,” I have learned to navigate the sadness—to tuck away my tears, when needed, and to freely let them flow at home or with friends. I have learned that grief strips away all pretense to bring us closer to others. And I have learned that, despite my reticence, there indeed is a future beyond the searing pain.

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